At the onset to Tuesday’s meeting, four individuals during public comment pushed for the council to consider hearing only emergency items. That cry got louder after the council had its public comment period disrupted by “Zoom bombs.”
In emails acquired by the Vanguard, one commenter, Ron Oertel, said, “Council really needs to reconsider the scope of items to be considered, due to communication difficulties (and shortchanged processes) caused by the coronavirus.”
Roberta Millstein on Facebook added, “I realize that staff is trying to figure things out on the fly under challenging circumstances. But I am sorry, this is a reason why a full meeting should not have been attempted.”
Colin Walsh added, “The City Council had the option of streamlining the agenda and taking the solar farm and the tobacco ordinance at a later date, but instead the council pushed forward the full agenda even though the public could no longer fully participate.”
Former Planning Commissioner and Council Candidate Pam Gunnell stated, “There are legitimate concerns about the processing of the ARC application with the limitations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.” She added, “Clearly this will be hampered by the current commission and council meeting process, and all of the other concerns that are derailing people’s attention during the crisis from economic to homeschooling to illness. Many things will face delays during this time and rightly so.”
Prior to the meeting, the Vanguard spoke on the record with four of the members of council and, after it, three confided support for figuring out a way through the challenges.
As Mayor Brett Lee told the Vanguard in our interview, “we need to continue to do work to improve our community.”
He added, “Just because the coronavirus has hit doesn’t mean that the only things that we need to address are coronavirus related, because a lot of things are still going on.”
He said it’s not an option for the city to simply stop functioning. “The community doesn’t want that,” he said. “The community wants us to do our job.”
Mayor Lee acknowledged on Monday in our interview that there is a legitimate concern here, that we need to be able to have a full and public process.
He pointed out that we don’t want to have to shut down the commissions for the next six months. So one question he said he wants to know “is how the commissions can also function in this new environment.
“I don’t think it’s really an option for there to be no commission meetings for the next six months,” he said. “For me the question is how do we bring the commission process back so that it’s a robust full commission process while acknowledging the coronavirus challenges?”
A big issue, for instance, is addressing the Mace redesign.
“We want to go and present to the public these new design ideas,” he said. “That’s scheduled for early April.”
He said, “I absolutely believe that process should continue where we have a presentation to the public, the public is able to see the designs as proposed, and they’re able to weigh in on those designs,” he said.
They would then get feedback and continue the process.
The problem is, “if we delay the timeline of the design, the timeline of the reconstruction is quite long and lengthy,” he said.
Indeed, with the reduced traffic, one could argue there is no better time to do a major construction project than now. But, of course, they aren’t at that stage yet.
“The congestion there, caused by the recent redesign, is a problem,” he said. “Anticipating that the world returns to some level of normalcy in some number of months” he said, he didn’t think the folks in south Davis would be happy if we are where we stand today.
The people who live in south Davis do not want the council to say, “Because of the coronavirus, we didn’t do anything. It’s really been a year since we looked at this.
“I don’t find that acceptable,” he said.
More pointed was Will Arnold, the only councilmember the Vanguard spoke to on the record following the meeting, telling the Vanguard he did not agree that we should focus only on items that are essential—for one thing, he argued, who is to decide what items are essential?
He said the voices calling for a pause “are coming very close to politicizing this crisis.
“The folks that are saying it was a disaster last night, the council doesn’t know what they’re doing… we should really just shut everything down for now,” he said. He said, to a person, these are “folks that have called us a disaster before at every opportunity.”
Second, he said, “they are folks who have expressed that the one thing we are saying we should not take up, is something they are fundamentally opposed to.
“It’s hard to take that as a genuine and good faith comment when you know that it aligns with their previously held beliefs,” he said.
A big concern that Dan Carson, Gloria Partida, and Lucas Frerichs mentioned in their interviews with the Vanguard was the state of the business community and finding ways to shore up our downtown and other businesses.
Longer term, Lucas Frerichs said, “I think about these issues surrounding the economy.” He referenced seeing all of the businesses closed in the downtown for the foreseeable future. “Obviously I’m very worried about the long term ramifications of the lack of economic activity,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Gloria Partida saw the council role as “to keep things going” and “make sure that the city is functioning.”
She told the Vanguard that “the biggest threat to the community is where our economic plan is going to end up.” As such, she said that she did not support the idea of limiting what the council did with respect to economic development and other such planning.
She added, “The people that are the most vulnerable always suffer the most in any sort of a crisis.”
There will clearly be challenges, as the council discovered on Tuesday night.
But even in one of the worst case scenarios where the council had to shut down verbal communications from the public, participation was still possible.
Councilmember Frerichs pointed out in the face of criticism, stating that “you’ve submitted numerous public comments this evening and ALL of them have been made (by yourself—earlier in the meeting) or read aloud into the public record.”
He added, “It hasn’t been perfect, but you’ve been participating—all night long.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting