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Three little stories - Part 1

Jack Balshaw 2/12/2003


Three local projects were discussed in the newspapers and on the public access channel last week; the project located at the present Kenilworth Jr. High site, expansion of the Factory Outlet (including a movie theater) and a proposed residential development on Magnolia. The reasonings for approving or not approving them provided an interesting array of comments, positions and relationships.

Former council member Cader-Thompson commented in a letter-to-the-editor that the aborted proposal to build a public service/apartment complex on the 38 acre Kenilworth Jr. High site could hold up construction of the promised new junior high. Her proposal to help out the school district is to rezone this site as retail commercial, a big shopping center with a theater. More on this in part 2

At the same time, at the public hearing for the expansion of the Factory Outlet, a case was being made to deny the developer's request to allow more retail commercial use, plus a theater complex. This argument was that such expansion would kill downtown business and cause a big increase in traffic. More on this in part 2.

Either Cader-Thompson doesn't care about downtown (which I don't believe) or she sees no threat to downtown from a large retail commercial addition outside of downtown. It's strange how two similar zoning changes can be viewed differently based on similar circumstances (impact on downtown). Our Planning Commission and City Council are going to have to decide.

The Magnolia residential project was opposed mainly by people who, to me, seemed to just want to keep open space in their neighborhood. This is understandable but not how community development should be done. Much was made of the fact that some or most (unclear) of that site was shown on the General Plan as a park. No attention was paid to the other fact that, since the General Plan was approved in 1987, a citywide vote created an urban growth boundary that made a big point of including HIGHER density development in new infill projects.

Of course, once those pushing for an urban growth boundary got what they wanted, we find they didn't mean higher density on the west side. I think the UGB ballot (voted on by the public in 1998) trumps the 87 General Plan (approved by the City Council) and higher rather than lower densities should be accepted as the city's infill policy.

So, what's going on here?

What we're seeing is advocates of differing positions using whatever pieces of information support their point of view while avoiding discussion of factors that might weaken their position. There's nothing new or unusual about this. Neither advocates nor opponents of projects concede there might be another point of view.

A big part of the problem in the Factory Outlet and Magnolia projects is that the Planning Commission appears to be similarly trying to interpret public comments to support their own personal views. They are literally discussing paragraphs out of context to establish points of disagreement without then addressing those disagreements.

It reached the point the other night that the council representative on the Planning Commission asked for time to state his general comments on the EIR document. This was so he wouldn't have to attend the next meeting and sit through further discussion of the EIR on a point-by-point, page by page basis.

It appears that coordinated public comments have replaced discussion by knowledgeable appointed and elected officials who the silent majority expects to represent them via the introduction of broader project information. People who don't have a personal, neighborhood or ideological objection to specific projects don't organize to support a project. People aren't generally "for" things; they are "against" things. People will come out more readily to protest than to cheer.

Public comments thus are mostly negative and therefore the responsible public officials are expected to introduce balancing and unbiased points of view and information to level the decision making process. In my sporadic viewing of the public access coverage of the Planning Commission and City Council, I don't see much of that.


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