In a long evening session on September 29, the Carson City Planning Commission approved The Vintage At Kings Canyon on two 4-to-2 procedural votes. For the details of what this project is, see
The issue now is not that they ignored the massive outpouring of public opinion against this project. The issue now is, how they did it. THAT is the painful lesson in civics.
This is how things work (supposedly). It’s fairy safe to say we’re typical, which explains why the general electorate is in such a foul mood.
- The “people” elect a board of supervisors (or a city council), which is the legislative body closest to the people.
- The board appoints (supposedly) highly qualified people to various advisory commissions. They are there to advise the board on matters on which the board must decide. Oh yes, formally the applicants for appointment to a commission have to have a relevant resume, but who knows how and why the board would vote to accept one and reject another? The process seems ripe for appointing cronies and ideological allies. (Duh.)
- Each of these commissions have a (supposedly) highly qualified expert staff who dig into all the deep technical and legal details in order to generate a staff report to advise the commission on a particular matter (in the case of The VIntage At Kings Canyon, it’s an application for zoning variances needed to go ahead with a massive project packaged as a Planned Unit Development).
Sounds good, right? But this is where things break down, this is where the will of the people is ignored, and this is how we end up in a petty dictatorship BY an unelected bureaucracy, OF people with dubious expertise and motivation, FOR well-connected special interests with obviously self-serving motives.
This is how it goes:
- An applicant (developer, whoever) submits a request to the city staff according to a specified procedure.
- The staff “works with” the applicant to develop and polish what they deem to be an acceptable application. Never mind that nothing in state and local law says whether they can or have to, they just do.
- The findings of the staff are presented to the commission. In the name of openness and transparency, the texts of the application and the staff report are also made available to the public in various ways, such as on the city’s website. The public is invited to submit comments, and these comments are attached to the staff report. At last count, this TPUD application was 648 pages, the staff report was 511 pages, and as of the day of the public meeting, another several hundred new pages of reports, studies and public comments were posted. A mere one and half to two thousand pages to read, study, understand and comment on, on less than a day’s notice…
- A public hearing is announced. In this case the city also mailed out the announcement to all property owners within 900 feet of the boundaries of the project area.
- The public shows up. (In this case, we filled the community theater to about 1/2 to 2/3 capacity.) The staff makes a highly abbreviated verbal presentation of the staff report. Commissioners question the staff. The applicant makes a highly abbreviated verbal presentation of the project and their application. (In this case, about the fourth or fifth different version if their proposal.) Commissioners question the applicant. At various times staff members interject, all too obviously in jealous defense of the staff report. Members of the public are given three minutes each to make their comments. There is no conversation between the commissioners and the public. Commission members hold a discussion, in full view of the audience. At various times commission members question the staff or staff members interject, again all too obviously in jealous defense of the staff report. Then the commission deliberates and votes on motions written by the staff.
And this is how it went (see Video). During the deliberations among themselves, in public, the commissioners voiced serious concerns about the project, including its violation of the current master plan and zoning, and its incompatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. But they decided that they have to consider the motions in the order presented by the staff:
- Approve the master plan and zoning change requested by the applicant (from single family homes on large lots to mixed use commercial, with homes on microscopic lots).
- Having approved that change, and therefore the project no longer being in violation of the master plan and zoning, approve the project itself; never mind the commission’s own objections, never mind that the project is and will forever be incompatible with and highly damaging with its impact on the surrounding neighborhood.
In this and other similar matters before previous meetings of this commission, it was glaringly obvious that the staff report is not an objective, technically and legally correct evaluation of the application, but the main pillar of the application. This is hardly surprising; it’s human nature. In the process of “working with” the applicant, the staff itself develops a proprietary interest in, and an emotional attachment to, not just to their own staff report but also to the applicant’s project that they were reviewing. In this public meeting, the staff’s most telling question to the commission was, repeatedly, what does it take to overcome a commissioner’s unease about or objection to a particular specific detail in the application.
It was also glaringly obvious that the ONLY document that the commissioners read and considered in detail during their public deliberations was the staff report. Not the application, not the public comments pre-submitted in writing or presented verbally at this public meeting, but the staff report. (Only one of the commissioners made a comment to the audience that he’s read the application, the staff report and the public comments before the meeting.)
So it’s clear that this is how things really work:
- The applicant submits a proposal and hundreds of pages of supporting documentation written to claim compliance with local legal requirements.
- The staff works with the applicant to polish some details, then generates a staff report recommending approval of the application. The staff also writes motions for the commission to vote on. Of course the motions are worded and listed in such an order so as to ensure passage.
- The commission rubber stamps the staff report, with few if any modifications. The commissioners do not disrespect their staff. Commissioners can and do disrespect the public with impunity, because they are appointed, not elected.
- The commission’s recommendation is passed onto the board of supervisors.
- Supervisors, being even more remote from the details of a specific application, and overburdened with similarly huge stacks of other applications and other matters before them (each in the form of staff reports hundreds and thousands of pages long) simply and routinely accept (rubber stamp) the recommendations of the commission. The board does not disrespect its commissions. But, although they are elected, they do time and again disrespect the public, because the only thing that the public does is vote, and their ill-informed or un-informed votes are easily gained by campaigning, which the special interests are all too happy to finance.
The winners are the special interests that submitted the application and “work with” the staff. The staff, of course, necessarily work in some office, out of public view. The losers are the people whom the board, the commissions and the staff are supposedly, nominally there to protect from those special interests.
The most ironic part of all this is that they all claim to be serving the public interest, while they are totally dismissing the massive outpouring of public opinion — even or especially when, as in this case, the public comments clearly showed a deeper and technically more correct understanding of the issues than the supposedly expert staff itself. Especially in this town, the state capital, the villagers are not idiots.
What’s to be done about this?
- What if members of the staff were required to have the years of education and experience that their jobs require in all their scientific, technical and legal detail, free of ideological biases? In this case it was obvious that their bias is clearly pro development, anti open space, pro infill rather than leaving a patchwork of developed and undeveloped parcels; in other words, fully consistent not with the will of the people who live here or moved here for the town’s special character, but with UN Agenda 21 and 2030.
- What if commissioners were required to have the scientific, technical and legal education and experience required to understand and evaluate applications in their purview, which they would apply independent of their ideological biases?
- What if commissioners were not appointed by the board of supervisors, but elected by the people, in spite of or because of their ideological biases?
- What if state and local law required the commissions and the board to submit certain matters of great public impact to the direct vote of the people, and required the commissions and the board never to overrule the vote of the people on those matters, so that, if there are ideological biases to be applied, it would be the ideological biases of the people?
- What if we lived in a democracy, not a technocracy or bureaucracy?
- What if in this election year, candidates for office would actually pay attention to the people whose votes they expect to earn?
What if I pinched myself and woke up?
For another example of an imperial bureaucracy running amok, see the rich history of Common Core and student data mining, for example in common core | Search Results | Just The Facts, Ma’am, especially 102. Common Core & The Law | Just The Facts, Ma’am and be sure to follow the links cited in the articles. See also one of the latest examples from the Washoe County School District (Reno, NV) in 09 27 2016 RB WCSD Board Meeting – YouTube and 09 27 2016 RB WCSD Board Meeting – YouTube.