Disturbing Facts About Killam/APM’s 
Sherwood Crossing Development

Failure to fully inform the public

On 26 August 2020, the City held a public meeting to present the Killam/APM North of Towers development, now known at Sherwood Crossing.

During that meeting, APM president Tim Banks presented a traffic impact study he had commissioned for the development. The 8 September 2020 Planning Board meeting package states (p.17/280): The City is also currently undergoing a traffic study for the whole area and that would include recommendations or proposals with regards to this future road access [Spencer Drive].

The resolution to approve the APM North of Towers rezoning application was subject to five conditions, the first of which was: That the Cityʼs Traffic Master Plan (TMP) confirm that the development does not conflict with the proposed site plan.

At 1:06:55 in the video recording of the 9 November City Council meeting, Counc. Duffy states: “I am led to believe all the last four bullets have been met and just waiting for this master plan to be presented which was presented here two weeks ago at Council.”

A traffic plan commissioned by the City involves public money, and means citizens have a right to see it. But, despite repeated requests from individuals to the Mayor and City Council that another public meeting was warranted to present the traffic study — given that the first public meeting failed to disclose all the relevant additional facts surrounding the Sherwood Crossing and future developments — the study was not made public until February 2021.

At the time of approving the rezoning resolution (first reading 9 November, second reading 14 December), the Council did not even have the final ‘draft TMP’, let alone the approved TMP and so the Council could not have satisfied itself that the requirements of Condition 1 had been met. 

On 4 January 2021, Sherwood resident Don Read filed a Request for Reconsideration with the City and, following procedure, simultaneously filed an appeal with IRAC. One of the grounds for appeal (LA21001 – Read v. City of Charlottetown) was: Failure to consult and inform public on City’s Master Traffic Plan with respect to Sherwood Crossing rezoning application (related to, and relies on, a land transfer from the development).

In fact, the TMP is still not approved. The draft TMP, with its misleading title West Royalty Commercial Area Traffic Master Plan, was only formally presented to Council on 22 February 2021, and the public received its first glimpse on 26 April during a presentation by the Public Works department.


NOTE: The IRAC hearing LA21001 – Read v. City of Charlottetown is being held today.

Published on CBC PEI, Tuesday, November 10: Proposed 300-unit Charlottetown housing development passes 1st reading
“If the development ends up not fitting the traffic master plan council will look at the project again.”

Published on The Guardian, Wednesday, November 18: Major housing development in Charlottetown passes first reading at council meeting
“The councillor [Duffy] said it was determined that the Sherwood Crossing project won’t have a negative impact on traffic flow in the area.”

Update (6): ‘When the hurly-burly’s done’ on Angus Drive

A tale, or two, of two neighbourhoods

The Planning Board meeting to review the Request for Reconsideration filed by Dan MacIsaac, President of Mel’s, on Tuesday, 25 May, lasted only thirty minutes, so watching the video recording won’t take too much of anyone’s time.

Councillor Julie McCabe summed up the situation quite succinctly [19:15]: “I believe this is a provincial problem.”

While the outcome was not unexpected (8–1 in favour to endorse the request), it was Mr Forbes’s undeniable support for the reconsideration that was quite revealing. More on that below.

(1) Two neighbourhoods on opposite sides of the road

In a cunning move, Stephen Yeo, chief engineer with the Department of Transportation informed CBC on 20 May of a possible cost-effective but deceptive alternative to the roundabout in the form of a central island (aka median strip), after Charlottetown’s City Council rejected the Province’s assumed acceptance of the Angus Drive exit from Mel’s Convenience store.

On Thursday, 27 May, an interview by CBC morning show host Mitch Cormier with a Hanmac Street resident added another dimension to the St Peters Road/Angus Drive roundabout boondoggle*.

Intentionally or not, the St Peters Road/Angus Drive provincial/municipal project is not only pitting one neighbourhood against another, it also risks bringing two City councillors into conflict with each other. By some quirk of geography, St Peters Road marks the boundary between Ward 9 (north side) and Ward 10 (south side).

Moreover, the CBC article states: “The province said that decision made the proposed roundabout unsafe and presented a new plan without it.” The Planning Board’s meeting package included no drawing with this new plan. Perhaps it will be included in the meeting package of the Special Meeting of Council scheduled for Monday, 31 May, which has a packed agenda: seven items of discussion with the Reconsideration fifth in line.

(2) Two neighbourhoods: double standards

Let’s go back to the Planning Board meeting for the ‘or twoʼ tale of two neighbourhoods.

Alex Forbes, Manager of the Planning & Heritage Department, presented his report on the Request for Reconsideration submitted by Dan MacIssac, President of Melʼs. The gist of the request is based on new information provided by the province about the interdependence of the proposed (provincial) roundabout and the proposed (municipal) Angus Drive exit for traffic leaving Mel’s [go to 13:25 in video recording]. Mr Forbes expressed his opinion that this new information was somehow not clearly conveyed during the 23 March public meeting by the three presenters. Furthermore, he advised the Planning Board that Council can reconsider the rezoning application in favour of Mel’s. Were this to occur, another public meeting would be held to convey all the additional relevant facts.

Compare this with the APM Sherwood Crossing1 rezoning application and subsequent resolution, which Council approved in a 6–3 vote on 14 December 2020,
[A] even though the related Sherwood-area traffic study (later dubbed the ‘West Royalty Commercial Area Transportation Master Plan’) was presumably still being completed at the time the 26 August public meeting took place;
[B] even though the Sherwood-area traffic study was presented to City Council on 29 October at a closed session of a Special Meeting of Council; and
[C] even though Councillor Tweel asked twice (9 November and 14 December) that Council approve a second public meeting, given the new information received by Council on 29 October about future roads for planned developments in the Sherwood neighbourhood. His request was denied both times.

Here is what Councillor Duffy said during the 14 December Monthly Meeting of Council: “People seem to think the larger one [traffic study] is to validate or confirm Sherwood Crossing in place when it actually has nothing to do with that. It had a bearing, but the approval or not of Sherwood Crossing is not contingent upon the master traffic plan” [video 1:00:20 and 2:06:25].

A tale of two governments

It should be remembered that The Guardian reported on the $20 million St Peters Road plan to ‘fix traffic headachesʼ on 21 February 2020. (To set the date in context, the coronavirus was still ‘only’ an epidemic and centred in Asia and on cruise ships.)

The article stated: Speaking before an audience of about 100 residents at the Hillsborough Community Centre on Thursday, P.E.I.’s chief engineer Stephen Yeo said the corridor sees about 1,500 vehicles per hour during peak times. “We could be up to over 2,600 vehicles per hour turning down St. Peters Road [by 2029].”

A progressive government, provincial or municipal, no longer ‘fixes traffic headachesʼ with new roads or roundabouts. A progressive government invests in a combination of interdependent public transportation and active travel. A progressive government strives to reduce car dependence, and promote low-carbon urbanization. A progressive government uses public money for the common good of its citizens and for the community as a whole.

Instead, two levels of government continue to make unpredictable moves in a politically orchestrated attempt to satisfy the desires of a local business owner and to justify expensive, publicly funded roadworks, and in so doing, bringing emotional turmoil to numerous citizens.

Will Monday’s meeting see City councillors influenced to vote a certain way or will cooler heads and moral conscience prevail?


I’m not the type to resort to Shakespeare, but something Alex Forbes said during the Planning Board meeting [29:15] listing the three parties ‘who have an interestʼ got me thinking about the number three in Macbeth. When the hurly-burlyʼs done is from Act 1, Scene 1.

*Boondoggle (n. informal North American): An unnecessary, wasteful, or fraudulent project.

1 IRAC hearing LA21001 – Read v. City of Charlottetown is scheduled for Monday, 31 May 2021. Grounds for appeal: Failure to consult and inform public on City’s Master Traffic Plan with respect to Sherwood Crossing rezoning application.

UPDATE (4): St Peters Rd/Angus Dr

On 12 April, City Councillors voted 8–1  to reject the resolution on this rezoning application, with Coun. Duffy the only one in favour. 

“It would be too much traffic for this residential street. I’m glad council saw it our way.”

Angus Drive resident Paul McGonnell was pleased with Council’s decision.

Yesterday, on 18 May, the agenda for a special meeting of the Planning Board, scheduled for Tuesday, 25 May, was posted. The main topic: Reconsideration request for Angus Drive (Lot 40) (PID #419143) & 413 St. Peters Road (PID #419135).

A reconsideration is permitted under Section 3.15 of the Zoning and Development Bylaw.

3.15 RECONSIDERATION

3.15.1  If a Permit or other approval under this by-law is granted, not granted, or granted subject to conditions and the applicant or an aggrieved person feels the decision is unjustified or unwarranted under this by-law, the applicant or an aggrieved person may seek a reconsideration by Council.

