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Transparency in Government Sometimes Gets Opaque

Last minute submittals of project revisions and data by developers has been a problem for years.

 

While the past and current mayor and city manager tout transparent government, sometimes staff, commissioners, and others draw a cloak over what should be public information. A recent example is the handling of the . It typifies how things shouldn’t be done.

Redevelopment of Edgewood Plaza has been under consideration for 6 years.  It was delayed partly because the developer had problems getting funding commitments and partly because the initial proposal was for more than 20 new homes .  After that was withdrawn a much better proposal that preserves most of the historic site and reduced housing to 10 units was proposed.  Outside experts who reviewed plans differed in evaluating the Environmental Impact Report, one saying the EIR showed few negative impacts, the other saying there were significant negative impacts.

The Planning Commission scheduled reviewing the latest version of the project for Feb. 29.  After noon that day staff issued a revised EIR that stated no negative impacts. Commissioners had just a few hours to get the new EIR, review it, and decide if it was an acceptable document. 

Public members had to check the city website to find that a new EIR had been released, and to get the EIR for review.  When the Planning Commission met to discuss Edgewood Plaza a commissioner moved to accept the revised EIR and to approve the project proposal before these topics were discussed to any extent.

Moving to accept an EIR that wasn’t available until a few hours before the Planning Commission meeting effectively prevented public comments and involvement since notices weren’t sent to the public about the new EIR trying to replace the original EIR.

Two commissioners objected to the motion and were able to get approval of the revised EIR separated from approval of the project.  Unfortunately the vote to accept the EIR was 4-2, so it was approved.

In the past three or four years there have been several instances when a developer or someone like Jim Baer acting for the developer submitted revised proposals at the last minute.  When the City Council was scheduled to act on the final proposal for Alma Plaza a revised plan and program document was given to the City Clerk for distribution to councilmembers at 5:30 that day.

Councilmembers had little time to review the new document or to get staff evaluations of the last-minute changes. As a result of that and other last-minute submittals by developers or their agents, Council adopted a policy that if a document is submitted by an applicant less than 72 hours before a council meeting, rather than try to digest and understand late submittals, the entire issue should be continued.

Unfortunately that policy wasn’t adopted by the Planning Commission. It should be.

Fred Balin March 06, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Never knew, until now, exactly how the applicant’s last-minute submission at the crucial April 16, 2007 Alma Plaza city council hearing wound up in front of council members just as the item was about to begin. Now I do – thank you Bob – and the revelation is timely as I am working on an article for Patch’s Sunshine Week coverage about was learned from that experience. The specific changes to the Council Procedures and Protocols Handbook with regard to late submissions do not mandate a continuance, although the council can always choose to do so. So can the Planning & Transportation Commission, as stated by the assistant city attorney at last week’s hearing. What the new council procedures and protocols do state is that if planning application materials are submitted after the new, earlier deadline, staff will determine if additional review is needed and require a rescheduling of the council item. In this case, at last week’s commission hearing, it was staff that made the late submission as well as the judgment on the appropriateness of doing so.

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