The Woodside Town Council on Tuesday night (Oct. 29) spent a couple of hours considering whether to hire a professional facilitator to guide the community through a public effort to address issues such as the unavailability of a parking space and severe downtown traffic jams. An observer looking in a window of Independence Hall would have picked up on an atmosphere of distrust, would have heard repeated demands for reassurance, and would even have witnessed a touch of civil disobedience.
And had he or she decided to go inside so as to have a more complete experience, there would not have been a place to sit down, and hardly room to stand.
In an hour of vociferous and possibly orchestrated public comment, residents rose to demand that the council take out of any consideration a multi-tier parking garage, any notion of widening the roads, and any maps showing an expansion of the Town Center area. These ideas and others like them had been broached during brainstorming sessions in community meetings in the spring.
Residents also demanded that the decades-old voter-approved measures J and 1, enacted to limit the growth of the downtown area, be protected from amendment. And they did not want an outsider, professional qualifications notwithstanding, to facilitate the town's deliberations on the future of their downtown.
"Remove the items that are highly controversial," said resident Greg Raleigh, who began by saying that he would exceed his allotted three minutes to speak. When notified that his time had expired, he continued speaking and turned to the audience to display a map of a proposed expanded Town Center.
The next speaker yielded his time to Mr. Raleigh. At one point, he got into an argument with Mayor Anne Kasten, who was instructing him on parliamentary procedure and he responded: "This is the attitude that has people so upset. You keep telling us this isn't important. It's important to us. It's my time to talk. Sometimes I'm a little angry. ... Please remove those things so we don't have to keep worrying about it."
Throughout the public comment period, punctuated occasionally by residents who spoke in support of brainstorming, anxious residents began their remarks with statements of support for the substance of Mr. Raleigh's concern, then sat down to outbursts of applause.
Mr. Raleigh apologized to the mayor after the meeting, Ms. Kasten told the Almanac.
The ideas under protest had come up during several wide-ranging brainstorming sessions in the spring. The topics of greatest concern had been parking and traffic circulation, but there were mentions of public restrooms, water fountains, receptacles for recycling, parking for bicycles, and burying utility lines that are now overhead.
The option of safely walking or biking to school came up repeatedly and is a priority upon which there was general agreement.
When the public comment period came to an end, the council agreed to a motion by Councilman Tom Shanahan that included removing from all consideration a multi-tier parking garage, changes to the width or arrangement of the roads, and residential uses within the downtown area. The vote was 6-0, with Councilman Peter Mason absent.
The council was not dissuaded from plans for hiring a facilitator, and two facilitated community meetings are tentatively scheduled for Saturdays in February and March 2014.
As for Measure J, slight modifications may be necessary to accomplish goals, but would have to be approved by voters.
After yet another round of applause, the room emptied.