3.15.2  An aggrieved person or an applicant wishing to launch a reconsideration shall make known their intention to do so and the grounds or reasons within twenty-one (21) calendar days of the initial decision.

3.15.3  Council may review, rescind, change or vary any order or decision made by the Development Officer or by Council provided that:

  • New material facts or evidence not available at the time of the initial order or decision have come to light;
  • A material change of circumstances has occurred since the initial order or decision; or
  • There is a clear doubt as to the correctness of the order or decision in the first instance.

3.15.4  A letter shall be sent by ordinary mail explaining the reconsideration request to all Affected Property Owners within 100 m (328.1 ft) of the boundaries of the subject Lot identifying the subject Lot.

3.15.5  Council shall hear any request for reconsideration of a decision under this section and Council shall give all interested persons an opportunity to be heard and make a determination on a request for reconsideration.

3.15.6  The City is not liable for any Development commenced prior to the lapse of the twenty-one (21) calendar day appeal period.

3.15.7  The City shall not consider an application for reconsideration if, at the same time, there is an appeal filed with the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission; but the City may proceed with reconsideration if the applicant has instructed the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission in writing to hold the appeal in abeyance, and the Commission has agreed in writing to hold their appeal until the appellant has exhausted the recourse of reconsideration with the City.


From the CBC article posted on 13 April:

Coun. Duffy said around six people gave their opinions at a public meeting and about eight letters were sent. He said he doesn’t think that should be enough to kill a project.

Duffy said the developer can offer another solution that can be brought back to council. He’s hoping to see a solution offered that is acceptable to all parties at the regular council meeting next month.

Posted: 19 May 2021 at 12:32 p.m. | Updated: 19 May 2021 at 8:35 p.m.

Recent goings-on at City Hall (Part 1)

Friday, 30 April: Council Advisory Committee meeting

On Friday, 30 April, the Council Advisory Committee was asked by CAO Peter Kelley to consider abolishing requests for verbatim accounts of Council and Standing Committee meetings because (a) they take up too much of staff’s time, (b) no other municipality does this, and (c) citizens can view the video recordings on the City of Charlottetown YouTube channel.

Why is this request unacceptable and undemocratic?

  1. The poor quality of the video and audio technology in Council Chambers. 
    • The persons and presenters sitting at the “bottom of the screen” are not visible, so the viewer does not know who is speaking.
    • The words of a person speaking with a low, weak, or mumbling voice, or sitting far from the microphone, are not picked up. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, for the viewer to hear what is being said when watching the meeting.
    • Closed captioning (CC) is not an option.
  2. The minutes of Special Council and Standing Committee meetings are not available online.
  3. Meeting packages for Special Council and Standing Committees are not available online.
  4. The federal and provincial governments use Hansard services to record official reports of proceeding and debates, while municipal governments’ proceedings and debates are either recorded online, e.g. Toronto, London, Regina, Halifax and/or reported by journalists in local newspapers. Media reporting of the City of Charlottetown Council and committee meetings are spotty at best. Moreover, neither The Guardian nor CBC have a full-time dedicated municipal affairs reporter. This leaves citizens to obtain information on their own, or to remain ignorant of decisions and debates that may directly affect them.
  5. The Council Code of Conduct Bylaw (#2020-CC-01) states under Part II – PRINCIPLES:

8.4. Members of Council are responsible for the decisions that they make. This responsibility includes acts of commission and acts of omission. In turn, decision-making processes must be transparent and subject to public scrutiny.

8.6. Members of Council must demonstrate and promote the principles of this Bylaw through their decisions, actions, and behaviour. Their behaviour must build and inspire the public’s trust and confidence in municipal government.

8.8. Members of Council have a duty to demonstrate openness and transparency about their decisions and actions.

Abolishing the long-established practice of verbatim account requests would contribute to not only eroding the public’s trust and confidence, but also making local government less transparent and accountable.

Monday, 10 May: Monthly Council Meeting

A slightly different version of the above text was sent in an e-mail to all councillors on the morning of 10 May.

That evening, Councillor Alanna Jankov – as Chair of the Council Advisory Committee – reported to Council:

“Youʼll also notice in our minutes that we did have a discussion around the requests for verbatim minutes and thatʼs just been tabled for future meeting with Council as we needed more information about what best practices are in municipalities.”

