The following are my musings and opinons as a city council watcher. Any semblence of accuracy is purely coincidental.
Regarding the Planning Commission application process stand-off, there are two council members with a claim of hijacked process, and two others with a claim of broken process, and then Gary Edwards agreeing with the broken process camp based on an applicant’s improper disclosure.
Differences in level of experience are also factors, with the broken process camp saying the city needs experience, and the hijacked process camp saying the same thing, just a different kind of experience.
The above is just a superficial breakdown of the issues. Would that this could be just about actual issues themselves. Unfortunately, the messy way that the broken process camp has gone about presenting their case, and the nastiness of their allies, has made any rational discussion of the commission appointment process into a nasty fight that the whole town is wondering how we got here?
Mayor Hundley was using her currently legitimate prerogative to select who she sees fit for the Planning Commission. This choice extends to the re-nomination process. Cook, Edwards and Agrimonti took exception to this, and appeared to use a Caymus Capital surrogate’s arguments as the basis for their rationales, although they deny it.
As Karin Skooglund has pointed out in Sun comments, “The action of three City Council members to vote down the nomination of Lynda Corrado to the Planning Commission because they don’t like the process defies logic. Council member Agrimonti said: ‘Lynda is not broken; our system is broken.’ David Cook said much the same, ‘this process doesn’t work; it has nothing to do with Lynda.’ Said Edwards, ‘I won’t be supporting Lynda, who I consider a friend.’ If you have a good candidate who is liked and respected and qualified but you vote her down because of the “process,” you are being disingenuous. The hallmark of the FSE proponents has always been disingenuousness, and now it seems, it has worked its way into the thinking of some of our City Council members.”
At the 4/17 council meeting, councilmember Cook said to “remember Ron Wellander”, and that he (Cook) always reappointed commissioners, “and that’s what made the process work.” Here again a disagreement between the hijacked and broken process camps. Is a reappointment a kind of entitlement, so once appointed, eight years is guaranteed? Or does the review threshold mean people can be replaced? History shows some commissioners have not been re-appointed, but the system remained in place.
An actual issue here would be: what criteria does the council use to select commission candidates? How will this criteria account for people having values and opinions, even the council selectors? How does any objective criteria get out of that house of mirrors?
Edwards chimed in, “we haven’t blindly reappointed anyone.” So, if we don’t have to blindly reappoint, we won’t, right? Hundley gave a solid set of reasons and measures for her choices.
Agrimonti made an alternative facts comment, that was part of a larger statement, not clear in scope, but certainly we are in a process where the process is seen in different ways by different people. This does get us into the realm of alternative facts. We have also gotten into the realm of fake news, with the Joe Aron-inspired e-mail storm, and the Joe Aron poll that claimed 68% of Sonoma supports the FSE project.
After all, the clear subtext here is that this whole imbroglio is brought by Caymus Capital (FSE) as part of a PR campaign to intimidate and influence the city, and city council, and get three votes to approve their project.
Cook said “I’m not the attacker, I’m just the one receiving the emails; I’m just trying to put Sonoma back.”
Speaking of these e-mails, let’s see them. How many are from FSE investors?
Is Aron an investor? Is Aron on the Caymus Capitol payroll? He was seen consulting with Ed Routhier during the first hearing on this Lynda Corrado appointment matter and then Routhier seemed to shoo him away. How many of the e-mail senders are locals? Let’s see if we can figure all of who is biased here and in what ways. The FSE e-mail storm seems to focus on alleged bias, yet this is brought by people totally biased themselves. What gives? What gives is that this is all about winning, and bias is just a prop in the battle.
Another substantive issue is who gets to see the Planning Commission applicant pool during the selection process.
If the full council wants to see all the commission applicants, does that make the applicant pool into public information? Can the public see the applicant pool too? If not, why not? Then everyone can chime in on what’s fair, not fair, biased, or who is the best, the worst, who is pro-growth, slow growth, no growth, and whose interests stand to win or lose, and we can get this process totally choked up with too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.
At the Sonoma Earth Day event, a young woman said she felt the Community Services and Environmental Commission would be perfect for her interests and skills to offer the city, but no way would she apply and subject herself to a process like that which happened to Lynda Corrado.
If Corrado was cut, for being representative of an actual sustainability candidate, all who are pro-growth must be gotten rid of too. Who will actually qualify now that we have a stand-off of values and anyone seen as compromised in any way is sucked down the Maelstrom of a Machiavellian power play over control of the town’s future?
The only trouble for Caymus and FSE: they will likely make many more enemies here with their bullying tactics. Their project can’t help but fail and be soundly rejected by a Sonoma offended by such low-ball maneuvering. If Cook and Edwards are not best friends, they can come together over shared values, the ultimate shared values for all of us: decent behavior that doesn’t disparage and vilify others. I predict the FSE hardball will backfire. No amount of slick consultant PR will be able to dial back the bad impression the attack dogs have already unleashed.
We obviously have a battle of limits vs. no limits. Same as Measure B. This is what the broken process and hijacked process is really about. We knew Cook and Edwards were free market guys, so it’s not surprising that when push comes to shove, they are in the same camp. Agrimonti? She went with the no limits, broken process group here. It’s hard to tell what her actual heart issue is? She does appear taken aback by the acrimony and low level of discourse. Madolyn echoes Rodney King, “why can’t we all just get along?”
How will the public know when the process is cured here, and we can all live happily ever after? Or will this be the start of a bitter divide? Has ice been planted, and later we harvest wind?
The issue of bias has a bit of history. During Measure B, the city attorney established what I have noted in my short career as a council watcher, as the David Cook Rule. Cook was president of the Chamber; the Chamber was lock-step, all-in against Measure B (limits vs. no limits); the council had to make a vote, and all Cook had to do was say he wasn’t biased, that he didn’t have a financial interest, and then he could vote. All this in spite of an obviously biased background at the Chamber. Note to Jim Bohar and anyone who ever have made any prior statements: it doesn’t matter, just invoke the David Cook Rule and say you are not biased. It’s that simple.
So, what we have in the end here, is a reliance on the validity of the e-mails, as primary evidence in the process is broken camp’s rationales. These same e-mails are what the process is hijacked camp says are nasty AstroTurf by Caymus Capital. Cook denies it. Valid, invalid; broken, hijacked? The only way we can know is to see all the e-mails, see which are form letters, see who are investors, who are locals, and then make a determination of the biases therein.
A public disclosure of the e-mails would balance out the rumored Joe Aron freedom of information request for all the relevant e-mails of Jim Bohar, Bill Willers, Kelso Barnett, Amy Harrington and Rachel Hundley. Is this guy Aron making friends or what!?
In terms of the e-mails, does a council member’s vote for each discreet issue have to stand on some informal, unquantified, unknown type of council member community polling, where the production of mass e-mail blasts counts as public opinion? Well, this can be countered, and then we are back in a competing petitions type of stand-off. If numbers count, how could council members now, who cite the e-mails, have ignored the 1000 signature no dogs on Montini petition? 150 private e-mails, 1000 public signatories.
At the end of the day, council members are elected to use their judgment and analysis, and it is plain as day that council members will vote their ideology and preferences over any level of e-mail blast or petition; that much has been shown to be true. This is reasonable; they’re elected to be who they are. Forget the e-mail justifications, and the unverifiable Sunflower polls, just be who you are, as elected, and lay your case on the table. Be like Steve Barbose in style.
Cook railed that he’s not a hypocrite; he’s just had it with a problem that has “plagued Sonoma for a long time”; he said, “I’m over the dysfunction.” That is all very non-specific and does not really lay it out to the public what exactly is broken and why, other than that Wellander was not reappointed, which was totally street legal. What the public sees is him giving back what he got. Whatever it is, it seems we are in for even more dysfunction.
This is like a relationship fight. At some point the actors will have to come clean and admit the parts where they were wrong, or else there can be no moving on.
Cook is a nice, personable guy. He hates the spotlight being shined on him with this kind of press. I have always liked David. In my opinion he needs to go back to his original campaign slogan, “common sense” and bring to bear his last campaign claim that he is a negotiator. Now is the time for a breakthrough. If Cook is a man of good will, he can assume that the other council members are as well. How are we going to use any common sense to negotiate our way out of an impasse of a hijacked or broken process? Who can be big enough to reframe this, so all can buy in to a larger level of analysis?
It seems the proxy issue is that Wellander did not get renominated. Then Roberson resigned, throwing more logs on the fire. The end result is a spiteful rejection of Corrado, and an uncalled-for disparaging of Bohar, and an unknown way forward through the broken/ hijacked impasse. The real issue is control over the beliefs and likely votes of future Planning Commissioners, and whether it is even possible to simply interpret the Development Code and General Plan like a robot with no value judgements. How will a council that clearly has ideological values themselves develop a selection criteria that avoids all ideology and puts forward candidates acceptable to all? Are there any actors in town who would apply that can show themselves to be the mythical “undecided voter?” Is this not exactly like current Supreme Court politics? The facade of a neutral candidate who is totally soaked in ideology. Why play the charade when everyone can see through it?
Maybe City Manager Capriola can finesse all this? She must be listening to BTO, Taking Care of Business, and working overtime.
The overall truth here is, there is a conflict on who has hijacked or broken the process and why. Who is at fault? What are the real, and proxy issues? I have my council watcher take, but it’s likely I have my own blind spots. One thing is certain, smearing the Mayor and others with ad hominem attacks, for doing what they think is best for the city, is not staying on the issues, or keeping a straight-up process. This is not a pretty picture. How can this all be retrieved and set back on a decent track?
If this situation is part-ways based on grudges over past votes, now that Edwards has abandoned any “new council majority”, and has hung Hundley, his mayoral nominee, out to dry, it looks like Edwards will be a sitting duck for all council member to vote against on anything he wants in future votes. He’s Benedict Arnolded them all.
In this sense, Cook is not more a hypocrite than Hundley is calculating and undemocratic, or that Edwards is Benedict Arnold, or any of the other petty accusations, or musings by the public in all of this. This is all hyperbole. Any group of people will end up on different points over time, and differences have to be dealt with. Some will be a swing vote one time but not another. That’s all part of calling it how you see it. All everyone is doing is trying to represent their values, but somehow this has all gone south and devolved into a scrum mixed up in personal antagonisms and big money maneuvering. We could use some adults here to rescue the process from name-calling and petty motivations, and have a respectable process re-focused on the actual issues, that citizens can be proud of.
The most admirable of people are ones who admit they have been wrong and then step up to solve the problem. I submit that one wrong step has been to buy into Caymus Capital arguments about FSE project approval, even before it has gone to the Planning Commission. Council members should assert their independence of vested interests, if what this is all about in the end is the appearance of unbiased judgement.
The opinions of Sun columnists are not necessarily those of the management or editorial board of The Sun