Thursday, November 9, 2017

Joint City/County Meeting this week

Greetings!

From Scott, a very keen observer of our citizen engagement:

For those who weren't at the joint meeting of the Sonoma Board of Supervisors and the Santa Rosa City Council, the below is a mildly meandering, semi-eternal attempt at opinionated meeting minutes that veers eventually to a screed on activism, citizenry, and my personal regret at my behavior. I apologize for any confusing sarcasms and lack of clarity.

This was an important meeting, perhaps historic for Sonoma county– not for what they did, but for what they didn't do. In the immediate aftermath of this meeting, Santa Rosa announced a renewed attack on the homeless at 6th street. The people in tents, sheltered from the rain, are to be helped by being evicted and scattered, so they can enjoy new shelter digs where available, whether they can stand shelters or not; and so they can get lots of great services they'd want if they only knew what was good for them. That announcement, deftly delivered on the sly, is an apt coda to the wary uncertainty I felt about intentions during the whole joint meeting. I couldn't help sensing the other shoe hadn't dropped. The feeling defines the evening for me. 

It wasn’t the content of the meeting, which was slippery and earnest, with the ritual nodding in unison about progress and challenge, using interchangeable phrases and broad-brushed topics to parade, one at a time, the officials' senses of urgency. All very normal. But a much larger, entirely unreasonable proportion of the meeting time than usual was spent on such catharsis and good-cheer whitewash. A month into this, and they still seem stunned. In the almost two hours before public comment, almost nothing tangible or actionable was said. Vanishingly few pointed or intelligent questions by officials; controversy either banned from view or seen as nonexistent; no clear demarcation of approaches or mention of specific risks. No discussion of agriculture (or business at all), or examples of crisis/finance/homeless excellence from elsewhere, or the roughest of detail on homelessness status/plans, or a hint of financing scenarios (in an involved financial context.) About a dozen black and brown faces in the crowd total, counting photographers (the half-dozen or so Latino commissions Sonoma county maintains are needing pay raises, apparently, or they had the night off. Too bad; they all missed the thin, impromptu old-white-liberal cheer and applause about the annexation of Roseland.) OH, I forgot (the mayor intoned at one point), it's a historic meeting of the council and supervisors, like, I don't– in my  27 years– have we even done this bef– I mean, wow– y'all, this is a big day. And look, you were here for it, wow. We're being momentous. Just by sitting here, with our name tags on. And you're going to have a li'l ol' part of it all rub off on you, too, just you wait. I mean, look at all the cameras.

About a quarter of us didn't have seats, and the room was full, at capacity: gawd help us if they'd've actually advertised the meeting adequately, so that a reasonable amount of people had come (total was probably about 250 or so, roughly one for every 2,000  adult citizens.) First, after the predictable intonements of historicity and urgency and unification, we stared together at the video of a re-virgining of a residential lot (in Wikiup, I think). It went on for a few minutes, from nice angles, courtesy of a drone pilot. The lot was getting watered down and smoothed over, and it was all better, it'll have a house on it probably in a few business days, bam; that's how we roll, it was almost inferred; we've, like, done shit like this up and down California and to infinity and beyond ad nauseum, this is gonna succeed like you're not gonna even want to beg me to stop being sick of suc–

To anyone other than a Sonoma county native, the video would've been boring and stupid; we were all hushed and excited, naturally pleased to see something/anything that didn’t look like a scene from the zombie apocalypse. We all tacitly agreed this was good news, like the first tendril making its way to the surface, not even green yet. Bad stuff all gone. Deadline in two weeks, by the way, for people to fill out their permission slips for the re-virgined lots, you're fools if you don't sign up to be so smoothly unyuckified...yet only a third of the lot owners have agreed so far– no discussion on these 3,000+ non-responses as a problem, no discussion of any related action items. A two-foot-high stack of the permission forms were dumped on the greeter desk during the meeting, and were left there after the greeter was gone. I saw them as I left. Give them to your friends!, let's all move on this. Like, together.

