Sunday, July 8, 2012

Comments leading to the Fall election - 3 city council positions are open

Paul, I hope you're right that a positive sustainable economic change of attitude is coming in the Fall city council election.  This city needs the improvement and the cash.
Pacifica Tribune/Guest Columnist, 6/19/12.  "My Turn:  a shift in politics" by Paul Slavin."

"The City Council meeting on Monday, June 11, may well have signaled a seismic shift in Pacifica politics. That evening, by a unanimous vote of 4 to 0, with one abstention, a newly configured council gave its blessing to the Oddstad Assisted Living Center, a development vigorously opposed by some local environmental groups. In past years, that opposition would probably have been sufficient to delay and eventually derail the project. But not this time.

Fix our city council
Pacifica has long divided itself into pro-and anti-development camps, and has hotly contested every land-use question from the Quarry to Sharp Park. A majority of the City Council seated after the last election -- Sue Digre, Pete DeJarnatt,and Jim Vreeland -- could generally be counted on to support the environmental position, while Mary Ann Nihart and Len Stone are considered more favorable to business and development.

The plans for the Assisted Living Center call for 96 units in a three-building complex on a 2-acre lot at 721 Oddstad Blvd., behind the Park Mall. It's a well-designed, nice looking project that fits well into a quiet neighborhood, and obviously fills a community need. But its proximity to San Pedro Creek ensured immediate and intense environmental scrutiny, and groups such as the "San Pedro Creek Watershed Coalition" and the "Protectors of San Pedro Creek" were formed to block the development. Nevertheless, the project worked its long and torturous way through the Planning Commission, a draft EIR evolved into a final EIR, and in November of last year planning approval was granted. Pacifica was to get a new, if modest, development.

The environmental groups quickly filed appeals, challenging the competence of the EIR, complaining that important information had been overlooked, and raising the specter of earthquake and flood, landslides, crumbling creek banks, spawning steelhead and, God help us, Red-legged frogs. The appeals would be heard by City Council and were listed on the agenda for January 23, 2012.

But at that meeting, Mayor Pete DeJarnatt recused himself (his sister Ann heads up the "Protectors of San Pedro Creek"), Councilmember Stone also recused himself (his office is in the Park Mall, adjacent to the development site), and Councilmember Vreeland was absent. (In 2011, Mr. Vreeland missed 11 of 24 council meetings.) With only two voting members present, there was no quorum and no business could be done. Thus began an almost five-month-long fiasco of delays, postponements, anger and exasperation that was a great embarrassment for the city, and a financial nightmare for the developer.

But then things began to change. Jim Vreeland resigned, citing unspecified health problems and cutting short a term that had almost three years left to run. Council appointed Ginny Jaquith, a well-respected former councilmember, to hold down the seat until the regularly scheduled election in November, 2012, when the remaining two years of the term would be up for grabs. And Len Stone was advised by the City Attorney that yes, he could vote on the project; his office location wasn't that big a deal.

 Political sunrise?
And so, on June 11, the Oddstad Assisted Living Center finally got a hearing before the City Council. First of all, Mayor Pete DeJarnall again recused himself, his sister being still very much involved in the proceedings. Pete sometimes seems bowed beneath the weight of his many years on council, and he has said he will not seek another term in November. With an almost visible relief, he quickly left the building.

Four councilmembers remained sitting at the dais.

Len Stone, our young first term councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem, now chairs the meeting. Since winning his seat in the 2010 election (as the largest individual vote-getter), Len has positioned himself as the policy-wonk, the serious businessman with a vigilant eye on the bottom line. He is not enthralled by the impassioned pleas from the "Protectors of San Pedro Creek."

Next to him sits Mary Ann Nihart, now concluding her first term on the Council. Mary Ann is probably as much a policy-wonk as Len; she just doesn't look like it. It's that high-voltage smile, I guess. With her impressive medical background, her nursing experience, her business skills and academic achievements, she's probably better suited to handle the technical information load than any other councilmember. And while she's always been a supporter of the environment, she tends to look at the whole picture.

Next is Ginny Jaquith, the replacement councilmember, who could well be the key tonight, the swing vote. (She was not the first choice of Mayor DeJarnett or Councilmember Digre.) Ginny is considered a moderate, and is extremely knowledgeable in local government and community affairs. She claims no political ambitions past November.

That leaves Sue Digre as the only councilmember at the dais that could be said to represent the unofficial, anti-growth, environmental coalition that has dominated the City Council and heavily influenced Pacifica politics for many years now. A coalition that, at the moment, looks decidedly outnumbered.

Sue, a popular three-term councilmember, has always been a proud standard-bearer for her environmental allies. Her battle-cry of "Our Environment Is Our Economy" may seem a little dated, a bit tarnished, in the midst of a worldwide recession and our local financial woes, but it resonated well enough in the last election for her to garner over 5,000 votes. She will gamely defend her position, and the citizens she was elected to represent.

The first order of business is a request by the Appellants (the groups that filed the appeals, as opposed to the "Applicants" who have applied for the Site Development Permit) for another postponement of the hearing, due to the absence of one of their experts. This request was quickly and unanimously denied. No one sitting at the dais had the stomach for another delay. 

The two appeals were then heard, presented by spokesmen for the Appellants and countered by the Applicant's environmental consultant. Sue Digre closely questioned some aspects of the development plan, was reassured that the Mitigation Monitoring Program would receive input from the environmentalists, and bowed to the inevitable. When it came time to vote, she joined the three other councilmembers in unanimously supporting the Oddstad Assisted Living Center.

Whether or not this is truly a harbinger of a more balanced approach to governance in Pacifica will depend on a number of things, not least of which are the upcoming elections in November. Three seats are open and their disposition could ensure a long-time, progressive, pragmatic majority on Council that confronts our long neglected problems and lays the groundwork for a sound financial future. There are interesting days ahead."

Reference -  City council meeting Minutes, 6/11/12, vote on page 20. 

Posted by Kathy Meeh

1 comment:

Hutch said...

Great letter Paul. You nailed it. I especially like your descriptions of Len an Mary Ann.