Local Commentary

The Little City Weed

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The wonks, nerds and earnest do-gooder citizens who volunteer to serve on boards and commissions should know the cool kids on city council are just not that into you. The city council just threw the biggest mixed use development party ever and you were not invited. But, hey, our citizen volunteers are still welcome to check out the fantabulous party details and comment on the awesomeness of the council members. Nerds.

 

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The wonks, nerds and earnest do-gooder citizens who volunteer to serve on boards and commissions should know the cool kids on city council are just not that into you. The city council just threw the biggest mixed use development party ever and you were not invited. But, hey, our citizen volunteers are still welcome to check out the fantabulous party details and comment on the awesomeness of the council members. Nerds.

The city council neatly cut out any meaningful input from citizens who serve on boards and commissions on the new Gateway project by having a quorum of council members pre-negotiate proffers in its Economic Development Committee (EDC) subcommittee. As a result, the Gateway project arrived at first reading this week with a series of baked-in agreements pre-negotiated by a majority of four council members who serve on what has become a shadow city council subcommittee. The EDC pre-negotiated proffers related to, among other things, how traffic, neighborhood setbacks, affordable dwelling units, landscaping, parking, residential ratios, retail location, building environmental standards will work in the new project.

In short, the Gateway arrived at first reading with a nice little bow tied on it by four council members who have already structured the core developer proffer package without any meaningful input from boards and commissions.

The council has agreed to let some board and commission members take a look at what they have already negotiated with the developer. Good luck to our traffic, housing, environmental and other citizen wonks in trying to add any value to the deal which has already been baked.

The EDC is a subcommittee of city council. For early birds with no jobs, it meets Friday mornings at 7 a.m. Nader Baroukh, Ira Kaylin, David Snyder and Lawrence Webb currently serve on the subcommittee. The EDC was created as a way for council to communicate more effectively with developers about the 2008 City Center South project and to help facilitate economic development in the project. Baroukh and Snyder, outrageous opponents of the city center, were appointed to the EDC as a way for them to have an opportunity to focus on their self-described expertise of bringing in commercial tenants. The hope was their participation on the EDC would dampen their hostility toward the initiative. Baroukh and Snyder, of course, ignored the EDC and showed no interest whatsoever in facilitating the economic viability of City Center South.

But something miraculous must have happened in 2010.

The EDC has devolved into a shadow city council, where a majority of council who have been deeply involved in trying to impose the (twice rejected by public referendum) 50 percent commercial standard on new development and reflexively hostile to affordable housing, have been working to negotiate outside of the scrutiny of their colleagues on council, the planning commission, and public comment.

The new city council has paid lip service to its concern for citizen input and more transparent processes in government. It should start with rethinking how it is using the EDC as a way to avoid collaboration.

 


Michael Gardner is a quixotic citizen and founder of the Blueweeds community blog.

 

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