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Transparency in Government Sometimes Gets Opaque

Last minute submittals of project revisions and data by developers has been a problem for years.

Transparency in Government Sometimes Gets Opaque

 

While the past and current mayor and city manager tout transparent government, sometimes staff, commissioners, and others draw a cloak over what should be public information. A recent example is the handling of the . It typifies how things shouldn’t be done.

Redevelopment of Edgewood Plaza has been under consideration for 6 years.  It was delayed partly because the developer had problems getting funding commitments and partly because the initial proposal was for more than 20 new homes .  After that was withdrawn a much better proposal that preserves most of the historic site and reduced housing to 10 units was proposed.  Outside experts who reviewed plans differed in evaluating the Environmental Impact Report, one saying the EIR showed few negative impacts, the other saying there were significant negative impacts.

The Planning Commission scheduled reviewing the latest version of the project for Feb. 29.  After noon that day staff issued a revised EIR that stated no negative impacts. Commissioners had just a few hours to get the new EIR, review it, and decide if it was an acceptable document. 

Public members had to check the city website to find that a new EIR had been released, and to get the EIR for review.  When the Planning Commission met to discuss Edgewood Plaza a commissioner moved to accept the revised EIR and to approve the project proposal before these topics were discussed to any extent.

Moving to accept an EIR that wasn’t available until a few hours before the Planning Commission meeting effectively prevented public comments and involvement since notices weren’t sent to the public about the new EIR trying to replace the original EIR.

Two commissioners objected to the motion and were able to get approval of the revised EIR separated from approval of the project.  Unfortunately the vote to accept the EIR was 4-2, so it was approved.

In the past three or four years there have been several instances when a developer or someone like Jim Baer acting for the developer submitted revised proposals at the last minute.  When the City Council was scheduled to act on the final proposal for Alma Plaza a revised plan and program document was given to the City Clerk for distribution to councilmembers at 5:30 that day.

Councilmembers had little time to review the new document or to get staff evaluations of the last-minute changes. As a result of that and other last-minute submittals by developers or their agents, Council adopted a policy that if a document is submitted by an applicant less than 72 hours before a council meeting, rather than try to digest and understand late submittals, the entire issue should be continued.

Unfortunately that policy wasn’t adopted by the Planning Commission. It should be.

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