With the cleanup proceeding so clearly miraculously well (nothing else about the cleanup- high-level milestone steps, etc.– were  mentioned in this "update," other than one unreadable slide which seemed to be designed to convey it was too complicated for laymen to involve themselves), and a happy, high-level smudge in place of even the teensiest timing or data or risk or cost detail, there were very few questions asked by our representatives, none difficult. I'm afraid I don't remember what the FEMA fellow said during his five minutes, sorry. Discussion then swerved to agenda item 2, the barest of skeletons to hang a county's hopes on: hey y'all, we might be able to raise money in a new, cool way, prolly save some money (oh, really??) doing it in this zippysnake way we can't fully explain here, it's so complicated, wish we could, but it'll be waaay better than a bond measure, it's hella modern, moguls figured out how to get something for nearly nothing that hardly anybody pays for, just the people who benefit, in 90 easy payments (2x/year for 45 years, out of victim's future taxes). At this mess of pottage, a mild bit of musical chairs logically before we're all nodding in unison again; token symbolic/clueless objections/concerns, to project earnestness, no numbers or forecasts in sight or asked for. More nods in unison. 

I left the meeting having no faith that our leaders had a firm sense of direction or priority. Platitudes were used like Survivor tokens through the three agenda items (cleanup status, financing, homelessness status.) No initial impressions of costs or options of any of it, nor basic scenarios, nor even a broadbrush breakdown of the 2-4+ billion cost estimates. No sources and uses of funds, as it's so embarrassingly, starkly termed in the real world; no sense how it all might merge with or work with or overlap with other private or public state/federal funds or loans.

We did get a 'fire subcommittee' of leaders that we need to make decisions and coordinate research (actually set up before the meeting and announced), with at least two members (Julie Combs, Susan Gorin) who will hopefully help us balance prudence, clarity, and aggressive action the way we must to pull this off well
(think planning department...and who is this fire subcommittee's chair? That'll end up vital, and wasn't mentioned.) This is a group that needs to be watched, bless their earnest little hearts: here is a whole new level of challenge beyond the usual of managing large vineyard developments and kowtowing to NIMBY annoyance from homeless people under a bridge in winter. I see reams of hours sitting with those 5 in our future; or perhaps we'll meekly let them get away with closed or 'informal' (non-public) sessions. Are we as citizens up to the task of managing these oft-errant officials on the biggest task of their political careers?

Public comment eventually did befall our representatives. We're the equivalent of a used condom at public meetings: we're what's left over after the excitement of earnest pronouncements, and muted assurances of re-electability. Cue the practiced pallor of distraction and irritation so common on the supervisors during public comment time; you can watch them shut down mentally as it begins. No one could be pleased, it seemed, even in these dark times, that we have so many who wish to share often carefully wrought ideas, on such an important subject. Instead, it was addressed as a mandatory above-average public management nightmare that all these people wanted to speak– and 90 seconds, as Santa Rosa's mayor assured us in a scolding tone, after not even attempting to hide his usual exasperation at the speaker count, is more than enough to convey whatever the hell it is that a citizen who's going to be ignored anyway can have to say. 

The controlling and shaming tone of the mayor; the hurry and bluster over every ten seconds of delay (OMG, she's going to try to get her written statement's last paragraph out! Who does she think she is?); the chiding insistence that the lords and ladies weren't to be impeded in their offices by more than 90 seconds by any given citizen, and that number not a bit slapdash, and not to be appended to or, heaven forbid, extended by applause or noise of any kind. Courtesy is the lubricant of administrative miracles, with disorder and delay the very ribs of devilry, and he wasn’t going to have it. And this schoolmarming by our betters was tolerated and obeyed by us and the officials alike as the norm, even when it went so far as the mayor saying that we “were taking away time” from other citizens if we made for unnecessary delays from speaker or non-speaker extended chatter, or questions, or consternations, or concerns. Think a moment: did he mean he was going to not allow the final speaker, or have the last guy only speak 17 seconds because other citizens wasted 73 seconds total, with reactions and opinions and other devilry, and recompense had to follow upon the public? Was he doing the math, like a soccer ref, keeping track of penalty delays and subtracting? Or maybe it was one of his assistants…what the fuck is it about public service that makes us nearly instantly so incurious and know-it-all, so incapable of sensing whom and why we serve, even when those we serve are fighting ruin and worse? Why, the instant one is elevated to speak on behalf of the People, do we lose the ability to sit still and pay attention to the gold, dross, rumor, silver, and chattel that comprises the minds of the mix of concerned, involved citizens? Where the fuck do people get off not only thinking we're supposed to put up with that shit from a public official, but we're to like it, to reward it with obedience and respect? I will not; I cannot. 

