Woodland City Council recently announced that its committee assigned to downtown revitalization (Jim Hilliard, Sean Denny) will meet on November 28 to host a “brainstorming” session with the public. This announcement describes a “Gong Show” type of format, where “having fun” is protected, as it seems, by being pealed down or off, at council members’ whim.

Receiving public comment on important, complex topics would seem to deserve a more conventional and respectful design, extending and engendering confidence and comfort to optimize successful participation.

Theatrical antics occasionally have their place, but don’t appear well suited to such nature of venue; while, inclusive and expansive, managed in reasonable fashion, would be a much better theme.

Intimidation, apprehension and embarrassment are basic elements of a “Gong Show” approach to presentations. Persons cannot as a matter of course expect patience and deference during such a setting; that’s the whole appeal of entertainment from such theatrics. Persons operate under constant threat and tension of not providing whatever amounts to: “fun.”

“Brainstorming” is by definition intended to be an extra-respectful forum for expression of relatively uncontested ideas, directly contrary to the whole thrust of a “Gong Show” element. Contradictions like this reveal a certain political naiveté, succeeding in being both: defensive and offensive.

The city council also recently adopted basically retreaded “goals” on the subject of (finally) “strengthening downtown,” a policy slogan right next to “Quality of Life” at the apex of the council’s diagramed pyramid of “goals.”

Perhaps moving forward a “Gong Show” slant for meeting dialogue about downtown issues provides a level of distraction from disturbing truths about city council actions on downtown planning.

“Gong Show” treatment is rather what the city council richly deserves for its stunningly depressing record of downtown planning scandals.

__  Exclusion Of Key Downtown Policy From Gateway 2 Process  __

During recent municipal planning process related to the proposed Gateway 2 project (doubling the size of peripherally located Gateway 1 commercial center), comments, questions and controversies arose regarding consistency of this project with existing municipal policy in the form of provisions within the city’s General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan involving its downtown area, suitably protecting this area from impacts of peripheral development causing blight and urban decay.

Municipal approval of Gateway 2 became instantly enmeshed in litigation contesting these and several other legal issues, litigation which presently continues in appellate court.

While litigation may eventually result in severe judicial penalties, such as a voiding of municipal approval of Gateway 2 — there clearly remains the timely and proper, public / political question of whether the city council actually excluded from its approval process for Gateway 2: Major provisions of existing municipal policy relevant to the city’s downtown area.

This matter is dramatically simple: Either these key policy provisions are present within the municipal record of project consideration — Or they are not present.

Appellate court documents (legal brief) filed against the city declare that consideration of these key policy provisions is absent from this project’s administrative record, predicating an obvious (and egregious) violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Quoting from this legal brief:

“This case presents the important question of whether a city can adopt a general plan with a guiding principal of revitalizing the city’s downtown and then approve a large regional shopping center on the urban periphery that will cause substantial urban blight without even considering whether there is a general plan conflict. It also addresses important issues regarding the design of mitigation, discussion of alternatives and evaluation of energy impacts.”

This appellate case presents several pertinent issues, among which are:

(a)  “Whether a city can ignore its general plan provisions for downtown revitalization when it approves a project that will cause substantial and unmitigated urban blight;”

(b)  “Whether imposing significant and unmitigated urban blight is consistent with a general plan mandate to revitalize downtown as the principal retail and commercial district in the region.”

___  City Council Must Publicly Demonstrate Relevant Facts  ___

Despite any current litigation, the city council must plainly, publicly answer the simple question about whether these key policy provisions appear and were (with substantial evidence) considered within the city’s planning record approving Gateway 2; that is, if the city council desires any public credibility on the subject of downtown revitalization.

Undermining downtown for decades into the future by means of a process that excluded consideration of fundamental public policy protecting the downtown area — then declaring its faithful allegiance to downtown revitalization — is truly a precarious perch for the council.

But if it is not at least honest about its doings, this political curse worsens.

