HAVE WE BECOME IRRELEVANT?
Sadly, one of the lasting impacts of the pandemic is the realization that City Council members prefer to have monthly meetings with as little public input as possible. During the pandemic when meetings were held remotely, and resident concerns were on their own health and safety, members of the public were understandably not engaged in city issues. At the first in person meeting in July, 2021, the Mayor’s welcoming comment to the few dozen residents in attendance was ‘I don’t know why you’re here’. Quite interesting, because there were two agenda items of great importance to city residents: the Housing Element and the 42 unit housing development below the Retreat Center.
Unfortunately, that tone turned out to be indicative of the Council’s attitude toward residents who came to share their comments or ask questions on agenda items. The focus was on the timer and residents were rudely cut off mid sentence when the clock hit 00.00. To speed things along, several emails sent in by residents were not read into the record, to the dismay of those in attendance.
We are fortunate to live in a city with some very smart, well-educated residents with diverse backgrounds and experiences. And we are also fortunate that they are willing to share that expertise with us at Council meetings. Having their voices silenced is a disservice to all of us. Having written comments submitted by those unable to attend that are not read into the record for all to hear does not send the message that their input is welcomed and appreciated. Nor does it foster the City’s oft repeated goal of transparency.
Residents have commented over the past 6 months about the inadequacy of the comment period and the frustration asking questions and bringing up issues with no response or action from the Council.
In light of all that has gone on since March 2020, it is ironic that one of the Council’s goals for 2022 is to ‘reduce the length of meetings, which have run 2 to 3 hours or more’. Can you imagine running for city council and realizing you may have to spend 4 or more hours a month at two council meetings?...Oh, the horror. So, one of the first actions under new Mayor Goss is the announcement that e-mailed public comments would be posted on the city website and no longer read during the meeting ‘to save time’. Congratulations to the Council for keeping their first meeting of the year to 35 minutes, and the second meeting 38 minutes. Goal accomplished. As residents, we would have hoped to hear that the Council’s goals might include the implementation of the Housing Element; How the city will track further state housing legislations that threatens our single family communities; How the city will join with other municipalities to fight SB 10; discussing a vote of ‘no confidence’ in County DA Gascon; increasing citizen participation in government affairs; scheduling a Town Hall meeting so there can be an open two-way discussion of the largest housing development in Sierra Madre history and many others that don’t rise to the importance of keeping meetings short.
We had hoped that in 2022 the council would be boldly proactive on issues, instead of reactive; welcome citizens to meetings, not discourage their attendance; and set some real goals that we can all be proud of.
Instead, after waiting for two years to have a chance to have an open Q&A period about the Meadows project (building 42 large homes) with a chance for follow-up questions, what we are getting is a joint meeting of the City Council with the Planning Commission run by New Urban West. We don’t even know the date, time, or venue, and it will once again be a one-sided conversation, with the residents again limited to 3 minutes, and not allowed to ask any follow-up questions.
As this article goes to print, we wonder what happened to the 24 pages of comments Preserve Sierra Madre sent to the City to be included in the Draft Environmental Impact Report. They are missing and not included in the Final EIR. We spent two months out of our busy lives to research laws, speak to experts and compile our comments, charts and photos. Director Gonzalez acknowledged receipt, but can't come up with an answer to date. Is this the infamous 24 minutes of tape in the Nixon era?