Guest opinion: Woodside decision-making process fails to engage larger community


Steve Lubin is a Woodside architect and 67-year Woodside resident who has been involved in Woodside planning matters since 1976, including seven years as a planning commissioner.

By Steve Lubin

At the March 8 Woodside Town Council meeting, the mayor announced to the Council her appointment of an ad-hoc committee consisting of two council members and two residents to consider "allowable maximum residence size."

The creation of this committee is not consistent with the spirit and possibly not with the letter of the Brown Act, California's open government law. That Act requires public notification and public access for committees other than those "comprised solely of less than a quorum of the members" of the council.

While I attended the March 8 meeting, the agenda did not make it clear that this item was going to be discussed, so I left before it was taken up. This opaque policy-making by a few council members is part of a pattern of top-down rule that departs from Woodside's traditional citizen-involvement process.

It is part of a continuing marginalization of those residents who have, over years, put in the thoughtful hours of discussion to come to community consensus. It creates the impression that special interests are running the town.

The process the council used to consider the recently approved basement ordinance made it clear that its behind-the-scenes procedure is not an adequate method of addressing important planning issues. A subcommittee of the council had come up with a fully formed ordinance before presenting it to the town's Architectural and Site Review Board and the Planning Commission. These groups were not asked to weigh in on the broader objectives, only to comment on the details of a done deal.

While writing the ordinance, the council performed no studies of its impacts. With no knowledge of the impacts there could be no balancing of impacts against the benefits of proposed uses.

Interested residents were reduced to annoying the council at its meetings in order to point out flaws and to attempt to evaluate the impacts.

Council meetings are a highly charged setting where the loudest voices prevail and there is very little collegial sharing of ideas. Many people are hesitant to speak up, especially when they are subject to misrepresentation of their views and ridicule by others who have strong opposing views.

The council should be careful to set up a public forum where all are comfortable to speak. The proliferation of anonymous mischaracterizations and attacks in online forums makes it important that the council create such a civil space for our community discussions.

A far better result would be obtained if the council appointed a committee with broad membership and that committee held open meetings where a more collegial development of a community vision could take place. This process has been used successfully in Woodside many times before.

A public committee allows the weighing of alternative approaches and a fuller discussion of appropriate goals and impacts of various solutions than is possible in a Town Council meeting. Such discussions should not happen behind the scenes with only the end results forwarded for public discussion.

If the full discussion is open to broader participation from the outset, there is a greater chance of developing a community consensus and an ordinance that better reflects the community's values.

Furthermore, there has not been a comprehensive evaluation of the town's ordinances since the 2012 General Plan was adopted. Such a review is past due.

For the town to consider other changes one at a time without looking at the whole picture does not allow us to determine if we are conforming to the goals of the General Plan as required by state law.

The council should scrap its current committee and form a broad-based committee, open to public participation, where we can take a look at how the town can balance the objectives of the General Plan with some residents' desire to build larger houses.


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Like this comment
Posted by 66 year Native
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on May 12, 2016 at 10:47 pm

The Brown act specifically allows TEMPORARY committees of any size to operate without public exposure. [Portion removed. Please make your point without personal attacks.]

Since the last election we have several smart people on the council. Let's let them do their jobs [portion removed.]

Editor's note: A committee, whether permanent or temporary, created by a "legislative body," such as a town council, is itself a legislative body subject to the Brown Act unless that committee is made up solely of members of the council. The committee in question has two non-council members. Below is the text from the Brown Act.

54952. As used in this chapter, "legislative body" means:
(a) The governing body of a local agency or any other local body created by state or federal statute.
(b) A commission, committee, board, or other body of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decisionmaking or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body. However, advisory committees, composed solely of the members of the legislative body that are less than a quorum of the legislative body are not legislative bodies, except that standing committees of a legislative body, irrespective of their composition, which have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body are legislative bodies for purposes of this chapter.

3 people like this
Posted by T. Johnson
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 12, 2016 at 10:49 pm

I agree with Steve---
"The council should scrap its current committee and form a broad-based committee, open to public participation..."

Like this comment
Posted by Facts Please
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 12, 2016 at 11:07 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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