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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Issue of Poor Communications Arises Again in Debate Over Re-Entry Facility Location

Councilmember Heystek: "It troubles me that we were not involved at an earlier stage in a meaningful way"

Some have suggested that land use issues are simply means to express fear of prisons in a more acceptable manner. They have dismissed complaints about procedural problems in the county's proposal for a location of the re-entry facility. However, from my perspective, those dismissals fail to understand the magnitude of the impact of this facility on a place like the city of Davis. There has been little to no discussion to this point as to who is expected to provide the vital services for a location such as the county airport.

These are not merely academic exercises, the county for example lacks its own fire department. There are questions about roadways, water, sewer, power, and the like that could have impacts on adjacent jurisdictions such as the city of Davis. These potential impacts should necessitate cooperation and at the very least the common courtesy of advanced notice. Yet, it is clear that this did not occur.

County Supervisor Matt Rexroad has suggested that while "the County certainly could have done a better job in communicating with the people of Yolo County regarding this issue" however, he does not believe he is personally taking a hit for poor communications.

I would tend to agree with Mr. Rexroad here, he personally is not the problem with regards to communications.
"When this issue came up I personally spoke to three members of the Woodland City Council within a few hours on learning more. Later I spoke to a fourth. I personally called the Police Chief and City Manager. Long discussions were involved with all of these people.

I communicated with the city leaders in Woodland and continue to do that on a regular basis. Lately I have not talked much with Martie Dote but I need to do that more. I talked Flory more when he was on the Council. In fact, several times I talked to Art and Dave more when they were both on the City Council in one day than my predecessor talked to me in the entire four years he was in office.

I am hesitant to communicate with the people outside of Woodland on county policy issues. On this blog I lay out my positions on issues and lots of people read them.

You can rip me for a whole host of things..... but lack of communications in not one of them."
However, as Mr. Rexroad points out, it is not his responsibility to communicate to the residents of other districts within the county--and whether it is Duane Chamberlain who represents the rural areas where the proposed facility would be placed, or the city of Davis' representatives Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada, there has been a fundamental lack of communication between the county and the city, and this is not the first time this has arisen.

I do disagree with Supervisor Rexroad on one point, during a phone conversation he suggested that this location was not within an area that Davis should have any say over. I firmly disagree on that point, I think that the impacts on Davis are rather direct and there needed to be earlier discussions on the possibility of locating the facility on this site.

During a phone conversation with Davis City Councilmember Lamar Heystek, the councilmember expressed strong concern over the proposed project location.
"The proposed project is located in the Davis planning area, it would have a Davis address. And the occupants of the facility would be released into our community. So yes, I have very strong concerns."
At the same time, the councilmember told me that he and the city received "little" or no communication from the county on this issue.
"I had actually heard from neighbors of the area, outside the city limits, before I had heard anything from city staff or the county. That leads me to believe that our city staff was not kept abreast of the plan to propose this site and it leads me to believe that our inclusion in the process was not considered from the beginning."
He continued:
"We want to maintain a positive relationship with our counterparts in the county. We have already learned from the lessons of the northwest quadrant that the city of Davis has a very strong interest in protecting interests not only within our boundaries but also within areas of our county where we have a clear say on, per agreement and per conventional planning principals.

It troubles me that we were not involved at an earlier stage in a meaningful way."
Furthermore, he made the case that the interests of the city extend beyond the geographical boundaries that separate city jurisdictions from the county. These interlocking and overlapping interests have necessitated the creation of bodies such as the city-county two-by-two, but also regional bodies like SACOG and LAFCO to bring together jurisdictions in an effort to forge cooperative relations.
"Much is made about the fact that the city of Davis has a sphere of influence and there's land within our planning area, we as decisionmakers who represent the people of this city have a very solemn responsibility not only to represent the interests of the people who lie within our city limits but also a responsibility to represent the interests of those people even as they lay outside of the city limits. That means that extrinsically our residents have interests that do not lie solely within the city's boundaries. Those interests also exceed those boundaries. So it's our interest and responsibility as councilmembers and as city officials to look very closely at this proposal to ask for and to frankly demand attention and involvement in any process that the county may be undertaking."
Along with the lack of communication, are a variety of reasons why the county needed to involve the city in discussions from the start. It is unclear whether the facility will require access to the Davis system of sewer or water. Supervisor Matt Rexroad believes that wells can provide the cite with water, but what about sewer?

From the city's perspective, any need from the county would tax a system that is already in the process of requiring major capital improvements.