Councillor Jankov starts speaking at 1:03:45 (Video recording).

Charleston → Charlottetown: Coincidence?

Editorial in Charleston, NCʼs The Post and Courier published 24 January 2021: “Wait one minute. You want to do what to Charleston City Council minutes?” While Charlestonʼs meetings have been recorded verbatim in their entirety, Charlottetown councillors request verbatim accounts only occasionally for a specific segment of a meeting debate.

This month, Clerk of Council Jennifer Cook sought council’s permission to change the approach to those minutes from a verbatim account of what was said at the meeting to a summary approach. No doubt, the change would save on staff time, and anyone who wants to hear all the nitty-gritty details can (at least for now) easily find a recording of City Council meetings on the city’s YouTube site.

The Post and Courier, Charleston, NC

https://www.postandcourier.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-wait-one-minute-you-want-to-do-what-to-charleston-city-council-minutes/article_ce769d24-5b60-11eb-8690-83daf67d309c.html

Posted: 12 May 2021 at 7:52 am | Updated: 18 May 2021 at 11:15 am

Update: West Royalty Traffic Study – Public meeting (April 26, 2021)

Lowlight 1 : City officials stated that they’ve been dealing with developers for the last four years, that they’ve “been working on this for a number of months” and “put a lot of work into this”, yet allocated a mere two hours for a public meeting at the tail end — instead of the front end — of the process.

Lowlight 2: Two City employees with microphones assigned to go to members of the audience wishing to speak were not directed in an efficient manner to the next speaker. Result: Possibly as many as ten people did not get an opportunity to ask a question or voice a comment, because the meeting had to end at 9 P.M.

Unforgivable technical glitch: The video-recording did not capture Planning Manager Alex Forbes’s portion of the presentation (8:20–12:40), in which he shared significant information about the planning process. I have written to Public Works Manager Scott Adams to request that Mr Forbes provide a written version of the situational context for the public’s benefit.

Tokenism: The slide of a Complete Streets design (32:00), which was not included in the Draft Final Report of the traffic study. CBCL’s traffic engineer Mark MacDonald hesitant delivery of this portion sounded very much like a last-minute addition to address criticisms about the lack of transit and active travel components in the Report.

Questions and comments: The public feedback portion starts at 34:50. Every speaker, bar none, contributed perceptive and informed comments or asked significant questions.
(Audience applause muted).

Q&A Highlights (a few among many)

1. Catherine Mullally’s comments and questions about transparency and communications, followed by replies from Public Works Manager Scott Adams and Public Works Committee Chair and Councillor Terry MacLeod. (1:01:57 to 1:09:06)

2. Don Read’s analogy to opening a Champagne bottle. (1:38:13)

3. Beth Cullen’s passionate plea for the protection and preservation of the Confederation Trail and our natural spaces. (1:39:04 to 1:43:26, including CBCL’s response).

As time of posting, the public meeting video was viewed 191 times.

PUBLIC MEETING 27 April: New building at 199 Grafton Street

On April 18, a concerned resident wrote:

I found a notice taped to the side my community mailbox on Prince Street about this Public Meeting yesterday.

It took a lot of effort to find this notice on the City’s website – not in News and Events and barely visible at the bottom of the small square for April 27 on the meeting calendar due to other postings for that date.

This is a big building and has potential to set trends downtown yet again.  Going for many height and setback variances.  When you read the Planning Board meeting, the only rationale I could see (so far) that he [developer] is giving for the extra bonus height is … ‘housing’ (on top of a parkade which was the main selling point in his news release).

If you want to read exactly what is written on the lime green notice, it is now available under Upcoming Events on the City’s home page.

To quote/paraphrase Dave Meslin: “The City of Charlottetown clearly doesn’t want you involved with the planning process, otherwise their ads would look something like this [below], with all the information laid out clearly. As long as the city’s putting out notices like [above] to try to get people engaged, then of course people aren’t going to be engaged. But that’s not apathy; that’s intentional exclusion.” 

A clear, comprehensible, and inviting public meeting notice.

Following Meslins example, homeowners created their own sign in an attempt to inform neighbouring residents, many of whom are tenants.

A clear, comprehensible, and inviting public meeting notice.

If a homeowner can provide such a clear, comprehensible, and inviting public meeting notice, why cant the Planning Department?