Rationalizing and retreating will not settle the public score on this matter; there’s too much at stake for the future of the downtown area. Even city council members (Bill Marble, Tom Stallard) who voted against approval of Gateway 2 failed to argue in defense of the downtown by revealing a profound absence and unfairness of its record of consideration.

Perhaps these council members were unaware of such problems, or perhaps they just didn’t want to say very much in the face of their colleagues’ approval of this project; in any event, its time for them to shoulder a share of the blame — in the event there occurred this exclusion of pertinent downtown policy from the approval process for Gateway 2.

This answer should come prior to the launch of yet another of the city council’s many purported renewals intended for establishment of successful policy for downtown revitalization.

Of course, one of the largest future obstacles for downtown development and revitalization is city council approval of Gateway 2.

___  New Downtown Policies May Be Similarly Ignored  ___

As is being examined in litigation, such relevant policy may indeed be ignored and unused whenever it might suit the city council to do so.

What instills and motivates public confidence about any newly created “goals” and policies on these matters — when those policies already in place are chronically disregarded?

Confronted with the prospect of such exclusion of key downtown policy from the process of Gateway 2 approval, citizens generally react with utter astonishment (or weary cynicism). There exist, however, several other situations where city council actions regarding downtown have become scandals.

___  Series Of City Council Scandals Involving Downtown  ___

About five years ago, the city council approved use of a technical loophole that directly conflicted with basic policy within the Downtown Specific Plan, to permit a one-story, cookie-cutter, strip-mall Rite Aid store upon one of the two corners constituting the eastern “gateway” of the downtown.

The other relevant corner of Main and East Streets contains the Wiseman Building. This city council approved Rite Aid store would have installed a ‘Stupidman Building” upon the northern leg of this downtown gateway, creating an aesthetic disaster which would have destroyed the significant goal of a downtown gateway.

Luckily, this fully approved Rite Aid project has not been constructed and may fall away due to adverse economic conditions. Nevertheless, its approval is a distinct stain on city council credibility with downtown revitalization.

A few years ago, the city council used a bogus staff report claiming that no further discretionary approval by the city was required for a cineplex project at the site of (to be demolished) Electric Garage, alongside verbal claims by this project’s proponent (Paul Petrovich) that no manner of municipal funding was needed and he and would move forward this project — to collapse consideration of a cineplex associated with State Theatre – an enormously popular, long-sought and original goal of the Downtown Specific Plan.

Of course, no cineplex was forthcoming, this project has been abandoned and the Electric Garage site is now — for sale — by the previous project’s proponent (who also was the proponent of the ‘Stupidman’ Rite Aid project).

Yet another case of planning scandal exists in city council denial of a public hearing on the question of whether the Chase Bank project was consistent with the Downtown Specific Plan, curtly ruling “out-or-order” fervent concerns by dozens of local citizens during a distractive, side-track (planning commission) hearing on building design.

Chase Bank desired to have a location upon a leg of the western gateway to the downtown (Main and Walnut Streets), even though to do so would apparently violate a half-dozen provisions of the Downtown Specific Plan.

For example, the Chase Bank building is no suitable downtown “gateway” edifice, also having a prohibited driveway and parking lot on Main Street.

As well, this Chase Bank location severely intruded upon the opportunity to associate a cineplex with a renovated State Theatre.

Decisions of downtown policy consistency regarding Chase Bank were made — behind closed doors — on an unannounced and unknown date — from which a ten-day period of appeal was (ironically) available.

Citizens complaining about an unfairness of this process (no public notice of consistency determination) were told that they should have understood notice of the determination of consistency — by means of inference.

Other examples of such downtown planning scandal are the city council allowing eight years (with little direction) for urban decay mitigation regarding Gateway 1 and (currently) leaving in place for a year an unreasonable parking policy on downtown Main Street.

For the previous decade, at least, the city council has been a pernicious wrecking-crew against good downtown planning.

These many added situations of serious city council scandal regarding downtown planning also need some serious city council answers (and serious solutions) before the council might begin to have public credibility on this subject.

Woodland City Council is for whom the downtown-planning “gong” tolls.