Last month some community members complained that an item which authorized the council to hire EPS to do a fiscal analysis was inappropriately placed on the consent calendar. Now I am seeing on a Facebook post a similar complaint – the council’s authorization to do a Supplemental EIR on the Aggie Research Campus is also drawing complaints.
Colin Walsh said during public comment at the October 7 meeting, “It’s unfortunate that these (items) wound up on the consent calendar in the first place.”
At the same meeting, Roberta Millstein referenced the 2013 decision to put Mace 391 on the consent calendar. She said that “they tried to push that forward through.”
She argued, “You didn’t have to first present this project under Item E on the Consent Calendar.”
She added, “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,” she said.
I agree with Ms. Millstein that Mace 391 was inappropriately placed on consent. That was a very bad move, as I will explain shortly.
In 2013, the city had a proposal to take Leland Ranch, which had been approved by council previously to go into a conservation easement, and swap it for the Shriner’s Property, which would become a conservation easement instead, with 391 becoming an Innovation Park.
The problem was this was a major policy change. It had already gone through a lengthy commission process and gotten council approval. Under those conditions, it was completely inappropriate to have it as a consent item.
It needed a full staff report, public discussion, public input, and ultimately a vote. There is no justification for putting an item like that in as a consent item.
Eventually, all of that happened, but the process was so poisoned that Mace 391 was largely Dead on Arrival – and while in retrospect it might be viewed as an opportunity lost, the distrust created by the process would have made it hard to gain a Measure R vote, especially at that time.
Where I disagree with Ms. Millstein is comparing two procedural votes to a major policy change.
A consent agenda is designed to deal with a large number of items that require council decision but are generally not controversial. It includes items that require little or no discussion or have been previously discussed but require final approval.
In these cases, the council action is to approve studies. I have never seen a study that is put on as a general discussion item. A month ago it was the approval to do a fiscal analysis. This week it will be for a Supplemental EIR.
In both cases, the cost of the studies will be charged to the applicant of the Aggie Research Center, not the city.
In both cases, the approval simply means we will do what we should do when a project comes up – study it. We will then have a fiscal analysis and an update to the EIR that includes a new and revised traffic count.
Approval of these items does not mean that the Aggie Research Campus will go forward. It simply means that we will look at the information and then the project will go to the commission process and ultimately presumably back to council for an up or down vote and, if it gets approved by council, it goes to the public in the form of a Measure R vote.
Some people will undoubtedly argue that you don’t approve the studies if you aren’t willing to vote for the project eventually. That’s true I suppose. Although I think due diligence requires full information before you vote.
Two of the biggest issues that the council will consider is whether this project pencils out for the city in terms of fiscal impact, and how much of a contribution it makes to the ongoing traffic concerns on Mace.
It is quite possible that the answers to both of these issues can change the minds of councilmembers on this matter.
But the bigger issue is that a vote on Mace 391 at that time would have completely changed the trajectory of existing city policy that was taking the land toward conservation easement, while a vote by the council on these items simply adds to their cache of information to make a more informed decision down the road.
Councilmember Will Arnold pushed back last month, noting that he was “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.
More than that, putting something on consent is not hiding it. It is fully agendized. The public that is paying attention needs to look at the consent items as they do the discussion items.
It is worth noting that in both cases the Vanguard ran full stories on the consent items. Clearly, there was plenty of opportunity for the public to learn about the issue and engage.
The public always has the recourse to do as they did last month and ask the council to pull the item off consent. Contrary to the assertions of Mr. Walsh, however, that is not tantamount to acknowledging a mistake – rather that is a routine way for the council to get the full discussion if they deem it necessary.
—David M. Greenwald reporting