Last night’s City Council consideration of a proposal to remove Broadway’s oak trees was notable less for its action than the conduct of the City Council. Though only four could participate, Gary Edwards having stepped-down due to the proximity of property he owns to the subject trees, each in his or her own way managed to demonstrate deafness to the public stunning in its dimension.
The public is invited to council meetings to provide input and opinion; that’s why meetings are public and the law allows public comment on agenda items. What is inexplicable is why the council members systematically ignore everything the public has to say. It appears they are listening, but that may be illusory, because their discussion and commentary makes little to no reference to any of the points or concerns raised by public speakers.
Thus, not only is the public subjected to playing “beat the clock” with the Mayor’s three-minute rule, but then must cope with the indignity of being ignored. This was as true for the discussion of trees as it was for public comment on any other item; the public’s specific concerns fall into a council “black hole” from which attention or even comment cannot escape. If no public comment will be considered or discussed, what’s the point of having public comment at all?
Add to this an undue regard for vague staff reports devoid of information vital to decision-making and we have the ingredients for poor public policy. A confused council woman Agrimonti seemed anxious only to scold the community for planting the trees at all. “Shame on you,” she exclaimed. Gratefully, her motion to remove the trees failed to gain a second. Luckily, a level-headed council member Hundley correctly perceived that too little investigation of options or choices had been performed, and her motion to hold over any decision until such investigation is done carried unanimously. It was the only sensible part of what was an otherwise bizarre discussion.
Regrettably she was not alone in also not responding to specific public comment or displaying curiosity about the history of the trees, which were planted with money raised in the Sonoma community, to the tune of $300,000, and represented the fruition of well over five years of effort. That stretch of Broadway, I pointed out, had been a depressing wasteland when summer’s sun baked the naked pavement and made the pedestrian experience akin to crossing the desert.
Everyone, except our Mayor who said a remarkable nothing-at-all on the topic, expressed more concern about sidewalks than trees, and risks to public safety. Their beauty was never mentioned by them. Despite all concern about safety, no current or historical information was provided by city staff on the number of injuries, claims, or payments made as a result of the sidewalks. Dan Tagasuki, the Public Works Director, instead indulged in hyperbole about "tremendous damage" but offered no hard numbers or evidence of any kind. Though I showed ten photos of sidewalks near or on Broadway that had been repaired despite the complete absence of trees , not one member of the council made any reference to them; that sidewalks suffer subsidence and shifting for all sorts of reasons was just another fact to be ignored.
Discussion about a “replacement plan” occupied the attention of council, this despite the complete absence of funds to implement such a plan. This diversion from a productive examination of the cost-benefits of simply repairing the sidewalks displayed a lack of business acumen and a tendency to enjoy exploring fantasy scenarios. Any replanting plan, subject to CalTrans approval of course, will certainly cost more than the $300,000 spent in 1993, and may well reach $1 million. Given their disregard for the public, any assumption by this council that the public will step up again to pay to beautify the entry to our Plaza is also a fantasy. Talk about shame.