EIRs don’t approve projects
EDITOR: According to at least one reader (“Hotel Foes Should Accept Measure B Results,” Aug. 4), now that the EIR for the downtown hotel nears completion, we need no longer talk about the project, we simply need to vote it into place. The EIR is a standard format document, the same one used in any Sonoma-size city with a building project. The EIR is not the decider in these matters, it is a tool to help. Elected and appointed officials make that final decision.
The EIR provides much useful information, but there are many things that it cannot provide and that only humans can, like wisdom, such as measurement against other more pressing needs, longtime effect on the character of our town and conflicts with local imperatives. That’s why we have a City Council and a Planning Commission, to represent the legitimate goals of the people who elected or appointed them, whether or not they are popular or mechanically correct.
To be clear, I do not oppose this hotel project, I object to it at the present location, steps from our beloved Plaza. Were it planned for Broadway and MacArthur for example, I would support it.
EDITOR: Suddenly it is clear that our elected leaders are trapped and rendered impotent by their predecessors’ resolution to reign in the City Council agenda. All of their individual campaign promises, all of their individual ambitions are muted because they have no ability to individually affect the agenda. There is no debate because you have to convince a quorum of your colleagues, without violating the Brown Act, that your cause is worthy of debate before you can debate. They cannot even discuss undoing the trap without convincing a quorum of colleagues, again, without violating the Brown Act.
Despite this, every month the agenda is full, staff reports are written and the business of the city government churns on with the occasional juicy bit bubbling up for the electeds to deal with. Whose agenda is it anyway? Where do these agenda items come from? Who is directing the traffic? Councilmember Cook says the agenda is set by Council goals; we have never seen leaf blowers or pink doors in the Council goals. Most of this is just a distraction, fluff, slight of hand and pretty colors to keep the dullards occupied while the real agenda is carried on out of sight.
The City commissions are not yet constrained by these rules, still, their agendas stay full as well; plenty of business to do. As chair of a City commission for seven years I can tell you first hand how hard it is to get items on the agenda, even without the Council’s self-imposed trap; especially when that agenda does not align with the plans of those who are being directed to help prepare for the discussion or bear the results of the debate.
Many, many times over my eight years as a commissioner, and seven as chair, I watched the City squirm as bold ideas are raised that may result in change, dodge commissioners’ requests, refuse to answer direct questions, omit items from the agenda after repeated requests and delay responses for months until either forgotten or the citizen/commissioner moved on for lack of being able to affect anything they wanted to do when appointed.