Monday, February 28, 2005

City renaming Housing & Redevelopment to stress "Economic Development"

A recent memo from City Manager Jeff Kolin announced, "the City’s Economic Development function will be transferred from the City Manager’s Office to the Department of Housing and Redevelopment." The City is renaming the entire department, to show local business that redevelopment means economic development and affordable housing:

"the Department will be renamed Economic Development and Housing to acknowledge that redevelopment is a supporting program of economic development and affordable housing, and those resources can support the desired program expansion while maintaining its high profile character within the business community." (2/25/05, "Transition of Economic Development", memo emailed to the Council, boards & commissions, and department heads)

Kolin said, "This is the opportune time to make this transfer as we enter the second phase of the economic development strategy, focus on the formation of the Gateway redevelopment project area, respond to renewed interest in Downtown development opportunities, and maintain our expanded affordable housing production effort."

It looks like "Economic Development" is still Kolin's baby: "The City Manager and City Manager’s Office will continue to be intimately involved in our City’s economic development efforts. I plan to continue my participation in the Economic Development and Downtown Council subcommittees." The Council's Economic Development and Downtown subcommittees are little known to the public, but very important to local business.

The memo concluded, "Economic development is a very critical focus area for our community that will require increased staff support and resources in the future. Staff will be presenting a request to amend the City’s Classification and Salary Plan to add staff positions in support of these expanded programs at the February 28 Housing Authority and Redevelopment Agency meetings, and the March 8 City Council meeting." Sure enough, Item 10.2 at today's (2/28) Redevelopment Agency meeting was to create two new Program Specialist positions.

Many talk about "Economic Development", but few bother to define it. Not many years ago, the Council paid the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce half the salary of an E.D. person at the Chamber. Then the Council created an E.D. Specialist position in the City Manager's Office. Now the City is renaming H&R, plans to hire two fulltime staff, and Kolin and his staff are still "intimately involved".

Some say Housing & Redevelopment is a second, even more private City government, for the development industry and Downtown business interests. The Council appoints its members and approves its spending, but it holds its own monthly meetings and acts independently.

The Redevelopment Agency oversees five Redevelopment Areas in Downtown/Railroad Square and SW Santa Rosa, including the proposed Food & Wine Center. It spends taxes from the areas to promote them, receives federal and state money, and sells bonds, yet few citizens know it exists.

Now would be a good time for citizens to become very aware of the Council's H&R Department. Its webpage says, "The Housing and Redevelopment Department provides administration and support for programs and projects designed to assist with affordable housing and revitalize blighted and economically disadvantaged sections of the City. In addition to the City Council, the Council-appointed Housing Authority and Redevelopment Agency provide policy direction to staff in these program areas."

Five members serve on both the Housing Authority and the separate Redevelopment Agency. They are William J. Arnone, Jr., Charles Evans, Chris Johnson, Philip Olsen, and Jake Ours. The Housing Authority has two other members, Veronica Castro and Sara Ingenito. Evans chairs the HA, and Arnone chairs the RA.

H&R staff members work under Acting Director David Gouin. Under him are Jocelyn Lundgren, Economic Development and Redevelopment Manager; Mark Krug, Housing and Redevelopment Manager; and Judi Lynch, Acting Housing and Redevelopment Manager. The webpage is here: .

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Gullixson spills the beans: pols have just ten months to deliver for developers

Even the Press Democrat lets the truth slip out now and then. After months of pro-development and anti-salamander propaganda, Assistant Editorial Director Paul Gullixson wrote today,

"the reality is the Fish and Wildlife Service is under court mandate to designate critical salamander habitat in Sonoma County by December. And if local officials are not able to come up with a plan that has regional support, the service may be forced to make sweeping definitions of critical habitat that could be far more severe than anything imagined so far." (2/27/05, "Readers react to salamander questions")

Some developers with projects in the Santa Rosa Plain sued the F&WS last February, hoping to weaken or eliminate federal listing of the California Tiger Salamander as an endangered or threatened species. Then they sat down to negotiate a habitat preservation deal that allowed continued development.

According to a North Bay Business Journal story last March, a group of ten developers called CTS Fund II, coordinated by Carolyn Wasem, was raising $20,000 a month to fund negotiations with the F&WS. They hired former Deputy City Manager Ed Brauner to facilitate an agreement. [See below: "Press Democrat can't say 'CTS Fund II' "]

The PD reported the negotiations were between the City and F&WS, and the City indeed supported the meetings. Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park had limited roles in the developers' lawsuit, and SR Public Works engineer Colleen Ferguson now represents Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, and Cotati at the table.

The negotiators were renamed the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team last May. The team is meeting through March at the City's Municipal Services Center and Geysers Operations Center on Stony Point Road, and Ferguson created a team page at the City website: .

The Team's draft plan has not been released, but the PD has been commenting on it in detail. Gullixson said today, "the draft plan now on the table may be the foundation of the best possible outcome. Whether it's workable has yet to be determined."

The PD's two-part editorial last week concluded, "it will be important for Sonoma County not to abandon the idea that a workable solution can be found - one that ensures preservation and allows change. It's this middle ground that offers the best hope for avoiding the slippery slope toward more lawsuits, more delays and the possibility of mandates that are ever more onerous."

A box within last week's editorial asked the public to write letters for "a special package in an upcoming edition", and the PD printed some of them today. The PD also took a "less than scientific" survey, to which Gullixson said 220 "regular letter writers" responded.

It's no suprise his editorial column today concluded, "So the good news from all of this is that residents want some middle-ground solution." That's what the editorial asked for, and that's how the PD slanted its poll:

"When given the statement, 'Sonoma County needs to develop a reasonable tiger salamander preservation plan that protects the species while still allowing some development,' 71 percent of our respondents said they either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed. "

It's pretty clear the PD is spinning its news and editorials to get the public behind a habitat preservation plan that will allow at least "some" development. Is it working?

Gullixson wrote, "The bad news is it's not clear where that [middle ground solution] is - and readers aren't confident officials will get there. The burden is on the decision-makers to prove them wrong."

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Bender declares City Hall assholes cancer-free zone

I swear I didn't make this one up!

The City Manager's Weekly E-mail said Friday, "A couple of weeks ago, Mayor Bender read a proclamation that declared March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and proclaimed the City of Santa Rosa Council and employees a 'Colon Cancer Free Zone.' " (2/25/05, "Santa Rosa – First Colon Cancer Free Zone in Sonoma County")

Our City Manager is, of course, Jeff Kolin.

His proctologic item also reported, "The Cancer Society gave Mayor Bender Polypman, and he sits in her office to remind all of us that we can prevent this cancer and we need to get educated and screened."


Tune in next week, when Spunky the Squirrel from Rec & Parks meets Polypman ...

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

CTS Team may not deliver for developers/PD says Open Space District should buy habitat

Sure enough, the Press Democrat wants the taxpayers to pay an estimated $400 million to preserve California Tiger Salamander habitat, so developers can continue to build in the Santa Rosa Plain. The second part of a two-day editorial Monday recommended the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District at least buy land to compensate for habitat lost to public projects:

"Get the Open Space District involved. It also would make no sense to have two massive efforts to preserve open space in Sonoma County--the district and the tiger salamander habitat preservation effort--going on without some overlap. At the least, officials should look at how they might use open space resources to help necessary public projects--the building of fire stations, parks, schools, etc.--meet any tiger salamander mitigation requirements that may be required."

As expected, the PD also proposed to treat existing dairy pastures as mitigation areas: "Consider allowing dairy lands for mitigation banking. If the science shows that tiger salamanders are thriving on dairy lands, it makes no sense to rule them out as potential habitat." (2/21/05, "Slippery slope, Part II: What's needed to ensure salamander protections work")

But the editor was wrong to compare the developer-driven Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team to the taxpayer-funded Open Space District. The Team's task was to find a way for developers to build on CTS habitat, not to preserve open space; and the amount recommended for preservation is by no means "massive".

Nor did the editor claim "science shows" salamanders are thriving under the hooves of dairy cattle. He just implied that "science" might.

Drawing on a PD story the week before, the editorial said, "Under the plan being considered, anyone who has property within 1.3 miles of a known breeding pond--of which there are about 40 in an area centered mostly in southwest Santa Rosa--would be allowed to build only after they mitigate at a 2-1 ratio. This means that if a child care center wants to build on 10 acres of land in this area, it first would need to pay for 20 acres of tiger salamander habitat somewhere else at a cost of around $100,000 an acre."

There's that editorial spin again. It would be more accurate to say that anyone who wants to build near CTS breeding ponds would have to preserve twice as much suitable habitat elsewhere. And that $100,000/acre cost is no more than an estimate the PD quoted in the previous story:

"The $400 million is a preliminary figure based on a plan to set aside 4,000 acres around seasonal ponds where salamanders breed. The calculation is based on a cost of $100,000 an acre to not only buy and prepare the land, but also set up an endowment to maintain it and monitor the salamanders."

"[It] is based on a private analysis prepared by Wildlands Inc., a Rocklin-based company that specializes in developing habitat for plants and animals threatened by development. Greg Lyman, who manages Wildlands' East Bay office, described the $400 million estimate as 'crude,' but said it could increase along with land prices." (2/14/05, "Saving salamander could cost $400 million/Coalition pegs price of buying 4,000 acres of Sonoma County land to be set aside for habitat")

The editorial also said, "The plan needs to be flexible. As an example of this, we refer to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision last week to waive a requirement that the Bellevue school district be required to pay $900,000 in mitigation costs to build a new school.

We still don't understand how Fish and Wildlife cleared the school, but then again, we don't understand why the service was going to require the district to prove the site was salamander-free in the first place. It is far from any known habitat areas.

The PD printed three news stories, an op-ed piece, and three editorials about the salamander and the Bellevue school district, and the editor still didn't understand what happened. But he seems to like the Fish & Wildlife bureaucrats when they're "flexible" enough to do what he wants.

Most of all, the PD wants the CTS off the endangered species list:

"Develop a clear plan for how to determine when the tiger salamander has recovered. The Endangered Species Act is a great tool for getting animals listed, but it's track record for recovery is spotty. Since 1973, only 25 species out of hundreds have ever been 'delisted.' Seven were removed because they are extinct. Seven have been taken off because they have recovered, primarily because of the banning of DDT. But the rest have gone off because the numbers show they shouldn't have been included in the first place."

The editor probably meant to imply the California Tiger Salamander should not have been listed in the first place. But as he says himself, only seven "out of hundreds" of species listed under the Endangered Species Act have recovered--and seven other species no longer exist.

The developers' spin in the 2/14 news story was contradictory. A spokeswoman said, in effect, developers must destroy its habitat to save the CTS: "'Without development occurring, we won't be able to purchase lands to save the salamander. They won't survive in their current habitat,' said Carolyn Wasem, a member of the conservation strategy team who represents property owners. [According to the City's website, Wasem is not, in fact, a Team member]

Another spokesman said it couldn't be done: "Mark Kelley, a consultant for the development community on the salamander issue, said the $400 million plan is financially impossible. 'If you look at the burden it puts on each acre of land for the home developer, it makes it completely impractical to borrow money for construction' "

Team member Keith Kaulum, from the Sierra Club, had a simple answer:

"'There's nothing in this world that requires that you build homes in that area. If it's not economical, you build them someplace else,' he said. 'There are other places to build houses in the Bay Area.' "

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Develop habitat/save salamander--one or both? And who pays?

How do you encourage continuous development in the Santa Rosa Plain, while preserving the habitat of the now "endangered"/now "threatened" California Tiger Salamander? With developable land selling for $100,000 an acre, there's a good chance both can't be done.

Given the choice, local developers would simply build on the flattest and driest of what remains of the CTS habitat. But they don't have that choice--too many laws protect the salamander and four rare native flowers--and it's breaking their hearts.

First they sued the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, hoping to weaken the federal Endangered Species Act. Then they dropped the suit, and assembled the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team of local, state, and federal technicians, "facilitated" by former Deputy City Manager Ed Brauner. [See below, "Press Democrat can't say 'CTS Fund II' ", first posted 6/2/04 at my previous blog]

The Team has a page at the City's website: Go there to see their brief meeting notes, and download the documents cited below.

From the developers' point of view, the Team hasn't accomplished much. But they did produce a map last October, identifying nine proposed conservation areas between southwest Cotati and northwest Santa Rosa. The Team briefed the City Council at a "Study Session" before its regular Tuesday meeting 1/4/05.

Colleen Ferguson is a City Public Works Department Supervising Engineer. She's also a Team member who represents the County of Sonoma, and the cities of Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, and Cotati. Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park had joined the developers as plaintiffs in their February 2004 suit: "Home Builders Association of Northern California; City of Santa Rosa, et al v Steven A. Williams, Director, United States Fish and Wild Life Service et al."

Ferguson's staff report for the "Study Session" said, "When the conservation strategy is finalized, it will set the stage for appropriate mitigation for development and cooperative adaptive management to protect and enhance the endangered and threatened species in the area, which are protected under both state and federal law. Land owners will have the opportunity to sell habitat rights directly to development interests for mitigation, while continuing the use of their land for compatible purposes, such as grazing."

The Council held three meetings between 2:30 and 4:10 pm, before their January 4 meeting in the Council Chamber. They met at 2:30 to interview an applicant for the Personnel Board, then held a secret Closed Session to consider "intervention" in a lawsuit. It was probably no coincidence that the case was "Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, et al. U.S. District Court No. C 04-04324 WHA (N.D. Cal.) "

Then they met in the Mayor's Conference Room for the "Study Session". The minutes say only, "The Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team has been developing a strategy for preservation of the California tiger salamander and rare plants on the Santa Rosa Plain. Staff updated the Council on the conservation strategy development process."

The PD didn't report on the "Study Session", but I have a January 8 email from one citizen who says he was there: "I attended the Tuesday Jan 4 study session on the CTS, behind closed doors at SR city hall until so many people arrived they had to open one constantly for the developers to peer in.

I videotaped the meeting where the statement was actually made by the Fed Gov representative that they were interested in 'Rubber Stamping' proposals from the group for development approvals to go forward ASAP. Anyway, when I explained an 'exclusive' group such as this should have more public participation such as a member of the public on the committee, Ed Brauner said they don't want any public representatives on the team."

Now the Press Democrat is setting us up for the Team's forthcoming draft report and recommendations. The current spin is that habitat preservation is possible, but perhaps prohibitively expensive.

The first of a two-part editorial said today, "What's certain about Sonoma County's ongoing debate over the preservation of the California tiger salamander is that the outcome will be unprecedented - and breath-taking in its expense ... By one estimate released last week, a conservation plan for the tiger salamander in Sonoma County could end up costing $400 million." (2/20/05, "Slippery slope Part I: Finding the center in this high-stakes salamander debate")

"[B]ecause of the high land costs here, the mitigation price is expected to start at $100,000 an acre. For 4,000 acres that would come to $400 million. To put this number in perspective, it would take the Open Space District more than 20 years to raise this amount through the district's quarter-cent sales tax. It's a stunning sum for a massive amount of land."

That's a curious perspective. The County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District hasn't been buying up the likely salamander habitat in the Santa Rosa Plain, west of the cities of Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, and Cotati. Thanks to the politicians and bureaucrats who control our tax money, it's been buying "development rights" from wealthy ranchers in distant parts of the county.

Will the developer-assembled Team tell us we can't afford to save the CTS habitat? "To suggest, as some have, that this recovery plan is more concerned about development than preservation is simply dishonest. If this plan actually works, Sonoma County will have purchased and set aside a chunk of land equal in size to the entire Squaw Valley ski area."

Team-member Ferguson told the Council, "Land owners will have the opportunity to sell habitat rights directly to development interests for mitigation, while continuing the use of their land for compatible purposes, such as grazing". Buying "habitat rights" from landowners like dairymen, for example, who would continue to keep their cows on the land, sounds a lot like buying "development rights" from ranchers who have no plans to develop anything.

But Ferguson said "development interests" would buy the land, not Sonoma County. Surely the County isn't going to buy 4,000 acres of possible CTS habitat for $400 million--to bail out the developers with our Open Space District tax money. Or is it?

Tune in tomorrow, and watch the editor climb part two of the slippery slope ...

Press Democrat can't say “CTS Fund II”

(Updated from a story posted at The Other Santa Rosa 6/2/04)

The Press Democrat reported last February that 22 plaintiffs, representing a 32-member “coalition of developers, business groups and public agencies”, filed suit “to overturn protections for the California tiger salamander”; and said the coalition claimed "cumbersome federal regulations have brought development to a grinding halt.” A PD editorial the same day supported the suit, saying

This is not about opposing the preservation of this shy amphibian. It's about forcing the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the table--to work out a conservation plan for preserving the salamander and to develop clear rules for building on salamander habitat.”

The PD commented, “It's regrettable when lawsuits become the only method by which reasonable regulation can be achieved. But without this one, Sonoma County property owners would remain bogged down in a regulatory quagmire.” (2/20/04, “By the tail”)

The lawsuit soon disappeared from the news, and the PD reported last October, "In February, an alliance of home builders, trade groups, cities and nonprofit groups affected by the new salamander protections sued the Fish & Wildlife Service, challenging its declaration of tiger salamanders in Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties as endangered. The group dismissed its lawsuit after the Fish & Wildlife Service declared the species as threatened statewide, which lowered its protected status in Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties.

The salamanders are also found in Central California, but were not a protected species prior to July. The practical effect of downgrading the salamander's status in Sonoma County remains to be seen. Threatened species receive most of the same protections as those deemed endangered under federal law, but the threatened designation also allows some loopholes
." (10/16/04, "Two environmental groups are challenging a recent decision by federal regulators ...")

Having editorialized that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had to be forced to the table, the PD began to report the issue as a dispute between the City of Santa Rosa and the F&WS—largely ignoring the other 31 members of the “coalition”, and the other 21 plaintiffs in the February suit. And a month later, the PD reported that the City and the Fish & Wildlife Service were forming a committee to protect the salamander and its habitat--with retired Deputy City Manager Ed Brauner as its “facilitator”.

The PD said last March, “Efforts are under way to create a strategy this year to protect the endangered California tiger salamander in central Sonoma County and make room for new homes and businesses, which would be a big relief to developers and local politicians who say salamander-related restrictions are strangling the local economy. The city of Santa Rosa and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are forming a committee that will include state and federal regulators, city and county representatives and possibly environmentalists and developers to create a salamander conservation strategy by June, said Ed Brauner, a retired Santa Rosa deputy city manager hired to lead committee meetings. Still being formed, the committee is scheduled to begin meeting in April.”

If the sides can agree on a plan it would be a huge accomplishment, because some local politicians and developers have been at odds with the Fish and Wildlife Service since emergency protections were first imposed for the animal nearly two years ago. ‘We want to create a cooperative situation where all sides can sit at the table and work together,' Brauner said. ‘I'm hopeful this will be a productive process.’ " (3/21/04, “New panel will craft preservation strategies”),

The “California Tiger Salamander Conservation Strategy Team” began meeting in private March 30. Two months later, the PD reported on the Strategy Team’s first meeting in public (5/25/04, “Salamander panel says it’s seeking balance”):

A new committee trying to find ways to protect the endangered California tiger salamander and make room for growth in the Santa Rosa Plain where it lives defended itself Monday night from environmentalists critical of the process. Members of the California Tiger Salamander Conservation Strategy Team, a group representing federal and state regulatory agencies, local government, developers and environmentalists, made their statements at the end of a 3 1/2 -hour hearing that drew more than 100 people to the Steele Lane Community Center in Santa Rosa.”

Created by the city of Santa Rosa and the Fish and Wildlife Service, the team is trying to identify what land needs to be preserved for salamanders to survive and to establish a framework for where development can occur, team members said.” “Several developers and business interests encouraged the group to push ahead with its goal of striking a balance between protecting the salamander and making room for growth. ‘Our impression is if nothing is done, the salamander would fade into oblivion,’ said Charlie Carson, executive director of the Homebuilders Association of Northern California.”

But the City and the F&WS didn’t create and fund the Strategy Team, the developers did. And Carson’s Homebuilders Association didn’t care very much whether the salamander fades into oblivion--the HBA was the lead plaintiff in the February lawsuit, which was aimed at weakening or discarding federal protection for the salamander’s habitat.

A PD editorial the next day said, “The public process often becomes mired in muck so thick that simple projects take decades to complete. For this reason, it's understandable why local governments, state and federal agencies, and private landowners have created an alternative model for addressing questions regarding the endangered California tiger salamander. In bringing these groups and the environmental community to the table, the Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team hopes to share resources, avoid duplicative studies and, ultimately, create an effective salamander protection and conservation plan.” (5/26/04, “Bogged down: a quicker, cheaper approach to saving salamander”)

The editorial commented, “At the first public meeting of the group on Monday, it was clear that many people from the environmental community are skeptical of the motivations of the team and its backers.” And it recommended, “For the credibility of the process, the team should reveal who is funding its staffing and studies, provide information on agreements reached and create additional opportunities for interest groups to express concerns.”

The May editorial said the Strategy Team itself brought the parties and issues “to the table”. But the PD knew the coalition created and funded the Team--and that it did so only after filing a lawsuit to overturn the salamander’s federal protection. The October PD story didn't say when the coalition dropped its suit, so it was unclear last June why representatives from both sides of the lawsuit were holding private meetings—underwritten by the developers—at the same time they reportedly were adversaries in court.

The editorial also said “local governments, state and federal agencies, and private landowners” created an “alternative model”. But in fact, it appears a group of developers--identified so far only as “CTS Fund II”--created and paid for both the model and the Strategy Team.

The North Bay Business Journal reported last March that a group called CTS Fund II--supported by monthly donations from ten local developers—was working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on a strategy to speed stalled construction projects. The story said, “A local building industry-supported group is working feverishly to convince federal regulators to allow construction projects on the Santa Rosa Plain stalled by protection of the California tiger salamander to proceed this spring.

The Santa Rosa-based group, called CTS Fund II, is working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which listed the amphibian as endangered locally last spring, on a strategy for recovering the salamander while allowing construction to proceed on certain housing, park, and municipal water pipeline projects. Key to that strategy are documents consultants are drafting for small and large project proponents to use in showing how they plan to protect the species during and after a project.

Backed by $20,000 in monthly donations from 10 small and large local developers, CTS II has hired Idaho-based former FWS staffer William Lehman to create a site-specific low-effect habitat conservation plan (HCP). It has also hired Marco Waaland of Santa Rosa-based Golden Bear Biostudies to tailor a programmatic biological opinion for the county's three endangered plants, including the Sebastopol meadowfoam flower, into one that will work for the stealthy, wide-ranging amphibian. They plan to present the documents to the FWS by mid March, according to CTS II coordinator Carolyn Wasem
.” (3/1/04, “Taking on the salamander”)

An NBBJ follow-up story said the developers were doing all they could to develop within the salamander habitat as soon as possible, and reported they had hired Ed Brauner as their facilitator. The second story made it clear the developers were hunting salamanders with a two-pronged spear:

As previously reported ["Taking on the salamander," Mar. 1], the conservation strategy is one of two routes the local development community is taking to deal with the federal listing of the critter last spring. The other path is a pending lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in February to overturn the listing in Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties.” (4/26/04, “Groups want quick action on a salamander strategy”)

The second story was similar to what the PD had reported March 21, but stressed the urgency of the Strategy Team’s efforts: “Representatives from government agencies, local municipalities, property owners, and environmental groups are putting their heads together to develop a strategy for preserving local habitat of the endangered California tiger salamander while allowing for construction. What's more, they want to produce actionable results in less than two months."

Though cognizant that a comprehensive plan to protect critical habitat of the salamander and other listed species probably will take ‘a long time’ to complete, the team aims to reach agreement on enough of a roadmap by mid June for some projects to progress, according to team facilitator Ed Brauner. ’There's a lot of work to do and not a lot of time,’ says Mr. Brauner, who retired as deputy city manager last summer. The team first met March 30 and will be meeting every two weeks at least through June.”

Colleen Ferguson, a Santa Rosa Public Works department engineer, represents Sonoma County, Santa Rosa and Rohnert park on the Strategy Team. It’s unclear who appointed her, or what authority she has to negotiate on behalf of the County and the two cities. Ferguson created a Strategy Team webpage in the Public Works area of the City’s website, at about the same time as the Strategy Team was holding its first public meeting.

The Team’s April 16 Meeting Notes made it clear that “the development community” was paying the bills. When some team members proposed to add native flowers to the salamander conservation plan, Bill Lehman—identified in the 3/1 NBBJ story as an employee of CTS II—responded:

Some team members expressed the need to not only consider the California tiger salamander in the conservation strategy, but to also include federally listed plant species. However, the private landowner community representative, while not disagreeing in principal to the merits of this proposal, expressed two concerns—first that adding additional species to a conservation planning effort also usually adds complexity, time, and cost; and, second, that the development community, whose financial resources are supporting much of this planning effort, agreed to this support as a result of listing of the tiger salamander under the ESA and with respect to the salamander only, not additional species.” (emphasis added)

The coalition’s two-pronged strategy may ultimately involve creation of one or more salamander habitat mitigation banks. But the main thrust of the developers’ strategy appeared last year to be their February lawsuit. The Press Democrat’s February story reported,

A broad coalition of developers, business groups and public agencies from Sonoma County filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to overturn protections for the California tiger salamander, claiming that cumbersome federal regulations have brought development to a grinding halt. The long-planned legal attack, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, was launched by an alliance of 32 home builders, government agencies, trade groups and nonprofits in Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties.

It targets a year-old ruling by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which granted the California tiger salamander endangered species status in Sonoma County. The lawsuit also seeks to reverse a similar 2000 ruling in Santa Barbara County.” (2/20/04, “Amphibian habitat focus of lawsuit”)

The February news story was straightforward and clear. It described the suit as “long-planned”; it reported that a 32-member coalition of builders and others had filed suit “to overturn protections for the California tiger salamander “, and it listed 22 actual plaintiffs in an adjoining box. The story continued,

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the cities of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. They are asking the court to downgrade the salamander's status to ‘threatened.’ The suit also seeks to have Fish and Wildlife establish a set of clear-cut procedures for creating mitigation banks, which would provide a protected home for the salamander population.

The SR City Council voted to join in the suit in secret Closed Session 2/10, and disclosed the vote a week later. A preliminary PD story 2/18 said City Manager Jeff Kolin “estimated that the lawsuit would cost about $200,000 if it reaches trial. The city's share of the cost is capped at $5,000, he said.” Were the City an equal plaintiff with the 21 others, its share would be over $9,000.

The City identified the suit as Home Builders Association of Northern California; City of Santa Rosa, et al v Steven A. Williams, Director, United States Fish and Wild Life Service et al. The 2/20 PD story reported that Homebuilders Association head Charlie Carson defended its legal action, as he continued to do later:

Developers also complain there is no clear process to win approval for construction in areas where the tiger salamander lives. As a result, a number of development projects have been stuck in limbo, said Charlie Carson, executive director for the Home Builders Association of Northern California. ‘Things cannot move forward, whether it's city road-widening or sewer projects or the construction of homes. Everything has ground to a halt,’ Carson said.“

But Carson was exaggerating. The story continued,“However, public records show many projects are moving ahead in Sonoma County. In Santa Rosa, about half of the projects that have come before the city have gotten clearance from federal wildlife regulators fairly quickly, said Chuck Regalia, Santa Rosa's deputy community development director. But more than two dozen projects--mostly small subdivisions in the southwest quadrant--have been in limbo since last year awaiting the results of $1 million worth of salamander studies, Regalia said.”

The coalition and the 22 actual plaintiffs presumably were concerned about the more than 24 stalled projects Regalia cited. The PD printed a list of the plaintiffs, but the names were in no obvious order, and the PD did not identify their individual interests.

Rearranged into meaningful categories and alphabetized, the plaintiffs were:

Developers (16):
Airport Business Center
Bellevue Ranch Phase 7
Burbank Housing Development Corp.
Cobblestone Homes
Jackson Family Investments
Mead Clark Lumber
Redwood Equities Investments
Clem Carinalli
Dennis Hunter
James Ratto
Rivendale Homes
Ryder Homes
Santa Rosa Partners
Santa Rosa Associates
Schellinger Brothers
SWSR Associates

Organizations (4):
Home Builders Association of Northern California
North Coast Builders Exchange
Northern California Engineering Contractors Assn.
Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce

Cities (2):
Rohnert Park
Santa Rosa

So the Press Democrat must have known for months who was paying for the Strategy Team. Yet it never printed the name CTS Fund II, or quoted from the NBBJ’s more direct and accurate coverage. It appears the PD has known and ignored the real story for almost a year now, and failed to report on the significant financial interests of the leading plaintiffs in the suit.

If the PD wanted to report the real story, a reporter could start by asking Chuck Regalia for his list of stalled Santa Rosa projects, and matching them up with the list of 22 plaintiff developers above. Then he could do the same for similar stalled projects in Rohnert Park, and under County jurisdiction.

That story might open up a whole new can of worms. Just one example: Clem Carinalli and Dennis Hunter are prominent SR bankers and developers. They are also partners with James Ratto in Redwood Equities Investments, as well as in the North Bay Corporation, the company that hauls garbage for Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, and Windsor.

A close look at their operations in the Rohnert Park area alone will show they are involved in a variety of commercial and residential developments, including a major westside shopping center; the site of the proposed Indian casino; and mitigation banking for threatened/endangered species, such as the California Tiger Salamander.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

R.I.P. Robert "Buzz" Pauley

Downtown business booster Robert "Buzz" Pauley died in a Glen Ellen car crash early Friday morning, according to a Press Democrat front page story today. The son of Edwin Pauley of Pauley Petroleum, he grew up in Beverly Hills, and moved to Kenwood in 1982.

He was a founding director of Sonoma National Bank in 1985, and once its largest stockholder. His fellow directors included Clem Carinalli and Dennis Hunter [North Bay Corporation, Redwood Equities], William Gallaher [First Community Bank, Aegis Senior Communities/Varenna, Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club], William E. Geary [Geary, Shea, O'Donnell & Grattan], Chairman James B. Keegan, and bank president Debbie Meekins.

Pauley owned the northwest end of the D Street block between Second and Third Street, best known as the site of Kinko's. He proposed to develop a mixed-use highrise project called The Rises there. It depended on the City's building a supporting highrise parking garage on the White House parking lot to the east.

Pauley recently sold the property, and the new owners reportedly plan to build The Rises. The City Council just renewed its plans for the garage, after new proposals in December from developer Hugh Futrell, the Monahan-Pacific Corp. of San Rafael, and the Samuelson Schafer company of Mill Valley. [See below, "New Council plan for parking garage proposals reeks of private decisions", 1/31/05]

Today's PD story quoted Sonoma National chairman Keegan, saying "Pauley was committed to the city's development. He said Pauley's passion was to move the city closer to the urban village concept where shops, residential space and offices were intermixed. Pauley believed mixed use of urban space would pump new life and vitality into the downtown core."

Pauley was a member of CityVision's executive committee when it was a private organization, before the Council and CV invited the American Institute of Architects Rural/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) that visited the Downtown in 1998. Then he was on the R/UDAT Steering Committee, and donated to support the visit.

CityVision later became a Council-funded nonprofit, and Pauley was on its Advisory Board in 1999/00. If I recall correctly, he covered $40,000 of CityVision's debts as a private organization, and provided office space on D Street for several years.

The PD story said, "Because of his property holdings downtown, Pauley was an ardent supporter of the reunification of Old Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa. Last year, he donated $125,000 toward the reunification project, which would create a true downtown plaza similar to those in Wine Country cities like Healdsburg and Sonoma."

Pauley reportedly was no longer involved in The Rises project. Time will tell whether his death will hinder other Downtown projects he supported, such as reunification of Courthouse Square.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

What are friends for?

[This was posted at my first blog The Other Santa Rosa 9/16/04.]

I've been saying and writing for years that the local political/economic/social establishment is a private club of friends, neighbors, and business associates, who look after each others' interests. Here's what "veteran Sonoma County political consultant" Terry Price told the Press Democrat, for a 9/13/04 article on campaign finance:

"Price, who has worked on campaigns in Sonoma County for 20 years, said political influence at the local level arises more from friendships than from $500 or $1,000 contributions. 'If you say that 60 percent or 70 percent of your funds come from one segment of the community and then you go back and look at how these folks vote, there's a direct correlation,' he said.

'You can't say they're independent ... it (money) permeates everything. Politics is all about personal relationships. It's based on who people know, who they spent their time with, who has the same value set.' " ("Cities' campaign finance laws seen as ineffectual")

Another local consultant put it more generally: "Brian Sobel, a former Petaluma city councilman who is now a political consultant, said cities will continue to look for ways to control the perception that money influences political decisions. 'But we also need to be honest about this. Everyone is trying to influence elections,' he said.

'There are no white knights. Environmental groups, conservative groups, middle-of-the-road groups, friends of the apples, friends of dogs--everyone is trying to influence the election.' "

Perhaps everyone would like to influence elections, but it's the money that gets candidates elected: "If Santa Rosa's new $500 individual contribution limit had been in effect two years ago, two candidates--downtown news store owner John Sawyer and longtime City Councilwoman Janet Condron--each would have had to turn away more than 20 percent of their campaign treasuries.

Councilman Bob Blanchard would have had to turn down the largest dollar total, $15,600, or 17 percent of what he raised. Such large dollar figures--much from the building and development industry--can fuel accusations that monied interests are buying political good will."

Council candidate Sawyer, who raised $52,400 two years ago, says you can't buy a vote for $1,000: "The large amounts do not buy influence, Sawyer said. During his unsuccessful 2002 bid, he took in $12,500 in donations that would have been prohibited under today's $500 limit.

Sawyer said he would not have been able to run a high-profile campaign without large donations. 'The perception of being able to buy an election is there. But the reality is, even at $1,000, no one that has any integrity is going to have their vote purchased. It's not $500,000, it's not a million dollars,' he said."

And Sawyer says it simply costs too much to run for office: "With costs between $7,500 and $10,000 for a single campaign mailer, Sawyer said simply capping individual contributions won't control spending. The average election spending in Santa Rosa in 2002 was nearly $50,000 per candidate.

'Trying to keep the costs down of running should be the goal,' Sawyer said. 'The per-person donation can be mitigated by going after more people. The real rub is how much it costs to run in the first place. If you didn't need to spend it, you wouldn't have to raise it.' "

Consultant Sobel explains how to evade individual contribution limits: "candidates simply need to get more inventive in fund raising, veteran political consultants said. 'If a person is married, make sure the spouse writes a check and the kids write a check,' Sobel said.

Financial disclosure documents commonly show contributions from several members of the same family--some who live in other parts of the country, and all of whom donate the maximum amount allowed by law. It's not unusual for a company executive to contribute the city's maximum allowed, $500 for example, and arrange for his or her employees to donate the same amount. As long as the employer does not reimburse the employees, the practice is legal."

Terry Price gets the last word on local campaign finance reform measures: "'Everybody thinks they're making these huge leaps forward with these laws, but in fact, in two years they'll think it doesn't work, that everyone is getting around them.' "

Sunday, February 13, 2005

PD provides the info to protect citizens' rights

The Press Democrat printed a two-page spread in its op-ed section today, "It's Your Government 2005". It's no more than a list of federal, state, county, and city officials, and a few government agencies.

The joke is editorial director Pete Golis' introduction, on the corner of the front page:

"Today we publish our It's Your Government 2005--the information you need to protect your rights as a citizen.

From Washington to Sacramento, from the county seat to city hall, here you will find the names, addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers, Web sites and e-mail addresses that we hope will prove useful over the next two years.

We urge you to put Pages 4 and 5 of today's Forum aside for future use."

Gosh, thanks, Pete! And in return, I urge you and PD publisher Mike Parman to put your op-ed pages to better use in the future.

It's not just that the same information and more is readily available in the front of the phone book. It's your ridiculous claim that this information will protect our rights as citizens.

The contact information you provided might help us get in touch with the clerks and bureaucrats who work for this country's elected and appointed officials. But you and I know most of those people don't know or care that we exist, and don't give a damn about our rights.

If you really want to provide some information to help us protect our rights, how about a list of honest lawyers who aren't afraid to sue the government? It won't take much space, and it might be useful.

PD covers the news from behind the door

PD columnist Gaye LeBaron wrote today,

"When I first began reporting for The Press Democrat, back in the days when the newsroom was on the ground floor and people just walked in off the street and announced they had news for us, an elderly gent came by and was assigned to me--to take down his news. He said he had not been in Santa Rosa in 50 years and he thought we might like to hear about some of the changes he noticed."

"His visit made a tidy little story for an inside page. Hard to imagine now. Change isn't news anymore. There's so much of it.

That old guy ... wouldn't have made it past our security door--which is one of the big changes, right?


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Mendocino Avenue to be JC campus street?

The Press Democrat has discovered what Santa Rosa Junior College is doing with the $27 million voters approved under Measure A in March 2002: "Santa Rosa Junior College has been quietly buying up properties on Mendocino Avenue across from the campus ... The college has a vision of an extended campus, landscaped and with buildings architecturally similar to the existing campus. New administrative and business offices would go up, providing services to a student body that has swelled from about 11,000 in 1970 to about 32,000 in 2005."

The JC's actions have already significantly changed the east side of Mendocino Avenue: "In the past 18 months, the SRJC has bought Patio World on Mendocino Avenue, south of Carr Avenue, and the house and duplex behind it. The buildings were demolished and a parking lot created. The school is also trying to buy two other properties."

The JC is negotiating for the old gas station property at Carr and Mendocino, and the next lot to the south: "The buildings would be demolished and used for parking for about five years. Once SRJC's multilevel parking garage is finished, the parking lots would be removed and office buildings erected, [JC Vice President Curt] Groninga said.

The college says it currently has no plans to expand beyond the half-block area."We haven't thought of looking at other properties. But if somebody approached us - and I emphasize the word approach - we would talk to them."

But the new leadership of a long-dormant nearby neighborhood association has a different vision: "the Junior College Neighborhood Association has a dream of a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly east side of Mendocino Avenue, with housing above stores and cafes and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. They fear that the property purchases now under way are only the beginning, and that the SRJC eventually will try to acquire the rest of the properties that face the campus".

The new JCNA leaders say they want to know the JC's plans, and participate in the process: "'We would like to know what their plan is and be involved in the planning before any development takes place,' said Jenny Bard, president of the neighborhood association. 'We want to bring everybody together to plan this corridor and have everyone be part of the process,' she said."

JCNA vice president Victoria Duggan added in a letter to the editor, also in today's PD , "the daily traffic volume on Mendocino Avenue ... is one of the highest on surface streets in the city of Santa Rosa./Adding additional traffic, with parking and/or administrative offices on the east side of Mendocino Avenue without helping to address the problems of inadequate pedestrian crossings is not acceptable to our neighborhood." [2/12/05, "Safer for all"]

Most JC neighborhood residents--not to mention other Santa Rosa and County residents--are probably unaware of either vision for Mendocino Avenue. The JC's plans have not been reported, and the details of the JCNA's vision are unknown.

Laura Hall of Fisher & Hall Urban Design, who advocates the principles of The New Urbanism, has proposed the JCNA support an "urban design plan" for Mendocino Avenue. Some of the JCNA's new leaders and members are bicycle riders, and associated with the countywide bike lobby, and actively oppose construction of the JC's new parking garage.

Carol Benfell's important story today commented, "The issue is what Mendocino Avenue will look like in the future, and who will decide." She wrote, "The city generally sets guidelines for development, but it has no direct authority over the SRJC, a separate governmental entity. The city and the college work cooperatively on projects, said Wayne Goldberg, director of the city's Community Development Department." [2/12/05, "Neighborhood fears SRJC expansion plans/Purchase of properties across from campus raises specter of business park"]

The real question appears to be whether City Hall is ignorant of the JC's plans to expand across Mendocino Avenue--which in effect, will make that major City arterial a campus street--or whether the City is quietly working with the JC, to change the face of the historic JC neighborhood.

Friday, February 11, 2005

After the election, Gallahers give the winners $22,500--Mayor doesn't know why

Some who give money to City Council candidates may hope to receive political favors if their candidates win. And most successful candidates are probably grateful for their contributions. But that doesn't mean a contributor can "buy" a Councilmember's vote for $500--the maximum contribution a recent city ordinance allows.

But what if a developer with a project before the City gave a winning candidate $5,000 after the election? What if the developer, his family, and his employees gave $22,500 to all four winners? And what if the influential Mayor who just retired, after 12 years on the Council, worked for the developer?

A day or two after the November 2 election last year, the Gallaher family and employees associated with the Varenna project in Fountaingrove each gave the $500 maximum to winning candidates Jane Bender, Mike Martini, John Sawyer, and Lee Pierce. They gave $5,000 apiece to the first three, and $7,500 to Pierce--$22,500 in all, from essentially one source with a project before the City.

The Press Democrat reported yesterday the Planning Commission would consider Varenna's environmental impact report that afternoon. Mike McCoy's story said, "Today's hearing comes three months after Gallaher, Mabry and other company officials, along with some family members, poured $22,500 in last-minute donations into the campaigns of four City Council candidates. The group donated $5,000 each to incumbents Jane Bender and Mike Martini and news store owner John Sawyer. It also pumped $7,500 into the campaign of gemstone distributor Lee Pierce. The donations were received by the candidates, all of whom won Nov. 3, the day after the election."

Sawyer was the only winner to acknowledge the late contributions look suspicious: "All four council members rejected the idea that the donations are an attempt to influence their positions on the Varenna project. While the project is under the jurisdiction of the Planning Commission, that panel's decision can be appealed to the council. Sawyer agreed the timing of the donations - and the decision by Aegis officials and their families to bundle 10 to 15 individual contributions to each candidate - 'doesn't look that good.'

But Sawyer, Bender, Martini and Pierce all said receipt of the donations was not tied to any promises to the donors. All four said they would not be influenced by the contributions. 'I don't know why they did it. I'm not inside their heads, but I'm not going to get bought by anybody,' Bender said."

The candidates' campaign finance reports are readily available to the public at the City website--although the City Clerk does censor contributors' phone numbers and addresses from the public documents. Mayor Bender's Form 460 for contributions and expenses through 12/31/04, stamped received by the City 1/26/05, says seven Gallahers and three others gave her a total of $5,000. The $5,000 is most of the $6,998 in late contributions she received between 10/29--11/10/04.

Bender's form lists donations of $500 each 11/3/04 from: W. R. Mabry, "Partner, Aegis Corp"; William Gallaher, "Partner, Aegis Corp"; Cynthia Gallaher, "housewife"; Debra Lin, "housewife"; Joseph Lin, "CFO, Oakmont Sr. Living"; Steven Gallaher, "Construction Supervisor, Oakmont Construction Inc."; Nicole Gallaher, "Student"; Molly Gallaher, "Student"; Patrick Gallaher, "Retired"; and Joan Gallaher, "Secretary Oakmont Construction Inc."

Bender received $500 contributions from developers Schellinger Bros. 10/29, and real estate man Ross Liscum (a longtime member of the Board of Public Utilities) 11/8/04. She received $800 from five others, and $198 in unitemized contributions of less than $100 each.
[Go here to access the candidates' campaign finance reports: ]

McCoy's story concluded, "Former Councilwoman Sharon Wright, who chose not to seek re-election in November, has been working in the marketing department for Aegis the past two years." In fact, the City's website had said Wright was Director of Marketing for Aegis Senior Living, LLC.

The City Attorney wrote me 9/25/03, "Aegis Senior Living, LLC is the management and marketing arm of Oakmont Senior Living, LLC. Currently the Mayor is 'officially' employed by Oakmont Senior Living, LLC the parent company. However, once the Santa Rosa project Aegis at Fountaingrove is approved, she will be an employee of that entity." Varenna is presumably the "Aegis at Fountaingrove" project.

McCoy said of Varenna, Aegis and William Gallaher, "The 250-unit project, named after a small town in Italy, is proposed by Aegis Assisted Living, a company founded in 1997 by prominent Sonoma County developer and financier William Gallaher and Washington developer Dwayne Clark. The site is along Fountain Grove Parkway, overlooking Fountaingrove Lake and abutting the southern edge of the Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club."

"Aegis Assisted Living is no stranger to building retirement communities. The Redmond, Wash., company operates 31 assisted-living residences in California, Nevada and Washington. Before teaming up with Clark, Gallaher spent two decades building offices, apartments and more than 1,000 homes throughout Sonoma County, including 440 homes in Oakmont.

He was the driving force behind the startup of First Community Bank last year and is part owner of the Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club, which operates the adjoining 170-acre golf course. Calls to Gallaher and William Mabry, Varenna's project manager, for comment on the project were not returned this week."

Thursday, February 10, 2005

"Area's leading business minds" miss Telecom Valley's well-paid engineers

Here's the good news: "the leading business minds of the area believe the North Bay is poised for a strong year in 2005 ... If interest rates don't rise rapidly, the county should see steady job growth."

So said the Press Democrat, in a 2/6/05 editorial, "Looking up/North Bay's resolve to attract jobs will be tested in 2005". The area's leading business minds communed at their annual North Bay Economic Outlook Conference 2/3/05, at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel.

And here's the editor's warning: "Hopeful projections are one thing. But an economic recovery won't happen without many people working together including business leaders, elected officials, educators--and voters."

Huh? If the area's leading business minds say economic recovery requires "job growth", why hasn't the PD reported that the major local problem is unemployment?

And what do educators, and the voters, have to do with "job growth"? I thought the business leaders, and their friends at City Hall and the County Center, made the decisions about the local economy.

The editor explained the problem was not attracting just any jobs, but "high-paying engineering" jobs: "[Sonoma County] also has its share of challenges. Chief among them is the high cost of housing. While big-box stores bring much-needed sales tax revenues to cities, they don't provide the kind of jobs that can afford a median-price home of $547,000.

Economists noted that one of the real questions for this year will be whether the economy is able to replace the kind of high-paying engineering jobs that were lost during the downturn. If that doesn't happen soon, the rebound will take longer

So the editor's complaint was that local workers don't make enough money to buy a half-million dollar house. Seems to me the editor, and the area's leading business minds, should have known Sonoma County's short-lived "Telecom Valley" boom would be highly inflationary for most of the local population.

The editor recommended, "Sonoma County needs to create the kind of environment that attracts these kinds of jobs, which we once took for granted." It's clear they took the Telecom Valley job boom for granted. What's amazing is, they think they can make it happen again. I wonder how the local leaders missed the obvious facts that the new telecommunications engineering firms were meant to be bought out or close; and never had any real connections to the local business community.

Telecom Valley indeed went bust a few years ago, but the editor still recommended, "The county also needs to make sure our schools and universities are producing the kind of skilled workers that these companies need." That's where the educators came in. It seems the editor thinks Telecom Valley is still hiring. Maybe he didn't read in the PD that Agilent has moved to Malaysia.

As for the voters, he cautioned, "Voters addressed some key regional transportation concerns with the passage of Measure M in November. But the area faces other challenges as well, such as the need to bring commercial air service back to Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport."

Ah, yes. Two other frequent complaints of the area's finest business minds. First, that freeway congestion inhibits continuous unmitigated local growth for private profit. Of course, it was continuous unmitigated growth that caused the congestion in the first place.

And then, renewed commercial airline service might also bring more business to Sonoma County. In the end, the finest business minds always call for more "Economic Development"--which is to say, more ways for them to make money.

At least they didn't blame the Telecom Valley bust on the California Tiger Salamander.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Another public notice that doesn't tell us enough

A City of Santa Rosa/Notice of Public Hearing published Sunday, 1/30/05, says the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing next Thursday on a General Plan Amendment proposed by the City itself. The notice reads,


All that tells us is the PC will consider amending Santa Rosa's General Plan "to add text ... addressing annual review and amendment of the General Plan."

What text? What does it say, and what will it do? How does the proposed text affect annual review and amendment of the General Plan? City Hall doesn't say.

The notice goes on to say, "The purpose of the public hearing is to receive public comment and recommendations prior to the Planning Commission acting on the requested General Plan Amendment." But how can the public comment and make recommendations, when it doesn't know what the new language is, or what it does?

This is a common defect of such City notices. City Hall has to tell us it's going to do something, so it tells us--but the notice doesn't tell us enough for us to know what the proposed action really is.

If the new text the City wants to add makes insignificant changes to the General Plan, why amend it at all?

And if the changes are significant--and City Hall thinks they're necessary--what the hell are they?