By Louis Rodolico
Most City of San Diego community meetings these days are not in auditoriums but in small rooms with easels and posters manned by engineers and consultants.
Project managers like this format because:
1) They set up presentation materials for only issues they wish to discuss.
2) Controversial issues can be left out.
3) A citizen can still ask an important controversial question, but it will be shared only with a few listeners — not an audience.
And 4) managers have told me they prefer this poster station format since it is less hostile. Which translates into: “We do not want to address controversial issues, and this is our way around the Brown Act.”
We find out years later what project managers left out.
A good example was the Blue Line Trolley presentation in spring 2016. The room was small, hot, overcrowded and loud. SANDAG addressed the crowd with a bullhorn. There were no boards/posters for the areas I wanted to ask about, so no discussion was possible.
These poster meetings were recently used by Pure Water San Diego.
Here the public was not given details about the controversial 4-foot-diameter high-pressure raw sewage line (18 tons per square foot) until it was described in the environmental impact report.
The documents in the EIR were 60 percent construction documents, so the public was being informed when it was already too late for any public comment to be considered.
This flies in the face of what an EIR is intended to be. Citizens are supposed to comment on the EIR and adjustments made based on those comments. Pure Water had completely sidestepped the Brown Act.
Managers were in effect saying: “We should consider public comments, but unfortunately we have already finished our design — thanks for participating.”
Equipment lobbyists pushed for the most complex pipe route, requiring the biggest pumps and an excessive amount of relief valves. The complexity is guaranteed to generate millions in change orders and additional profits — completing the circle by creating future introductions for Pure Water managers into the lobbying fold.
Another method to avoid the Brown Act is when organizations like the University Community Planning Group (UCPG) use ad-hoc meetings to conceal important issues like new fire stations.
Ad-hoc meetings are supposed to be for short-range projects like setting up a picnic. UCPG rules dictate that only UCPG members can be at ad-hoc meetings, the public is excluded and no minutes are required.
Ad-hoc meetings are overused, and important topics like new fire stations are being determined by a few individuals without any of us knowing what is being said in our name.
As it turns out, the individuals discussing fire station locations with officials were using the placement of new fire stations as chess pieces to block roads they did not want in their neighborhood. Public safety was not their primary objective. (See Clairemont Times March 2016, Page 9.)
Another way information is hidden from citizens is when lobbyists sue or threaten to sue their own ally. Here both parties can enter into confidential discussions that are protected by instruments like legally binding nondisclosure agreements.
Lobbyists help corporations identify citizens who are willing to put mall profits above public safety, offering them money and or political office.
City government is currently set up to benefit the party with money. For example: The two well-funded parties in the short-term vacation rental dispute. They are an even match since each can raise several hundred thousand dollars to get the required ballot signatures. So San Diego democracy gives both of these parties a voice.
Forty years ago, Westfield Mall realized that if the Regents Road Bridge were built, fewer cars/customers would be funneled up Genesee. When the 2006 bid to remove the bridge was lost, Westfield had the money to get the bridge on the ballot but knew they would not win the popular vote.
However, Westfield also had the money to buy everything and everyone it needed to get its way. Westfield Mall was Australian-owned and had no interest in public safety in University City, Bay Ho or Clairemont.
With millions to spend and a legion of lobbyists to whip votes, local political organizations in University City were overwhelmed with mall loyalists.
Lobbyists whipped up hate between neighbors to take the spotlight off the mall. In 2014 Westfield paid the half-million dollars for its own custom EIR to remove the bridge.
The mall’s EIR ignored ambulance travel times and deliberately misrepresented greenhouse gases generated and all the time those Americans waste in traffic.
To survive, American-owned companies like the Costa Verde shopping center stayed away from this toxic enterprise. Westfield was finally successful in 2016.
The citizens who lost to Westfield showed up at the City Council hearing with 3,000 local signatures. But to get on the ballot, they would need 10 percent of the voter signatures in the entire city.
With no big financial backer, these citizens did not have enough money to get on the ballot. This demonstrated that San Diego guarantees proposition ballot access to big money but not its citizens.
The city will not release ambulance service data, so based on county data, the lack of completed roads results in about seven people dying each year before we can get to the ER — a figure that a foreign-owned corporation has no interest in but a local governing authority should at least consider in an EIR.
Another observation of San Diego’s overbearing is its threat to public safety officials. The fire chief provided extensive testimony in 2006 to build the Regents Road Bridge and council affirmed it.
In 2016 — under threat of career, pension and or income loss — the fire chief did not testify at the City Council hearing. Big money hires lobbyists who fund politicians who instruct public officials.
Going forward, the fire chief and other public safety officials will need clearance from big money before testifying. Their voice is no longer independent.
All these Brown Act work-arounds — hide the truth from taxpayers, raise the cost of living in San Diego — benefit big money and put all of us at elevated risk.
Louis Rodolico has been a resident of University City since 2001. He can be reached via louisrodolico.com.