I say that, and yet, in an important way, we were no better than this rude, thoughtless mayor. Of course our homeless are to be swept away, to somewhere invisible; we're getting sucked right into this cattle chute that’s so alluring at the moment. We might ascribe our activists’ joint and several silences at the meeting to the civic unity we all want, to commit ourselves as a team and solve a grave emergency well. Instead, I fear we’re simply well schooled, like those who stayed away and those who always stay silent, thinking their voice doesn’t matter. We were afraid to seem as crazy or impractical as Peter, the vegetarian/evangelical/conspiracist, who stormed out in the middle, after a God-tinged pronouncement about faithlessness and hypocrisy and Article 21. I only hope we don't look back in a year and realize that his was the nearest to the right response of all of us. We should be frightened much more easily than we are out of this meekness when our public servants mix this imperious dominion with such a mush of do-gooder smarminess. Which of us stood and cried, "Are you still planning on destroying the homes at 6th street?" And which of us, hearing that, would've shouted along, until they had to answer a simple fucking question, one that they knew we would ask if we knew the depths of their manipulation? And what would we have done if they had answered yes? Would we have boo'd for 30 seconds, and murmured to ourselves about fighting them some coming day, on some related subject? What good, exactly, would any of that do for the homeless under the 6th street bridge, who lose their home next Tuesday? They risk their health and all their comfort in this fight against inequality: what do I risk when I speak out? 

Quiet we were, though, and patient, through what on balance ended up a waste of time, outside of much of the public commentary, a couple of decent official's questions, and one or two practical statements. The citizen's reward for our individual attention, care, and consideration was that 90 seconds we had to speak at the supervisors while they dealt with other issues (as is their wont. Most of the councilpersons, in contrast, were relatively quite attentive.) For the supervisors don't see it as their job to listen during public comment, much less communicate; their presence is what we pay for, no more. In the shadow of disaster, that disrespect and inattentiveness is a terrible trait to exhibit, with an unknown new spike of risk slathered atop the risk we've constantly dealt with from it. Supervisors don't have an alternate magic or telepathic means of gaining the mind of the citizenry during emergency, when a sense of reality at the ground level is so urgent and so hard to see. Or do they seek the minds of others behind the scenes instead, with thoughts that seem more worthy? 

An *utter* lack of discussion or engagement with any citizen, for or against any suggestion, no matter how prepared the speaker, or how experienced, or professional, or pointed, or pertinent. No questions: "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your last." "How do you think we should finance this, then?" "Will you speak with me after, please?" No comments, stern or kind; not a one. No spoken thank yous I heard, other than the one used unremittingly as a broom by the mayor, to scoot the unwashed rapidly away when their widow’s mite of time had vanished. No recommendations explicitly acknowledged as helpful, or important. No notes taken of ideas, not that I could see; no sum up of any ideas, no agenda or potential agenda items proffered from any citizen words. No criticism, pointed or poor, answered with even a word. 

None of the many excellent points about process, finance, direction, concerns or priority brought up in public commentary will be reflected in the minutes, either, for us to take up as a cause, between events. Just the names of the speakers will show in minutes, like the names of the long-dead on tombstones, the rest of their story lost forever. No human interaction with the People even in crisis, beyond that required by a jaundiced interpretation of the Brown Act, with the common twisting of its brilliant, clear first two paragraphs, where two-way communication and clarity as to the officials' minds is spoken of as the hallmark of a democratic republic, with public comment time as the principle's chief diadem. No; instead, the hurried, impatient tones of a man beyond his depth, shuffling us along. 

It may go swimmingly from here; I just doubt it. It's hard to not feel nervous about the disorganization, the lack of useful handholds of information, and the willfully impatient, removed attitude of our representatives. I see a government poised to turn to counsel far from the citizenry, with the predictable waste, cruelty, and delay. 

