Monday Morning Thoughts: What’s Appropriate for Consent

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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Alan Pryor

    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.

    Firstly, just because the Vanguard ran a story on the consent calendar items, it probably did not reach more than one in a thousand residents. That hardly constitutes “plenty of opportunity to learn about the issue

    Secondly, it is a question of optics. After the brouhaha over the Mace Blvd reconfiguration and the Covell undercrossing problems, among other street repair snafus, our Council  has a huge cedibility problem with the community. Given the obvious and acknowledged severe impacts on traffic on Mace Blvd. imposed by ARC on top of the already untenable problems on that street, the Council should be doing everything possible to try to explain to the community what it is trying to accomplish with the Supplemental EIR – that is, figure out how to solve the mess on Mace and allow the project to move ahead without paralyzing that thoroughfare.

    Putting it on the consent calendar certainly does not accomplish that. It is almost as if the Council is just hoping Fehr and Peers can come up with a silver bullet that will magically solve all the problems on Mace Blvd. That isn’t going to happen and the Council should acknowledge this with at least a 15 minute agendized honest discussion of the problems ahead. Like I said, it is an optics problem and tucking the matter away as a consent item just looks like they are trying to hide something.

    1. Richard McCann


      While you and I agree on many of the issues to be addressed, I disagree that approving consulting contracts is the place to discuss these issues. The Council agenda is already too crowded, and we don’t need to add yet more items to create an illusion of “transparency.” I’m not sure of the process, but I think it’s probably worthwhile to have this type of discussion when the applicant submits the application to be approved for further review. Once that approval has happened, then the the study process should be ministerial up to the point that the consultants are looking for public input (which should be, and probably is, a necessary step.)

      1. Rik Keller

        Richard McCann: just to pick one issue that Roberta Millstein brought up in her article: who gets to decide what level of EIR update is appropriate: a mere Addendum to the EIR, a Supplement to the EIR, or even a Subsequent EIR? And isn’t this an important issue to address before the contract is approved?

        This issue is critical to what information that City decision-makers evaluate the project with, and ultimately what information Davis citizens have available to make their decision. And yet this critical decision is not being addressed by the Council at all. The decision has already been made by the consultants themselves as embedded in the contract. This is why “approving consulting contracts” IS one of the places where a discussion of these issues is needed.

  2. Rik Keller

    The Vanguard managed to get through an entire article criticizing Roberta Millstein without bringing up any of the specific reasons that she wrote (hint: these weren’t in a “Facebook post”, they were in a blog article) explaining why hiding the EIR update on the consent calendar is problematic. Hopefully the Council will acknowledge another mistake and pull this from the consent calendar.

    1. Craig Ross

      It was posted on Facebook though and he can see the title without reading the article.  I did.  Also, I think your view of the consent calendar as hiding is problematic.  It’s listed on the same sheet of paper for crying out loud.  And it can be pulled.  I’ve been watching the council agenda since 2015, and I have never seen an EIR or study put on discussion.

  3. Craig Ross

    Moreover, you have an agenda and there is no difference in appearance on that between consent and Regular calendar.

    How is this – hidden


    And this – not hidden


  4. Bill Marshall

    For the education of all…

    Ministerial acts (yes legal definitions for that) belong on the consent calendar… they are noticed, staff reports available timely, and any CC member can “call it up”… often at the bequest of a ‘public’ member.

    Legislative and/or policy issues do not belong on consent calendar, except when they were already considered as a regular item, an ministerially, they need further action, consistent with a previous regular calendar item, already vetted by the public and approved… second readings, enactments, etc.

    Yet, even those can be removed from consent calendar, like ministerial acts… public comment, the whole nine yards…

    In the two cases cited, one was clearly ministerial, the other was a “tweener”, but leaning towards ministerial…There are some who want their personal cachet, on everything (that they feel strongly about)… there are technical and psychological terms for that need… and their remedies include getting a single CC member to call it up… or, if unsuccessful, speak at public comment… but, ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’ (Freudian)…

    Something about tempest in a teapot… or, bovine manure…

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