Caught a bit off guard, Design Review Committee Chairwoman Roberta Fonzi nearly did not allow public comment during the “reconsideration” of the ARTery’s mural.
To be fair, the committee was expecting to deliberate on an application that the ARTery owners submitted for the reconsideration. During the applicant’s presentation, the ARTery’s representative, attorney Alin Funke-Bilu, verbally altered the ARTery’s request, which is to keep the mural as is and throw out the administrative use permit due to legal precident.
It was then that the committee said it didn’t want to hear the item because it wasn’t the same as the one in the staff report.
After Fonzi said she’d entertain a motion for adjournment, former mayor Ellen Beraud asked from the audience about public comment. Fonzi said that comment would not be opened to the public because the committee would not be taken action on the item.
After some comments from the audience, Fonzi restored order and the committee discussed whether or not public comment should be allowed.
Community Development Director Warren Frace told Fonzi that the decision to allow public comment or not was at her discretion.
Member at-large Susan De Carli and Planning Commissioner Christian Cooper both said public comment should be heard, while Planning Commissioner Chuck Ward and Mayor Bob Kelley voted against it.
With the committee split between the two, Fonzi did opt to allow public comment.
I’m glad she did. That was the first time in the nine years I’ve been covering public meetings, that there has ever been a discussion on whether or not to allow the public to speak.
While there are times that I’ve thought, “Do I have to go listen to the same comments about the same issues, again?,” I would have been against the public not having the option to speak.
Ward said that the public should speak on the topic when a decision is being made instead of having public comment “piece meal.”
What about all those other controversial issues that have had years of public comment? City staff have said on other issues — think Walmart, Eagle Ranch and city hall restoration to name a few — that they were holding public workshops to gain input. If those assembled had known that the committee would not take public comment, they would have spoke during Community Forum.
As much as city staff and elected officials have asked for public input, it was a bit disconcerning that the committee did not want to hear from the 40-plus people that showed up at the meeting on a Tuesday afternoon.
Fifteen of those people spoke when public comment was opened. People spoke for and against allowing the mural to stay as-is.
Before public comment, Kelley said he was ready to adjourn the meeting. After, he said he’d be willing to allow the ARTery’s mural to stay.
In the end, the committee did take action by continuing the item in order to consult with the city’s counsel.
Regardless of what the applicant did, the public that came to speak should not have had to fight for their right to speak at a public meeting.
If nothing else, the committee should have reopened Community Forum. Instead, it seemed that committee members didn’t want to hear from the public. I don’t think that was the case, but it certainly didn’t look that way.
Being a person who has some difficulty processing big changes, I can understand being caught by surprise, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of hearing from the public.For the complete article see the 07-27-2012 issue.
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