Councilmember Heystek said:
"Our infrastructure has already been so taxed that we barely can afford to serve our existing residents and our existing ratepayers. So adding new service to our water and sewer systems is very questionable. I'm not sure if this facility proposes to tap into the city's water and sewer systems. But, if that's the case, it would be unconscionable for any plan to move very much forward without any meaningful city involvement."
In addition to the issue of water and sewer, fire service is a concern. The airport has a volunteer fire department that houses two volunteer fire fighters. Such a facility could quickly move beyond the capabilities of that small department to provide emergency services. The county does not have its own fire department. So who would have responsibility to serve the new facility in the case of an emergency?

That answer is unclear to Councilmember Heystek:
"I would like to know whether we are indeed obligated to engage in a contract for services if it's not feasible or otherwise in the city's best interest to do so."
What is clear is that such a facility could tax the city already strapped for resources.
"We have talked about five minutes response time issues that the department has brought up and the city has studied. The issue of simultaneous calls has been studied by the department and the council as a whole. Adding more territory to serve clearly doesn't make sense at this time when we are considering how we serve our existing service areas."
The traffic issue was a big concern to local residents on Thursday night. Some have speculated that this is a huge potential problem, others have kind of discounted that problem. Councilmember Heystek pointed out that there has not been any kind of traffic study to date, so it would be difficult to assess potential problems.
"None of us can answer that question specifically since we don't have a traffic study before us. But an EIR for this project, I assume one will be carried out, an EIR with a traffic study would reveal an answer for that."
However, the potential problem of the taxing of existing infrastructure is a big concern to Mr. Heystek.
"You raise a very good point, to what extent will incorporated cities infrastructure be taxed in that respect. You already asked about water and sewer, you've asked about the fire department, and you've asked about the roads, clearly these accumulated infrastructure service impacts drastically effects the way we serve our residents. And so hopefully dialogue between the county and city will be meaningful, productive, full, and comprehensive. I hope that any discussion recognizes and honors the fact that the city has a legal right to participate in the discussion and the process as a whole."
For the Councilmember the problem comes back to communication and shared interests.
"We have two representatives on the city-county two-by-two--actually we have four Davis representatives. I hope that the four Davisites will not only insure that county interests are served but also city interests. And while those interests often overlap, they are not mutually inclusive, that is they don't always overlap perfectly. So it will be interesting to see how the dynamic at that level plays out. I assume that there will be other ways for the city council or board of supervisors to be involved. I will exercise my right to voice an opinion to cast as necessary."
The problem that I have is that this discussion is coming up again. Just last year, the city expressed concerns about lack of discussion prior to the general plan process by the county. The city was caught off-guard at that time about proposed developments on the periphery of Davis. Everyone had suggested that we would learn from those acrimonious discussions that exploded into full-blown controversy, but it seems like we have not.

On Tuesday, the county will formally take up the proposal and will recommend study at the three sites that have been proposed. This fulfills their obligation to recommend three sites for possible locations for the re-entry facility. It appears that the state would then study the sites and that sometime down the line, a decision would be made by the county as to where to place the facility.

The staff recommendation is as follows:

A. Reaffirm the county’s support for the siting of a reentry facility in Yolo County;

B. Approve the list of potential sites for a state reentry facility in Yolo County;

a) County Road 90 and State Route 16 (east of Madison)

b) County Road 86a and State Route 16 (southeast of Esparto)

c) Yolo County Airport

C. Authorize the signing of the Reentry Program Facility Siting Agreement between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the county for potential reentry facility sites and to comply with Assembly Bill (AB 900);

D. Authorize the signing of Options to Purchase real estate agreements for County Road 90 at State Route 16 (KATHYANNA RANCH, LLC) and County Road 86a at State Route 16 (JOHN DETERDING CO.) for potential sites for a reentry facility."
So no final determination appears in the works for Tuesday. However, we are still left with burning questions about the process. For example, when should the county notify cities about plans that will impact the city and possibly involve city infrastructure or at the very least are adjacent to the cities? Moreover, we know that Brown Act requirements for public notification are extremely low, even placement in the newspaper is somewhat problematic. The city of Davis has community meetings well in advance of new housing projects--why not a similar approach from the county?

People have suggested that these changes would not change people's minds on the subject of prison construction. They are probably correct. But process is an end in and of itself, it is not merely a means to achieve consensus or agreement, although those are worthwhile goals. Proper procedures in this case would not diminish outcry. However, what they might do is allow other jurisdictions to address some of the concerns of residents in advance. They also might have allowed the county to determine early on potential problems at the proposed sites that would have eliminated them well before they panicked the public. All of these things need to change. We live in an information age, and Davis' two supervisors have not sufficiently communicated with their constituents on this issue.

All of these things are correctable in the future if there is an effort to proactively involve citizens in the process.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting