November 16, 2009

Second + PCH Meeting Thoughts

Well that was interesting.

The evening seemed to start off tame enough, but then about half hour in, tensions rose. And I could totally see why.

Jeff Winklepleck, the City's point person for this project, began to introduce the process for the "breakout sessions," and things started trending south. People seemed to have objection with the breakout sessions, preferring instead to have a "group discussion" wherein questions could be asked/answered in real time. Questions about impacts and the like.

Craig Beck, Director Department of Development Services, intervened and further attempted to explain the environmental regulatory process and how "we just aren't there yet" with regards to having a discussion of impacts...that it is too soon in the process, and that discussion transpires with the Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

He is absolutely right. Both Mr. Winklepleck and Mr. Beck did their level best to try and explain that a discussion of impacts is simply just too premature. Couldn't agree more.

However, there is a fundamental disconnnect between where this project is in the environmental regulatory process and the information distributed by the Second + PCH development team at this community meeting and the scoping meeting (and also posted on their website).

At the City's meeting tonight, "we" were provided an "information packet" from the Second + PCH developers that listed several statements about project impacts (or seeming lack thereof). No data. No analysis. Just statements.

For example, in the table entitled "Change to Traffic Flow with Mitigations," it shows that with the project and mitigation, traffic at the intersection of PCH/Second will decrease by 1% in the AM peak, increase by 7% in the PM peak and increase by 12% in the Saturday peak periods. That's it...no supporting data, no defining variables, no identification of mitigation, etc.

With that information in hand, the public had (and has) questions. And I think that's fair. I mean, when I walk into a meeting, am handed this information and read that traffic mitigation exists which could reduce impacts, I want to know about the mitigation. When I read that "there will be NO negative impacts on the wetlands" (emphasis theirs), I want to know what tools were used in that analysis.

Those (and others) are valid questions that the public wants to ask...but we can't because it is "too soon."

But as it is too soon to ask the questions, it is similarly premature for the Second + PCH team to be distributing/posting the information, especially in the absence of any supporting documentation.

Granted, the Second + PCH team has every right to distribute/post this information, but I believe that doing so at this early stage only serves to facilitate a breakdown in the public communication process, as was evidenced tonight. I believe that the Second + PCH team needs to respect where we are in the environmental process and let the City/EIR consultants do their job. It is the responsibility of the latter to identify and address potential impacts at this stage, not the job of the development team.

Should the Second + PCH team continue to publicly distribute/make available this "impact" information before the release of the EIR, I believe that the public process will continue to devolve as questions about the distributed information will inevitably persist....and the questions will continue to go unanswered.

We (the public, the City and the development team) should be striving for as "pure" of a public communication process as possible, not introducing materials which serve to hinder it. (And that goes for "both sides")