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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