August 28, 2011

Monsters Under The Bed

h/t to Joe and MaryLou St Lucas for the Poway Monsters Under The Bed Video

Last Tuesday night, the Poway City Council met to approve the Wal-Mart expansion. We arrived a bit late but didn't really have to worry about parking, 'cause we knew there would be plenty of room at the empty Dixieline shopping center.

The meeting was crowded. All of the seats in the main chamber were taken. One side of the chamber seemed to be filled with Wal-Mart employees. Made me wonder if they would lose their job if they didn't show up. The lobby was also full; standing room only. We found some outside seats in front of 2 TV screens on the side of the building. Might have been the best seats available. We got to see the speakers as the council saw them, instead of from their backs. And we got some fresh air instead of the stench of divisiveness.

There were some articulate, thoughtful speakers from the "No We" group who presented their concerns about traffic, parking, aesthetics and noise, especially nighttime noise from delivery trucks. There were also a couple of passionate out-of-towners who begged the council to approve the Wal-Mart expansion so they could one-stop shop at Wal-Mart. They promised that the benefits of one-stop shopping at Wal-Mart would ripple through the business community. Another pro-expansion guy got up and complained because Joe St. Lucas, president of the 800 member No-We group, spoke for 5 minutes (with permission). He then proceeded to single out each anti-expansion speaker and say they were wrong. He droned on and on and Mayor Higginson was so captivated he forgot to remind him that his 3 minutes were up a long time ago.

After the speakers "had their say", the council members weighed in. Dave Grosch expressed his concerns about how the traffic and noise would affect the residents. For John Mullin, it was simple. Wal-mart is a commercial use. The land is zoned commercial. Voila, the decision is easy-peasy. But inconsistent. Just a couple of weeks ago, John Mullin voted for an emergency ordinance to keep another commercial venture from locating in a commercial zone because it might have an adverse effect on the neighborhood. Mullin wasn't interested in any adverse effects from Wal-Mart. And neither were Boyack, Cunningham or Higginson. In fact, Higginson went so far as to say that the concerns were "monsters under the bed."
"All I've heard tonight are monsters under the bed...there are no monsters under the bed," says Higginson.
Classic Higginson. This certainly is not the first time he has belittled or denigrated residents who have come to council meetings to express their concerns. But this is probably the first time he has done so to an 800 member organization at a taped meeting. It was pretty obvious throughout the whole meeting that finally allowing the residents to "have their say" was an exercise in futility. As one speaker so aptly said, "Thanks for nothing."

It wasn't always like this in Poway. During the early days, after incorporation, there was a decided effort among the elected leaders to make developers listen to residents. I can remember a developer showing up at council one evening and residents voicing complaints. Councilmember Bob Emery growled at the developers, "You go talk to the residents and work it out with them and THEN come back and ask for approval." Things changed when the city formed a redevelopment agency and that redevelopment agency became the biggest developer in town. Projects were shaped behind closed doors between developers and staff. Things became "done deals" long before they went to council for approval. Residents "having their say" conformed to the laws, but otherwise, the exercise was meaningless.

The Wal-Mart expansion is an example of how the city plans to develop in the future. The residents concerns will be ignored.The Wal-Mart neighborhood meetings were a harbinger of that we-don't-have-to-listen-to-you attitude. Wal-Mart simply set up tables and displayed their plans for the neighbors to see. A one-way meeting. No opportunity for the residents to voice their concerns. So, so different than the neighborhood meetings about north Poway developments or the amphitheater. Those days are definitely over.

Another example of the city's willingness to blow off resident's concerns is the feebleness of the EIR (environmental impact report). It's a joke. For example, consider the traffic information. The Wal-Mart EIR says that the level of service (LOS) at Poway/Community Rd is level C. But for the last 14 yrs, the city has been saying that it is level "D" or level "E". In the upcoming staff report for Lowes, the LOS of the Poway/Community Rd intersection is level "D". How did it go from level "C" to level "D" in a week? Especially since the EIR claimed that expanding Wal-Mart would improve traffic in the area. Do people just make stuff up to fit whatever conclusion is needed?

Every year since 1997, the Poway council has made an annual declaration that traffic sucks so bad in Poway, they qualify for an exemption from state law. Every year since 1997, the traffic monsters were real, and Higginson signed his name to it. This year, for the first year since 1997, the city council has not made their annual declaration about where you cannot have a granny flat because traffic sucks so bad. So, if you are thinking about building one, hurry and get your permits. I am afraid that as soon as Lowe's is approved, the council will look under the bed and tell the state that those monsters are really, really real. And so scary.