(Editor’s note: This was submitted to the Vanguard by Alan Miller and sent to the Davis City Council on Tuesday as an “Open Letter” in response to Kemble Pope’s commentary from last week.)
by Alan Miller
Monday night October 19th the Trackside proposal was to be heard by the Davis Historical Resources Management Commission (HRMC or Commission). 23 residents of the Old East Davis neighborhood (Neighborhood) were in attendance and ready to speak, with standees. Approximately 20 letters were received by the HRMC regarding the project, including a powerful letter by Old East Davis Neighborhood Association (OEDNA) President Rhonda Reed outlining numerous deficiencies in the historical report submitted and commissioned by Trackside Partners LLC (applicant).
Residents received the final documents for the meeting on Friday. This allowed three days to digest the reports, one quite large, and respond by Monday at 10am. Despite this, approximately 20 persons, most from Old East Davis, submitted letters. Some of us significantly altered our weekend plans in order to respond.
At the HRMC meeting, not until the last agenda item came up were participants informed that the applicant requested to table the item until next month. The applicant then claimed that they informed the Commission of this immediately before the meeting started. However, that was rebutted and participants were told that the Commission was only informed that the applicant *might* want to pull the item. The Chair of the Commission was then asked “what now”? The Chair said this has never happened before; items are frequently pulled before meetings, not during; but however unprecedented, it was the applicant’s right. Neighbors insisted they be heard as several, including the OEDNA President, could not make the next meeting. The Chair allowed, but warned that having commenters speaking at two meetings could “muddy the record”.
The applicant claimed they pulled the item because no one had enough chance to digest the materials — that he was doing us a favor because he’d long had a problem with the turnaround times for receiving meeting information. Old East Residents said they were ready and wanted to speak; why was the applicant ‘suddenly’ not ready, and doing everyone present a supposed favor that no one present wanted? The applicant then said that over 20 letters had come in that day and he wasn’t expecting those and hadn’t had a chance to read all of them, and doubted the Commissioners had either. Old East Neighbors, on the other hand, got our letters in by Monday’s deadline and were ready to speak.
There was a concern raised by a neighbor that the same thing would happen next HRMC meeting. How would participants know what was changed in the report? As well, the applicant now had all our comments, and could change the report based on what was read in our comments, a rather unprecedented advantage. The applicant said they would only make changes based on what the Commissioners’ responded in writing, not the Neighbor’s comments. The chair then said that wasn’t going to happen, the Commission was not going to give comments outside a public forum. Only then did the applicant relent and agree not to change the report at all before the next meeting.
Some public participants were visibly angry. Participants could have been emailed before the meeting, or could have been told as we entered that the item might be tabled. Two dozen members of the public came, consultants, and City staff as well, on City time. Commissioners and staff kept a professional demeanor, but most appeared visibly annoyed.
Mr. Pope then penned a piece in the Vanguard which ran on October 22nd, asking for public participation in the process. That is, at the *next* HRMC meeting. In fact, at the last HRMC meeting, the entire room was packed with the public, ready to participate. Apparently, the public present wasn’t the particular public Mr. Pope wanted; apparently the numerous letters on record weren’t the particular letters Mr. Pope wanted on the record. Apparently Mr. Pople failed to do his own diligence to rally his own allies, despite the fact that is his job.
With this self-created strategic move, Trackside LLC now can hire consultants to refute the Neighbors’ already submitted statements at the next meeting. Mr. Pope now can spend a month rallying allies to appear at the November HRMC meeting, those he failed to gather in October. City staff is so confident of his ability to do so, apparently, that City staff noticed the November HRMC meeting moved to Council Chambers, with about four times the capacity, on the same day Mr. Pope’s piece appeared in the Vanguard.
In his Vanguard piece, Mr. Pope propped himself up as Savior to the City. Calling for documents to be released earlier, he dramatically and metaphorically fell upon his own sword, in print, admitting “mea culpa” Trackside LLC had become part of the very problem he himself had worked so diligently, and over a decade, to solve. I doubt anyone at the HRMC meeting bought it, and this rebuttal is so that you, dear City Council members, won’t buy it either. It is not Mr. Pope’s job to fix City process, it is the City’s job to fix City process.
Mr. Pope failed in that decade to reform the City process, and he didn’t solve that failure by delaying his item before the HRMC by a month and wasting two hours of two dozen Davis citizens’ time. In fact, we’d all like our Monday evening, October 19th, back, thank you.
More time to digest the documents would have been nice. But we were ready, and Mr. Pope was not.
Alan C. Miller is 36-year resident of Davis, a 30-year resident of Old East Davis and Downtown Davis, and a Board Member of the Old East Davis Neighborhood Association.