They were supposed to be two basic items which were rightly placed on the consent calendar – one which created a council subcommittee to help expedite the processing of the application for the Aggie Research Campus – that would be Dan Carson and Gloria Partida. The other was set to hire EPS (Economic & Planning Systems, Inc.) to do the fiscal analysis.
But that simple matter was transformed on Tuesday into allegations and finger pointing.
It started during the main public comment.
Colin Walsh said, “It’s unfortunate that these (items) wound up on the consent calendar in the first place.” He called this project “low information” or “very controlled information.” He said, “We see in a local blog that they’re slowly leaking information, that they’re bringing people in to write stories about it.
“Where is the city discussion?” he asked. “There is just no information and this is a terrible way to govern. We need information. We need engagement. Why isn’t this going to commissions? When is it going to commissions?”
But, as the city pointed out, this is just the start of the process. The project will go to commissions. This item simply hires someone to analyze the project.
Mayor Brett Lee attempted to clarify: “What we’re talking about doing tonight is hire someone to analyze the economic and financial aspects about the proposal in addition to appoint someone to work with the staff to be more involved at the beginning of this process to better understand what the project is and isn’t.
“What we were asked to do tonight, on consent, does not seem to be controversial to me at all,” he said.
Dan Carson said, “Even if the council approves it, it goes before the voters who render final judgment… Ultimately we think it will go to the people.”
Mayor Brett Lee may have declined to characterize the comment by Mr. Walsh, but Will Arnold did not.
“I’m baffled by it (the comments) frankly,” he said. “Although it does make sense why this is happening. We already have folks in this community who have decided they don’t like this project. That’s their prerogative, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But one of the pillars of the no on whatever project it is campaign, is to attack the process and say the process is wrong.
“This is a rush job,” he said. “You hear that at every opposition and you’re hearing it now.”
He said, “What we are approving here today is to study this and to appoint a subcommittee.”
He said as soon as the city got the information they put it out there. “If that’s not transparency, if that’s not us doing our due diligence I don’t know what is.
“So the reason you’re hearing the criticism right now is because the folks, that have already decided they’re opposed to this, want to say the process was flawed.
“This is a good process,” he added. “I’m proud to support a good process moving forward.”
The comments by Councilmember Arnold elicited responses during public comment from Roberta Millstein and Colin Walsh, who was a given a second bite at the apple.
Ms. Millstein said, “Yes I’m sorry, Will, there is a reason why we’re here and that was unclear and the response I got (from staff) did not clear it up.”
She said, “I take offense at the remark… I have opinions about the project and I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot about them in the future.”
She referenced the 391 project from 2013 which was placed on the consent calendar and “they tried to push that forward through.” She said, “Forgive me for being once burned, twice shy.
“I had some friendly remarks here, but that’s what happens. You bump it up Will and I’m going to bump it too. Now I’m angry because there is another way to do this. You didn’t have to first present this project under Item E on the Consent Calendar,” she said.
She said, “I’m sorry. It looks underhanded. It really does and it gives me bad déjà vu for what happened with Leland Ranch.
“It didn’t have to happen this way, I’m sorry,” he said.
Colin Walsh shouted that there are over 4000 parking places on this spot. “How many tens of thousands of additional car trips on Mace Boulevard will this be?”
He asked why this wasn’t going to be analyzed by commissions on the transportation issue.
“Councilmember Arnold, my goodness, we’re talking about process. The process going forward tonight was it going to be on consent calendar. Pulling it from consent calendar was already an admission that the process was flawed,” he said.
“If this is the way council is going to approach it,” Mr. Walsh continued. “If this is the rhetoric that we should expect from the council…”
There were also a number of students who came forward to support the project and argue for the need for good jobs to keep students in the community.
One of the issues that came up during public comment was about why there was mention of a possible need for a revised EIR if this was simply an item about the EPS fiscal analysis of the project.
Mike Webb would explain: “There is a statement of fact of prior actions. The only action that the council formally took with respect to the prior MRIC [Mace Ranch Innovation Center] application. We thought it was prudent to reference that action.”
“Moreover,” he said, “(there is) an acknowledgement that we need to evaluate for changed conditions since that EIR was drawn up and certified.”
He said they can’t assume “that that same EIR will go unchanged.”
Councilmember Arnold then apologized for the tone of his rhetoric, noting, “I probably shouldn’t have spoken while I was angry. But I was angry at being told that this government was hiding something from the citizens when I think these items are doing the exact opposite for this project.
“This is more study, more work with the council that will bring more light to the community,” he said. “That door of tone swings both ways, I will promise to do better next time.”
Lucas Frerichs added, “There’s never a lack of process in this community. That’s one of the hallmarks in this community – the engagement and the public process.”
The council then approved both items unanimously and moved on.
—David M. Greenwald reporting