Like the out-of-state homeless consultant, a hero beribboned while I was asleep, apparently, who has been around the block so many times that he knows everything (he's been to Houston!, he fixed Houston). This guy made his visual interpretation of our local homeless and mental health and drug/alcohol help, our Latino and indigenous and women’s services and shelters and city responses to poverty and inequality, which have many, many fine dimensions, look like a homeless management crisis only he can fix, while he cluck-clucked about marching to lousy drummers and urged a vague, miraculous "consolidation" (fully 3/4 of the listed "silos" will not, cannot, must not, be wiped away or smushed into other things– and why only list two city councils?, he could've made, like, 11 little city council silos, made us look hella more jangled and skittish– a missed opportunity on his hit job.)

For my money, that guy was a classically scary McNamara type, to be shrunk from. No details out of him, of course– not needed; we're being high level here, being strategic– just a clean, strong thrust about waste and mismanagement and efficiency, and a useless fucking diagram of jumbled mumbly-circles (without even an "after", streamlined and snazzy version of the diagram bothered with! Pfft.) TONS of money will be saved, you see, when we stop all this hurdy-gurdy homelessness money from leaking into the pockets of misguided hippies and tricksters, none of whom ever fixed Houston. There's no boss here in SoCo! It's madness! I've never seen it so badly organized in all my years (he actually said that, the numbskull.) There'll be one desk, presumably, finally, for any issue touching upon homelessness– ladies, crime, mental health, affordable housing, drugs, training, families, physical health, jobs, you name it– one guy, and one big, awkward, all-fitting sign: SOCOHOMELESSNESS ET AL-R-US-24-HRS-MORE IS LESS. You just go on in, talk to the guy, he does it all, a fucking GENIUS (and cheap), it's gonna be one stop, no waste, you come out wit h a home or your money back just like in Houston...listening to that manipulative fool and his eager disciple, one could sense the risk of a massive restructuring that can justify and twist "consolidation" into cost-cutting, "streamlining", giant dumbass inflexible shelter projects, or anything you can sell in 10 syllables or less. That schtick felt like about 3/4 bullshit, and it comes with a  free bonus of many opportunities to obfuscate the desperate need for massive, creative, aggressive, many-pronged, long-term investment. Hopefully, mostly through NGO's we have cross-cooperating readily now, so it doesn't implode on itself in an orgy of new and big and crazy. 

Our officials can turn to the usuals, as well. Our tourism interests, say, who are so good at eliminating homeless people from sight via police or politician. Or maybe our elected officials will listen to the developers, so eager to spit out their thin tithe of their developments as affordable housing that aren't at all affordable, who gladly pay the bribes of monstrous fees for the privilege, tacking them gaily onto the price of the “affordable units.”  Or bond peddlers may get their ear, with far-flung, slimy precedents, in their new or old clothes (hint: the new structure they were selling is essentially a specialized bond issuance, just a different security/backing type, with awesome fees for investment banks and crazy long amortization for delayed payback. Might work, but limited in potential size; mostly looks like a politically expedient way of immaturely avoiding the need to immediately mount the case for a very large bond issuance. Which will come soon enough. I doubt they'll be able to raise near enough with such a structure. Stay tuned.)

Why should these, our old moneyed masters, lose their place at the table merely over crisis? As Peter the evangelist might say right about now, we are being sent forth as sheep among wolves, so be as wise as serpents. Greg Fearon tried to say to them, in his 90 seconds, that this is the time to listen closely to us, to hew to the citizenry. Alas, our first tangible insight into their mind is that they seem to have timed the announcement of the 4th/5th/6th street purge so it couldn't conflict with the smooth jazz we heard all night about togetherness and courtesy and brevity– precisely to avoid hearing the mind of the People. 

It appears our world is still to be arranged for us in back rooms. One day on, I already deeply regret being so damn polite. What the heck was I doing sitting there like a backbencher, sotto voce with my frustrations? People ten seats away couldn't hear me at my loudest. Was I saving my political capital for when it might count, for when I can wrangle a first-name basis with them, speak softly, and be respected enough to be heard? What was I thinking?

