The honorable Mr. Whiskers
EDITOR: The most recent City Council meeting exposed a weakness in local government that may explain why Council seems to accomplish so little so badly: No one knows who is running things, why, in what direction or for what purpose. Specifically, Council apparently lacks a coherent method for setting agendas to identify, prioritize, discuss and decide by a date-certain the concrete issues important to residents of the City. It also seems unclear whether Council controls staff, or vice-versa.
Kudos to Councilmembers Amy Harrington and Madolyn Agrimonti for having the chutzpah to call bulls--t on the current situation. But what’s the solution?
Perhaps it’s time to invite constituents — i.e., those who live in the city limits — to propose agenda items to achieve something - anything - more meaningful than endless proclamations commemorating everything from first responders to the birthday of the City Cat. Readers probably didn’t even know there was a City Cat. Well, there isn’t; but no one would be surprised to hear Council had proclaimed one.
In September, a list of residents’ suggestions was sent to Council and the city manager as a small contribution to help ignite fresh thinking; or, as the Bible says, raise the dead. It’s nothing particularly profound but simply a best-as-can-be-recalled collection of various ideas gleaned from casual conversations over the years with a cross-section of city residents. Many seem far more concrete, practical and imaginative than many which appear — apparently unbidden? — on Council agendas or in so-called goal-setting exercises.
Undoubtedly still in awe of it, Council and staff have yet to acknowledge receiving the list — not even a note suggesting where I should stick it for safekeeping.
EDITOR: It is absolutely clear that the highest present priority for our County’s government should be dealing with the issues caused by the recent wildfires. Thousands of people lost their homes, have health problems as a result of the smoke, are short of food and clothing. They must be protected against looters, unscrupulous renters, and others preying on the sufferers.
All the more surprising then is the high priority given to a proposal from Kenwood Investments that owns a number of companies in the County, including this newspaper.
First, a little history: In 2012 a small hunt club, located on the south end of the Lakeville Highway, near Highway 37, was relocated when the land was restored to wetlands as part of the Sonoma Baylands restoration project. The new club is on Highway 37 just east of Highway 121. It received a use permit from the County. Like the original club, it is modest and, except for occasional gunfire, not disturbing to people enjoying recreation on the Baylands.
Then, in 2016 Kenwood went back to the County’s permit agency, PRMD, to ask for permission to hugely expand the club, in effect turning it into a social club. Hunting non-native birds would be the major attraction, alongside member gatherings and dining. The plan includes a three-story clubhouse and outbuildings of almost 35,000 square feet and 35 feet high, along with a restaurant which could accommodate 45 people at a time. The goal is to recruit 500 members who could use the club with their families. The starting membership fee has risen to $65,000 and may go to $100,000. The membership would include corporations, and there would be frequent special events.
In January 2017, PRMD was on the verge of approving this plan when it was appealed. In August the appellants presented 14 pages of questions to PRMD. The questions included such matters as the effects of the project on Highway 37 traffic, including safety issues, the permissible uses for a property zoned for agriculture, accordance with state land-use regulations (CEQA), noise pollution, the effects of sea rise, and others. No responses nave been received by the appellants.
PRMD completed a “Mitigated Negative Declaration” in late September which, pursuant to CEQA, outlined in 46 pages, and on the basis of material assembled by Kenwood consultants, concluded that the project posed no significant environmental problems. The appellants were not on the distribution and discovered its existence by chance and too late to meet the PRMD’s deadline for comments. PRMD then set the date of Nov. 2 for a hearing on the project by the County’s Board of Zoning. Later, still without a staff report, the date was moved to Nov. 16.
The appellants continue to have serious reservations, including about this project’s effects on the safety of traffic, on the enjoyment of visitors to the Baylands, and on the appropriateness of such a large private club in the Baylands which have been protected and preserved with the expenditure of tens of millions of public (taxpayer) and private funds. They also question the timing of the hearing at this time when it would seem all County organizations should be helping people suffering from the wildfires, not an event center disguised as a humble hunt club.
If not postponed, the hearing this coming Thursday will entertain questions from the public as well as from the appellant. It will take place at 1 p.m. at 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa.