At the October 11th Sierra Madre City Council meeting, Councilmember Walsh blasted the General Plan Update Committee, specifically Chair Denise Delmar, for wanting to hold secret meetings, for wanting to violate the Brown Act and for not being transparent in the Committee's business. Walsh, in her rant, also urged Councilmember MacGillivray to step down as liaison because MacGillivray perpetuated the notion that the General Plan was a document of the people rather than the responsibility of the City Council.
In her "Lookie here" moment, as she describes it in her written statement, Walsh said, "Folks in the audience can continue to come to the microphone and repeat the plan is the "peoples' plan" and not the City Council's as you have many times, and you will continue to be wrong. After tonight you will just look foolish."
Contrary to her assertion, the State of California's General Plan Guidelines are very extensive as to the broad issues that are to be covered in a General Plan. Among them is Chapter 8; Public Participation, which clearly demands a broad involvement of the public in the process. It is also made quite clear that the General Plan is not the product of a single body, i.e., a City Council.
It is the duty of an elected representative to listen to the citizens of Sierra Madre. It is also incumbent to be respectful and courteous to the public as they express their opinions. The disdain in calling the public foolish for expressing their opinions at a City Council meeting, or any public meeting, is not only arrogant and disrespectful, but a slap in the face of all who might wish to become involved in their City's government.
The accusations made about the GPUSC not being transparent and wanting to conduct "secret meetings" is blatantly false. But, Lookie here - all meetings of the GPUSC are open to the public. These meetings are advertised and posted. No action is taken by any group outside of the GPUSC meetings. These meetings have input from committee members as well as the general public. The general public is encouraged to speak on items on the agenda and bring up items of personal concern. This is indeed a peoples' document in every sense of the word. This document is not the City Council's document - the Council will read, discuss and take additional input from the public at a public hearing after the approval of the Planning Commission. Then and only then can the City Council vote to approve.
When the GPUSC was first appointed there was frustration on the part of both the Committee and City Staff because there were not enough hours or days available for staff to schedule regular meetings where they could attend. Chair Delmar explored a way to meet without staff and without violating the Brown Act. Legal Council ruled against those options. However, it was determined that a sub-committee could be formed to study and make recommendations to the Committee as a whole. Their output is discussed thoroughly at a regular GPUSC meeting. This has helped speed up he process immeasurably.
The Committee was also concerned about how to adequately plan for community involvement, including community meetings without taking valuable time away from working on the actual plan, and without violating the Brown Act. With the blessing of Sierra Madre's Legal Council, a citizen's volunteer group (not committee) was formed to assist the Committee.
A meeting of this group of volunteers was first held in a private home, with attendant publicity appearing in the Mountain Views News and on Sierra Madre.net, in addition to reminders at City Council meetings and at the GPUSC. This was not a secret meeting -- it was well publicized.
Thirty-two people attended this meeting and participated in a lively, open discussion. The meeting was attended by a wide spectrum of citizens, including then-Mayor Joe Mosca, Bill Coburn and citizens from all walks of Sierra Madre life. Susan Henderson (published of the Mountain Views News) expressed her regrets but indicated she intended to become involved. Subsequent volunteer group meetings assisted the GPUSC in planning their two Community Forums, and these volunteers also assisted in the wide dissemination of literature, questionnaires, posters, flyers and yard signs. None of this could have been done by the nine member committee alone, nor could staff.
The hard work by each and every Committee Member, the volunteers and all of the citizens expressing their opinions through the questionnaires, meetings, forums and public hearings will make the updated General Plan a robust document that broadly represents all of the interests of the community, indeed, a Peoples' Document, and we, the people, are not foolish nor are we wrong for our participation.
Thank you, Pat Alcorn