We at Preserve Sierra Madre have tried to keep you up to date on what is happening in town, not only on the potential sale and building of 42 large homes on the Retreat Center property (a/k/a The Meadows), but also what is happening around town, at City Hall, and with our elected City Council members. Our last column was about the misinformation the City Managers (first Gabe Engeland, then Jose Reynoso) and Director of Planning and Development Vincent Gonzalez passed on to us – once the Meadows Environmental Impact Report comes out, that by State law there will be a limit of only five meetings for residents to learn the facts as they see it, and state our opinions.
One of our Steering Committee members asked when a Town Hall type meeting could be scheduled. She got the response from Director Gonzales, “We are working on coordinating with City Council.” That was over two weeks ago. Another Steering Committee member requested new Mayor Gene Goss put discussion of said Town Hall meeting on the Agenda during City Council’s first meeting, January 11 so discussion can take place about its timing in the review process. We believe that a Town Hall meeting after the EIR is released is a critical part of this process. We learned on Tuesday, the 18, that the EIR has just been released – the EIR that was according to Staff would come out mid February. We were informed that the EIR is listed on the City website under “Transparency,” an oxymoron if there ever was one! Where in the world is the Transparency heading on the website?
Not a word from Mayor Goss until the release of the EIR on Tuesday afternoon. He responded that he saw no reason why we need any more public meetings other than those that have already been scheduled. Really, Mayor Goss? When, pray tell, are those public meetings to be?
With Covid cases increasing, we were not in attendance (as well as one Council member) to ask for this. Now City Hall is closed because of the surging pandemic. Even worse, at the first City Council meeting of the year, City Clerk Laura Aguilar announced that ‘emails sent to the Council will no longer be read. Instead they will be posted on the City website’. That is the difficult to navigate website. In other words, once again the residents’ voices are, if not silenced, then muted. Gary Hood, the only resident in attendance, eloquently stated what a mistake this will be. We are older as a town, many residents don’t even have computers and rely on the old fashioned method of watching City Council and Planning Commission meetings on TV to stay informed as to what is going on in town, especially during Covid.
Another Steering Committee member emailed each Council member separately to inform them of how distressing this is, and what are they thinking?
Reviewing what has happened in the last year and a half to stifle resident participation in the middle of a never-ending pandemic:
1. July, 2020 – City Council reduced the number of Planning Commissioners from 7 to 5.
2. October, 2020 – City Council stripped the design review duties from the Planning Commission and gave it to staff-- thereby ensuring no transparency during review of “remodels” and new housing projects would be couched in secrecy.
3. May, 2020 – It was brought to Council’s attention by a resident that there were two remodels to be discussed within 300 feet of her residence, and she had no way to discover what was happening, except by requesting information from staff over and over – transparency was gone.
4. August, 2021 – Supplemental Environmental Impact Report for the change in the General Plan and the Draft Environmental Report for the Meadows project came out simultaneously –4331 pages for non-professional residents to read, digest, and submit our concerns, rebuttals and questions.
5. October, November, December, 2021, January, 2022 – Request for a Town Hall type meeting ignored or denied. We are still held to only three minutes on the dot of speaking before City Council. We wonder if the Council members actually read the Draft Environmental Impact Report and our comments. Preserve Sierra Madre’s comments were 24 pages, compiled over three months of hard work. There were another 90 or so emails sent in.
6. January, 2022 - Our voices via emails during a surging Omicron pandemic, stifled.
If you are concerned about the stifling of our resident voices, please contact your elected City Council members:
Mayor Gene Goss: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Pro Tem Ed Garcia: email@example.com
Councilmember Rachelle Arizmendi: firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilmember Kelly Kriebs: email@example.com
Councilmember Robert Parkhurst: firstname.lastname@example.org
At this writing we don’t know what form the January 25th City Council meeting will be – hybrid or totally via zoom. Please watch even if your voice has been silenced.