Friday, October 20, 2017

S.R. City Council Agenda Oct 24th

Greetings!

An hour ago, the full agenda for next week's Santa Rosa City Council was posted.  I have been watching the City website since the City's self-imposed posting deadline passed at 5pm yesterday.  Each hour today, more items received their staff reports, and new items appeared.  With the legal devastation of the district elections lawsuit, and the physical devastation of the fires, our City has had quite a set of whirlwinds on its plate.

The first indication of change came last week when the preliminary agenda contained an item  recommending the Council delay further public hearings on the district elections "until the citizens of Santa Rosa are fully capable of participating in the process".  I wondered then if City staff would be prepared for the questions which would be asked about whether that delay would result in the lawsuit it feared when it decided to change to district elections.

The final agenda has eliminated that recommendation, and the list of future Council meetings includes additional public hearings at the original pace.

The last item to be added to the agenda today:

  1. Responds to the need for reconstruction of parcel properties damaged by the fire, by adopting an three-year ordinance overlaying a special zoning district in the impacted areas of the City which allows property owners to obtain all waived development fees, process their permits through an expedited review absent of any hearings, avoid the development of any environmental impact reports, and construct or place "trailers, recreational vehicles, manufactured homes, tiny homes, and similar configurations" on their properties prior to and during re-construction of their homes or commercial properties; 
  2. Encourages the inclusion of granny units and small independent units built within the existing house footprint by waiving fees; and 
  3. Blocks price gouging in rental units throughout the City "as long as the City remains under a federal, state, or local declaration of emergency, provided, however, that notwithstanding a state of emergency, this Ordinance shall not extend beyond April 18, 2018 unless otherwise authorized by law".
Of course, there are other interesting items on the agenda.  These include: 
  • Adopting and approving the City's Salary Schedule; 
  • Approving the costs of the Annexation of Roseland, the agreements transferring housing projects and multi-year funds from the County, and establishing a new City/County District to transition South Park into the City's utility financing rates;
  • Establishing the salary, job description, and title of a Communications and Intergovernmental Relations Officer;
  • Approving straight-time overtime for exempt employees, lifting the vacation accrual limits, and establishing a disaster leave while the City is in a state of emergency. 
It appears that City staff are responding quickly to their needs to assist residents to rebuild.

  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Interactive Fire Map

Greetings!

This is a useful map, which should be shared with your family and friends trying to understand our situation.

http://sonomamap.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=2089db8e15c04be886f6d4f8daf7b13f

Gregory

S.R. City Council Agenda, Oct 10th

Greetings!

Thanks again to our friend, Anne Seeley, of Concerned Citizens For Santa Rosa, and her report on this week's City Council Agenda. 

The meeting has been postponed until Wednesday, Oct 11th, and  the District Elections Public Hearing until next Tuesday, October 17th:

Friends:

  There is no Study Session before the 4PM meeting.

Consent
   There are 2 Consent agenda items asking the Council to approve payments made to contractors in the past which were made incorrectly, without the usual system, but in which the equipment has already been installed.  Essentially, retroactive approvals.

5PM Public Hearing
 15.1 District-based City Council Elections: Compositions of Districts (California Voting Rights Act).   
Why is this happening?   First, the City received a letter from an attorney who has been successful in suing other cities at their great cost, alleging violations of the California Voting Rights Act. When the cities lose the court cases, they have to pay millions in public money to cover attorney expenses, the litigant's and their own..
   Second, Santa Rosa has been ripe for District Elections (DE), as it has annexed a 700 plus acre area in the Southwest, wherein much of the City's Latino population lives.  Spreading the political power in the City, in addition to lowering to a large extent the cost of running for City Council, is the aim.   

   This is the 2nd hearing of 5 to be held. Last week citizens came forward with ideas of what guidelines should and should not be used in the new mapping of districts.
    At this hearing, the same will happen, but with the likely addition of suggestions from several groups for where the lines should be drawn for the districts.
    After this hearing, City staff and the demographic consultant they hired will draw some draft maps and they will be available for the public to comment on.
 Check on the City's website (https://srcity.org) for the maps to see what will be presented to the Council on November 1, at the next Public Hearing.
See you there!
Anne

Sunday, September 24, 2017

S.R. City Council Agenda, Sep 26th

Greetings!

