Thursday, February 8, 2001
First, a little background. In 1998, a group of Marina citizens got together to discuss the proposed development of Armstrong Ranch. The owners of the ranch had recently announced they had signed an option with Gibson Speno of San Jose (the developer of Cisco Systems'' Coyote Valley complex) to build out 900 acres of the 2,000-acre ranch, replacing grazing land with 3,580 homes. Concerned that these homes would house commuters to Silicon Valley while paving over the open space with cookie-cutter tract housing, the citizens organized Marina 2020 Vision and proposed an alternative: redeveloping city-owned portions of Fort Ord while still allowing growth on 300 acres of Armstrong Ranch.
Led by two political newcomers, Ken Gray and Bruce Delgado, Marina 2020 obtained professional assistance and drafted what they hoped would become the first urban growth boundary (UGB) in Monterey County. They presented their proposal to the City Council and asked the Council to adopt it.
Well within their rights, the Council refused. So, the citizens, with their own time and money, drafted an initiative, qualified it for the November 2000 ballot (Measure E), and sought its passage. The sitting Council opposed it. The developer, who stands to make millions on the deal, financed the opposition. But Measure E passed with 52.9 percent of the vote.
That''s Act One. Act Two commences with the self-serving timing of the City Council''s initial response to the proposed Measure E, as codified one week before the election. On Halloween night, while families were out trick-or-treating, the council had its own party. They met and adopted a new general plan that would allow for the buildout of Armstrong Ranch.
General plans are mandated by the state for munipalities to address land use and development policies. Though it had been 18 years since the previous Marina general plan had been adopted, and a revision was long overdue given the dramatic changes facing the city in that time, the Council could easily have waited one more week before its suspicious vote. A citywide election would take place Nov. 7, and the Council knew Marina''s citizens would vote to express their land-use preferences. The Council could have postponed the vote, assessed the outcome of Measure E, and then adopted a plan that addressed the UGB.
They didn''t wait, which seems like an arrogant decision. The general plan update had been in the works for a couple of years, and Measure E was a critical opportunity for citizens to state their land-use objectives regarding Armstrong Ranch. By rushing the process and not waiting to hear citizens'' wishes before approving the new general plan, the council snubbed the citizens and laid the groundwork for a future legal dispute.
Act Three gets worse.
Last week, on Monday, Jan. 29, city clerk Joy Junsay posted an agenda at city hall, the library and the post office announcing a special meeting to be held Tuesday at the Marina Council chambers. Under California''s Brown Act, which governs meetings for local governments, a City Council may call a special meeting by providing notice 24 hours in advance. But there''s more to it than that, and the Council and staff must follow the law.
First, the meeting announcement had a confusing error. The agenda said the meeting was to be held on "Tuesday, January 31," the correct day with an incorrect date. A corrected agenda was posted the morning of the special meeting, eight and a half hours before it convened. Second, the city did not send the special meeting agenda to the media, a clear requirement of the open meetings law.
More damning, the Brown Act has several specific rules regarding the contents of the announced agenda for a special meeting. For example, there must be a public comment period before the closed session that gives the public an opportunity to speak. Marina''s agenda did not have one.
The final insult came in the closed-door meeting when the Council voted 4-1 (Delgado opposed) to file a lawsuit in the county courts seeking "Declaratory Relief" from the Urban Growth Boundary passed by Marina''s citizens, claiming the measure conflicts with the general plan the Council approved on Oct. 31. During their abruptly called closed session, the Council agreed to retain a law firm from Walnut Creek, McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, to fight the UGB in court, a decision that could cost the city nearly $50,000 in legal fees.
If the city of Marina thought the UGB might be illegal or unenforceable, they should have challenged it a year ago when city planning director Jeffrey Dack and city attorney Robert Wellington received their drafts of it. The members of Marina 2020 asked for feedback on their petition before they circulated it.
Now that the UGB is adopted, the city''s role changes: It is no longer a neutral party. It''s obligated to represent its citizens and its laws.
What occurred is a travesty of democracy: The Council passed its general plan pre-emptively, in defense against the forthcoming election. On Election Day, the citizens approved a more restrictive land-use plan. Now, a few months later, the Council acts as though the will of the people is meaningless by voting in secret session to initiate a lawsuit--at taxpayers'' expense--to resolve the conflict they deliberately set the stage for.
This decision betrays the public trust. It''s the kind of decision that breeds cynicism and discontent. It''s the kind of decision that makes people want to dump tea in the harbor.
The Council could withdraw its lawsuit and integrate the UGB into the general plan in an open and expedient manner that restores public confidence.
If they don''t, a Brown Act lawsuit and/or a recall election would be a harsh civics lesson to remind councilmembers Perrine, Gustafson and Mettee-McCutchon and Morrison of whom they work for. Hopefully, that won''t be necessary.