How do we let our elected officials and various board members at both the county and Sonoma city level know what our opinions and needs are?
I have been thinking a lot about this recently because of where we are on the specific plan and draft EIR for the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), and after attending a meeting on November 15 concerning a plan put forward to partner with Mattson companies to create a Springs Plaza.
Years ago at the start of discussion about SDC, meetings were held where our input was given by pasting “virtual sticky notes” and breaking off into groups to come up with ideas. In the groups we were given specific guidelines on what we could talk about. These meetings were not structured in such a way that the public could give input freely. Over time these meetings did become more open and the public was given varying lengths of time to speak, from one to three minutes, depending on the meeting.
As the years went by, community members and various councils, such as advisory groups, also submitted lots of input, some of it very detailed. Yet, in the end we have a plan that ignores much of what the public needs or wants from this project.
Now we come to the issue of creating a Springs Plaza in partnership with a for-profit commercial enterprise. The meeting I attended was so carefully scripted, it did not allow for true community input. This was an in-person meeting rather than a Zoom or virtual meeting.
I would like to propose something which may seem radical. Let’s have these meetings on very important and life-changing developments in a new way. All meetings should have virtual access. Community members should be given five minutes to speak. There should be no rules on what a person can say, as long as they are respectful and are not engaging in name calling or irrational behavior. And brief public comment should be held again after decisions are made.
Over the last few years it has become more and more frustrating to attend these meetings, where the community gets a tiny opportunity to be heard and then even that tiny bit is mostly ignored. These are life-changing decisions for our valley. Our lives, the environment, our economy will all be changed by what comes out of these meetings.
We often hear after public comment is closed that “This is what the community wants.” When in fact what has often been decided is exactly the opposite of what was heard in public comment. Also when meetings are long and then continued, public comment is closed, as it is considered one, continuous meeting. I witnessed erroneous comments that were in complete disagreement with what the public asked for at the recent marathon County Planning meeting for SDC. Over and over the statement was made in the continuation meetings that this is what the community wants, when the opposite was true.
And on something as important as this Springs Plaza, and building a large underground parking garage, the next meeting needs to be virtual so that as many people as possible can attend, and there should be no scripted structure that limits what can be discussed. Are our public officials really interested in what the community wants?