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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Councilmember Souza and the Council Put a Stop to a Rehearing on 233 B

As we reported on Saturday, the City Attorney Harriet Steiner suggested that she erred in her assessment that Councilmember Sue Greenwald was not conflicted out of a vote cast on November 4, 2008 against a redesign of the 233 B Street property. Therefore the city staff determined that the applicant could request a rehearing without going through the normal reconsideration process.

The council will meet at a later point to modify and correct conflict of interest policies. We have discussed this at length already.

Despite applicant Marie Ogrydziak and her chief advocate on the council, Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor attempting to couch this in terms of procedural fairness, the vote really came down to whether or not a rehearing would change the outcome. Ms. Ogrydziak would argue that it would--that councilmember Sue Greenwald had a large affect on the vote and therefore it was only fair to rehear without prejudice.

Marie Ogrydziak read a statement before council. She explained the background of why she believed Councilmember Sue Greenwald's house was within 500 feet. She pointed out that the Councilmember had to recuse herself for a 2004 project at the same location.
"Sue Greenwald should have been recused from the November 4 votes for the 233 B St project. Her votes had two major effects. One was essential for the rejection of a motion to include green considerations in the project approval process. And the other was essential for the appeal of our planning commission vote."
She then snarkly suggested:
"Jokingly we considered plate tectonics as a possible explanation for why four years later Sue Greenwald's property was now more than 500 feet from the 233 B St property."
She then accused the city of engaging in a "creative approach" to "attempt to prove that no mistake was made because there is no conflict of interest."

She continued:
"We believe such an approach starts the city of Davis down a slippery slope."
Ms. Ogrydziak then suggests it might be possible to find a realtor who would finds no impact on Sue Greenwald's property value, but suggests that would be contrived.

Amazingly she then argues for recussal on the basis of Sue Greenwald disagreeing with her vision for B St and that neighborhood:
"For many years Sue Greenwald and a small group developed and advocated a vision for what she sees as her neighborhood including B St. Several of our proposals and our actions run counter to her vision. As a private citizen she spoke against our first project at the 2004 council meeting and twice against our current 233 B project at planning commission meetings this summer... We believe in many ways Sue Greenwald is too close to this project and that she should recuse herself as it seems impossible that she can be impartial on this matter."
She then appealed to the council on the basis of fairness:
"In reality this vote is not about the project but about fairness and support for sound city policy."
Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor advocated for the staff recommendation:
"I think this is a procedural matter strictly, this is a matter of whether in due process and fairness the earlier hearing we had was proper."
Mayor Asmundson initially went along with the process believing that is what the council unanimously supported.
"To be fair we erred in terms of distance, regardless of whether there will be change, we need to rehear the item."
Don Saylor moved approval of staff recommendation. Councilmember Lamar Heystek seconded the motion with the friendly amendment that we "respectfully ask the applicant to work further with neighbors to further modify the design."

This was not acceptable to Mayor Pro Tem Saylor because "it prejudges the outcome of that conversation."

As a result Councilmember Heystek withdrew his second and Mayor Ruth Asmundson seconded the motion instead.

Katherine Hess suggested that if there was a different proposal submitted, it would be appropriate to send it back to the Planning Commission and the Historic Resources Management Commission.

Councilmember Stephen Souza pushed for a substitute motion requesting the applicant work with the neighborhood for changes within the design that came forward and to take that through the Planning Commission and the Historic Resources Management Commission. Councilmember Heystek seconded it.

Mayor Pro Tem Saylor then said he would vote against this on procedural issues and suggested that the
"applicant would have a course of action against the city if they didn't allow a resubmittal with no fees."
City Attorney Harriet Steiner shot that suggestion down:
"I do not believe that the applicant has a legal cause of action against the city by reason of what happened and Sue's participation at the last meeting."
The council danced around for a bit, it appeared that no motion would gain more than two votes. Finally, Councilmember Stephen Souza put his foot down.
"I'm going to be straight out, I'm going to vote against the project if it comes back to us exactly as it was. So we're putting her through the process without any change in the outcome. So what I'm saying in my motion is that if you want to see me vote in the affirmative, you have to change the project. The project has to meet the guidelines as I see them in order for me to affirmatively vote for it. I think it is the best thing for this process to go through a process of neighborhood discussion."
He continued:
"I'll vote against bringing it back for a rehearing because I think it's a waste of time. I don't want our time to be wasted and I would prefer we give direction that's positive."
Councilmember Souza's plea was so strong he pulled Mayor Asmundson with him and the council voted 3-1 to reject the rehearing with Councilmember Saylor dissenting.


I had a problem with the way in which this issue came about. Let us forget for a moment the procedural mess that city staff and the city attorney made of this issue and let us focus for a moment on the applicant.

I will start out by saying on a technical level, I understand her plea for procedural fairness. The issue of whether or not Sue Greenwald was actually conflicted out has not been resolved satisfactorily however from my standpoint and I think the council has taken a good step in getting clarification on this. Based on that uncertainty, I think the council should have deferred the decision if they were inclined to grant a rehearing on that basis.

But frankly Councilmember Souza was right here--and quite forceful about it. The fact is that the reason he voted to abstain and kill the project in November remains just as relevant today. Ms. Ogrydziak in her letter seemed to assume that Councilmember Souza would continue to abstain. That ignores statements he made both before and after his initial vote. Namely that he didn't think this project was appropriate for that site.

More appallingly to me is the fact that Ms. Ogrydziak seems far more concerned about procedural fairness towards her project rather than the feelings of her neighbors. At that November 4, 2008 meeting, former Mayor Maynard Skinner presented a letter signed by all but one of the neighbors in opposition to the project. Mr. Skinner generously came back last night to offer to meet with the applicant to produce a more suitable project but was essentially rebuffed.

To me this entire appeal was a slap in the face to Ms. Ogrydziak's neighbors. How does it further the process of reconciliation if she attempts to essentially do an end-run around the initial decision without addressing a single neighbor's concern? That does not seem like a good faith gesture to me. In fact just the opposite. She was far more concerned about getting her process a new hearing that dealing and mitigating the concerns of those most affected by her project.

Fortunately, thanks to Councilmember Heystek's persistence and Councilmember Souza's forceful and needed bluntness, Mayor Asmundson recognized that any effort to rehear without major revisions to the project would be a waste of the council's time.

Sadly Councilmember Saylor was dogged in his advocacy for Ms. Ogrydziak's project. While at one point he suggested to her that the council had made it clear that they wanted changes, nevertheless, he voted in the end to waste the council's time with a rehearing that would change nothing. Moreover since the city would have waived applicant fees, the city would be eating money in addition to the time to resolve this issue.

At one point, Mr. Saylor suggested irresponsibly that the city might face a cause of action if they did not grant a rehearing--why would he bring this up in open session? If this was truly his concern, why would he not have discussed it with the City Attorney in advance? In fact, the City Attorney had already written in the staff report that she did not think the city was obliged for a rehearing and she was forced to reiterate this point in open council. This was tantamount to a not-so-subtle threat that was made by Ms. Ogrydziak and carried by Mr. Saylor.

In the end, the council acted responsibly by suggesting yet again that Ms. Ogrydziak needs to go back to the drawing board, redesign the project, and for crying out loud, work with the neighbors.

---David M. Greenwald reporting