The full meeting package (49 pages) contains APMʼs Site Specific Exemption application with drawings and images, the letter sent to property owners located within 100 metres of the subject property, and copies of the public notices (posters and newspaper ad). A separate folder contains letters received until today, with likely more added after the public meeting.

If you decide to see and hear what the plans are for 199 Grafton, tune in on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. The meeting will be streamed live at www.charlottetown.ca/video

West Royalty Traffic Plan and proposed Sherwood Crossing development

In May 2019, Killam REIT announced the purchase of 50% of RioCan REIT’s Charlottetown Mall property, “with future multi-family development opportunities of up to 300 units.”

In February 2020, those 300 units moved to undeveloped land on the other side of the Confederation Trail (aka Rails to Trails). As reported by CBC: “Developer Tim Banks told CBC News his company, Pan American Properties, plans to build 300 units over the next decade on about six hectares off of Towers Road.

The Killam/RioCan/APM residential development was presented in a public meeting on August 26, 2020, as part of a rezoning application. All the other pieces around it have been handled piecemeal by the City, before and after that date. In so doing, City Council failed to duly inform the public in accordance with the Council Code of Conduct Bylaw #2020-CC-01, Part II – Principles, Section 8.4. “Members of Council are responsible for the decisons that they make. This responsibility includes acts of commission and acts of omission. In turn, decision-making processes must be transparent and subject to public scrutiny”; and Section 8.8. “Members of Council have a duty to demonstrate openness and transparency about their decisions and actions.” 

Timeline

Feb. 7, 2020: The City’s Capital Budget was approved. The Guardian reported: “The capital budget also includes $650,000 that will enable the city to create a road that links Towers Road up with Spencer Drive, giving traffic the option of bypassing the parking lot at the rear of the Charlottetown Mall. And while no one will say anything on the record, the city is also looking into extending Spencer Drive to Mount Edward Road.”

Mar. 17, 2020: Premier King announced that the provincial cabinet had declared a state of public health emergency under the Public Health Act. (COVID-19)

Mar. 19, 2020: Special Meeting of Council (vote 9–0 in favour): Resolution 4 (c) “[…] That the submission from CBCL Ltd. to perform a comprehensive traffic study of undeveloped lands adjacent to the main retail area of Charlottetown, as additional work to the City’s Growth Management Study, be accepted.” Cost $69,000. City of Charlottetown website

April 12, 2020: “The Public Works Department would like to advise the public that negotiations are underway regarding the section of private road located between Towers Road and Spencer Drive.” City of Charlottetown website

Aug. 5, 2020: New Road Construction – Towers Road to Spencer Drive (Invitation To Tender) – Closing date Aug. 19

Aug. 26, 2020: Public Meeting held at the Rodd Royalty Hotel, Charlottetown. Presentation starts at 1:37:00 in the video. Documents available at charlottetown.ca.

Aug. 27, 2020: CBC’s headline Proposed Charlottetown housing development raises questions about traffic

Oct. 29, 2020: In a closed session at a Special Meeting, Council received a presentation regarding the traffic study from CBCL engineers and authorized CAO Peter Kelly to expedite the purchase of two properties [241/245 Mt Edward Rd], to be leased back to the occupants for two years.

Feb. 8, 2021: Monthly Meeting of Council (vote 6–3 in favour): Council authorized the increase in the 20/21 Capital Budget of $550,000 to fund the purchase of two properties (241 and 245 Mount Edward Rd). These properties face Ash Drive and stand in the way of the Spencer Drive extension, which is on Killam/RioCan/APM’s proposed Sherwood Crossing development property. It is worth noting that the City’s Public Works Department will act as property manager for a two-year period.

Feb. 26, 2021: The City posts an announcement on its Web site: “CITY REQUESTS INPUT ON TRAFFIC MASTER PLAN” with details on how to access the traffic plan and ends with “While there is no current deadline to submit feedback, please note that residents will have the opportunity to provide input in a public consultation, the details of which will be announced in the coming weeks.” The Guardian publishes the announcement on March 12, the CBC posts an article on March 16, presumably in response to a letter I sent on March 11 to ask why the media has failed to inform the public.

“Good or bad we want to hear about what everyone’s concerned about.”

And moving forward, Adams said the plan will be brought to city council and hopefully put in place for when developments begin. 

CBC “Charlottetown seeking input on new roads in West Royalty” (March 16, 2021)

April 13, 2021: The City posts another announcement with the date of the public meeting (7 p.m., Monday, April 26, Confederation Centre of the Arts). Neither local newspaper The Guardian nor CBC PEI have reported the new details so far.