Once again, our thanks to Anne Seeley, of Concerned Citizens For Santa Rosa, for her analysis of this week's City Council meeting agenda:

Friends:    There is a Study Session, held in the Council Chambers, at 3PM.
  3.1 Overview of Homeless System of Care.      Staff from City Community Services and the Sonoma County Community Human Development Commission will provide information on current homeless needs and the effectiveness of the existing system of care.   
https://santa-rosa.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=5439590&GUID=8F37FC7C-028F-4ABC-A374-8FF123140380 Homeless Care System
4PM Council Meeting

 10 Mayor's and Councilmembers' Reports
     10.1  Sonoma County Secure Family Fund.  As a result of the President's actions concerning immigration, the Sonoma County Community  Foundation is leading an effort to provide grants to eligible non-profits for deportation defense and other programs to aid at-risk families to take advantage of protections available to them under current law.

Consent
  12.3 Multiple Bid Award and Approval of 3 Professional Service Agreements for Temporary Help Services for a period of 3 years with up to 3 years of extension options for an amount of $1.5 Million to each company or $4.5 Million total.  Read below about all the job types to be covered. 

Report
  14.2 Acceptance of the City's Violence Prevention Partnership's 2017-2022 Strategic Plan.

  14.3 Proposed Renter Advocacy and Legal Representation Services.
  The Council could contract with Legal Aid of Sonoma County to provide renter advocacy and legal representation services.
My note:  With the defeat of the Rent Stabilization and Just Cause Eviction ballot measure last year, some members of the Council have been looking at ways renters might still be helped.

See you there!
Anne

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Santa Rosa Welcoming Downtown High-Rise Development Proposals

Greetings!

I attended two meetings recently at which the City told local business owners and developers that it is courting developers of potential housing projects.  At the Downtown Subcommittee and the Economic Development Subcommittee, the Mayor and three members of the Council heard staff presentations which outlined both the housing developments currently being approved, as well as the opportunities being discussed with developers involving City property which it hopes developers will buy and turn into housing projects.

Approvals for six hundred and thirty-two units are being processed by the Council now, in addition to 306 new hotel rooms.  On four City properties (Ross & B, 2nd & E, 3rd & D, and the City Hall), it is hoped that developers will take advantage of generous density bonuses and height limit variances to retain existing parking and build 7-10 story residential buildings.  Here is a link to the Downtown Development Update PowerPoint presentation used in the meeting.

Why the interest in raising the roofs?  If you'll remember, a series of workshops was sponsored by local architects last year in which the case was convincingly made that the best combination of increased tax revenues to minimum public infrastructure expenses was to build up in the city's core area.   Given also that Santa Rosa's budget has a $5 million deficit, and it owns several large vacant or under-utilized parcels downtown, and you can understand some of the motivation.

Over the next few months, the city will be asking its citizens to comment on key components of the incentives offered to developers to get them to partner with the City on these projects.  David Guhin, Director of the Planning and Economic Development Department, told the Subcommittee that he hopes to issue his "White Paper" soon on proposals for density bonus elements, low income inclusionary requirements in for-sale developments, and accessory and junior accessory development ordinances.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Santa Rosa Political Earthquake

Greetings!

This Tuesday's Santa Rosa City Council Agenda's last item is an earth-shaker.

"14.3 REPORT - RESOLUTION - CALIFORNIA VOTING RIGHTS ACT

BACKGROUND:  On July 17, 2017, the City received a claim alleging that the City’s at-large election of councilmembers is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

RECOMMENDATION: It is recommended by the City Attorney that the Council, by resolution, state its intent to respond to claim regarding the City’s compliance with the California Voting Rights Act. "

We might as well declare a political emergency, and admit that everything else the City is doing is now on the back burner.  The City has 90 days to act if it wishes to avoid the payment of large legal fees, and the imposition of district election boundaries by a judge.

To design your own political maps of the City, start with some of the tools which can be downloaded from the County Registrar of voters website:

Santa Rosa Precinct Maps
Santa Rosa Supervisor Districts