To reserve a seat for the public meeting, to go https://confederationcentre.com/event-list/?ID=publicmeeting and click “Book Now” (free seats = blue dots),  phone 902-566-1267, or send an e-mail to info@confederationcentre.com

Transportation Master Plan: Make your voice heard!

A Transportation Master Plan (TMP) is one of many documents that directs a municipality over the long term. It works with a municipality’s Official Plan, which directs land use and development, as well as others concerning municipal servicing, parks and recreation, and economic development. Generally, a transportation master plan determines the need for transportation improvements and establishes policies for the future transportation network.

Seven municipalities currently working on their TMP

Here’s a brief list of Canadian municipalities (with 2016 population data) who are in the process of developing a new TMP or updating an outdated one:

If you clicked the hyperlinks to view the details, you’ll notice that every municipality, no matter how small, has one thing in common on their website: a project timeline. Smaller municipalities allocate about six months, bigger ones up to two years, to complete their Plan.

Here is Peterboroughs project timeline:

Peterborough, ON

Another common feature: a visible link to a survey or various ways in which residents, businesses and other stakeholders are encouraged to share their opinions.

How the City of Charlottetown proceeds

Compare this to Charlottetown’s announcement for the West Royalty Area Traffic Master Plan:

The City of Charlottetown Public Works Department wishes to invite the public to a public consultation for the City to receive feedback on the Transportation Master Plan for the West Royalty Commercial Area. This public meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 26, 2021, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Confederation Centre of the Arts (145 Richmond Street).

In addition to the master plan presentation, uploaded on February 26, 2021, the City’s Public Works department has made the Full Report of the West Royalty Commercial Area Transportation Master Plan available online for residents to consult prior to the public meeting. Both documents are available at www.charlottetown.ca/trafficplan 

This meeting is to enable the Public Works Department to check off the Public Feedback component as a token gesture to the planning process, because apparently the Final Report is to be submitted to the Planning Department. At that point, one presumes the Planning Department will present the Final Report to the Planning Board and/or City Council.

One has to wonder whether City Council will be required to call a public meeting on the traffic plans Final Report, which, lets be clear, is to enable developers to receive approval for their projects.

Will we let the City get away with such shenanigans?!

This is why its so important to make your voice heard. Nothing prevents anyone from outright challenging the report. Whether you write one sentence or twenty, your comments are crucial to ensure the Final Report isnt just a duplicate of the Draft Final Report.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

A fine example of citizen engagement

I chanced upon this article a few days ago. It highlights the way in which concerned individuals can unite and present their requests to their local government for transparency in governance processes and procedures.

Despite the pandemic, citizens deserve open, transparent government. 

Coalition of citizens, associations and nonprofits

Full text below:

Commentary: New year resolution: a transparent Sonoma County Board of SupervisorsMar 19, 2021

Editor’s Note: The following was a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors by a coalition of citizens, associations and nonprofits in early January, and recently shared with us.

We are writing to you because we are gravely concerned that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisor (BoS) appears to be moving toward less transparency rather than inclusion.

To begin addressing the issue, we respectfully request:

1) The Board of Supervisors form a Transparency Committee to ensure ease of public access to county documents, information, departments and the internet. This is particularly needed in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic; the board give direction to staff that public access is not to be unduly limited due to the pandemic; the board make its processes transparent and public friendly, as is required by law.

2) That all agenda items and key issues coming before the Board be made available to all board members at the same time they are provided to the chair; that preliminary agenda topics be available and posted with accurate descriptions on the county website and, where requested, available via the U.S Postal Service.

3) That the Ad Hoc Committee work of the board be recognized and open to the public. Ad Hoc Committees should have an expiration date when established, and have their single purpose described. They cannot be perpetual committees under the Brown Act.

4) That the Local Coastal Plan update, planning ordinance updates, and any consideration of major changes in the processes of the county (e.g. changes in terms of the chair) be postponed until public meetings are allowed. There appears to be no urgency that would require a Zoom update, recognizing that public input is necessary to make informed public decisions.

Despite the pandemic, citizens deserve open, transparent government.

The Santa Rosa City Council in December voted to approve a transparent government proposal that has labored through subcommittee and council consideration for six years. The impetus was mass public demonstrations against the shooting of teenager Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy. The Council recognized that openness in government makes for a happier, more informed citizenry and better decision making.

On Dec. 6, on short notice, an agenda item was placed on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda proposing that board chairs be elected for two years instead of one, beginning when the incoming chairperson begins their term. This proposal could have been approved before supervisor-elect Chris Coursey would take his seat. Thanks to Executive Officer Sheryl Bratton, the move was tabled until supervisor Coursey could join his colleagues and participate in a decision that will affect our future governance structure.

Traditionally, board members have each served one-year terms as chair of the board. The chairperson ran meetings and tended to ceremonial duties. Now, however, the chairperson has the power to select, or not, agenda items for weekly meetings. This limits the opportunity for an individual supervisor to agendize items concerning their own district, or in many instances, be aware of agenda Items in advance.

Rotation of the chair and vice chair promotes leadership, transparency, legitimacy, and helpful transitions into new leadership. It also provides representation for all five districts in a five-year cycle. Perhaps it would be wise to first research other counties that use the two-year chair system. We have been able to identify only California Charter Counties that have two-year chairmanships at this time.

Hopefully, this recent effort to instate a two-year chair term is not part of a new board ethic that limits publicly available information or input. There are, however, other instances where public input appears to be more limited than under prior boards:

Meetings categorized as “ad hoc” — small, focused meetings on specific topics not requiring disclosure — are used to “streamline” a process or provide greater efficiency, but have created a closed system that shuts out the public.

For example, after work done by an ad hoc committee, the BoS on Dec. 9 approved what many believe to be looser environmental regulations for Vineyard and Orchard Site Development (VESCO). Driven by increasing problems from storm events, VESCO was established to limit erosion impacts of hillside vineyard or orchard development and other environmental infractions through environmental performance standards.

Unlike interaction with industry leaders, outreach and engagement with downstream neighbors, environmental groups and agency representatives was limited to one pre-pandemic “stakeholder” meeting.

“Technical difficulties” may explain limitations for citizens attempting to make public comment during this era of Zoom, but it was problematic that several industry representatives were able to make statements in favor of the VESCO amendments, while a number of other speakers were unable to be recognized.

Similarly, replacing the General Manager (GM) of the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (AOSD) was initially an item on the board’s consent calendar for their sole consideration and approval. It was only after public outcry that the process was opened to public input. This concern regarding leadership comes in part because funding for the AOSD relies on a favorable ballot vote of the people.

A supervisor was recently cited for conflict of interest by concerned citizens for his role in promoting cannabis industry interests. He had been involved in undisclosed meetings with industry lobbyists. The Board of Supervisors will soon be considering extensive changes to the cannabis ordinance making full citizen involvement timely and part of the legally established process for government decision-making.

Our Local Coastal Plan (LCP) Update has been crafted by Permit Sonoma without what was formerly routine public access to staff. All past Coastal Plan Updates have had Citizen Advisory Groups and planned citizen input. The county now states the intention to hold Zoom “workshops” for the public on select LCP topics. It should be noted that many citizens, especially in remote areas along the coast, may not have the technical capacity to participate.

Additionally, basic access to county business is limited by certain processes, such as not releasing the BoS meeting agendas and supporting packets until the Friday before Monday or Tuesday hearings. That leaves little time for the public to research, digest and prepare for participation.

While staff reports and recommendations are to be submitted to the chair four weeks in advance, only the chair sees the preliminary agenda. Other supervisors may not know key issues until the end of the week before a Monday or Tuesday hearing. All supervisors should have access to the agenda and preliminary information at the same time, as part of their preparation for the meeting/hearing. The county website has poor navigation and no site map — even when documents are updated and available, they may be impossible to find. BOS-written minutes often take months to appear, so that it’s hard to find the result of board votes.

All of these internalized obstacles to public participation are exacerbated by the pandemic. Meetings are held privately, electronically. Public documents are unavailable for perusal without an appointment and are sometimes simply unavailable despite the public’s legal rights. It is increasingly necessary to access information that was once readily available via requests through a Public Records Act.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased limitations to the county’s important functions and decisions at a time when concerns about government are heightened. While recognizing that business must continue during the pandemic, the county should work doubly hard to ensure public access.

Thank you for considering the ways the County of Sonoma can improve transparency in governances process and procedures, even as we battle pandemic conditions.

We all benefit from open government. Please do not hesitate to reach out for our support and collaboration.

Sincerely,
(List of signatories)