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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Adding Sunlight to City’s Planning Process

The weather in the Southside is fabulous. Time to find a restaurant with a patio, sit outside, listen to the birds, enjoy a daytime beverage (for me a Jack and Coke), have a sandwich or salad and watch all the folks from all over the Valley who have found us out, and are doing the same thing. For Southsiders this is middle spring. Some lawns are getting a little out of control, there is still time to get a garden going, and lots of folks are planting citrus and other trees. The roses I planted last year are looking fabulous, if you can move the weeds far enough apart to see them. Timing is everything, and timing is capable of overwhelming even in the best of intentions.
At this moment we have almost a perfect storm in city governmental leadership: a new mayor, a newly elected councilperson in District 7, a councilperson in District 8 who has managed to stay in that position long enough to be vice-mayor for a second time.
If you have been following my monthly meanderings you probably are aware that I have not always been kind to our elected city leadership. Now, here is a chance for all of us to start fresh.
First, let me suggest that these three leaders begin a systematic outreach to the community to find out what their constituents want and need. I am suggesting that the city base this community interaction effort at South Mountain Community College, which is one of our few remaining institutions that spans the entire Southside. The city could work with the college to form some kind of institute for civic engagement. The college’s current administration has already given indications that they are open to a broader role in civic engagement for the well being of the community.
Second, the city leadership should begin to organize the community in regards to the development of South Central and Broadway Road. This could be done in conjunction with–but not replaced by–current efforts to organize around proposed transportation corridors.
Third, these leaders should take a look at how the current developer-councilperson-planning process can be realigned. At this time it is too easy for a developer to schmooze a few committee members, ingratiate themselves to a council person, and pretty much convince a handful of folks what is good for the other 100,000 or so that will be impacted by what they are planning. It should be made very clear that the council person represents the district and planning committees represent that interest as well.
All meetings that an elected city official has with a developer or its representative should be a part of the public record. A summary of these meetings should be a part of the record as it moves forward through the planning process. Any committee person who meets privately with a developer should be required to provide a summary, as well, and they should be required to recuse themselves from voting on any item being presented by that developer. That includes chairpersons, as well. This may mean a few less free lunches for our councilpersons and committeepersons, but it will provide a cleaner process.
Finally, let’s take a look and training and term limits for all committeepersons involved in the planning process. Term limits should be enforced. We should look for committeepersons that have resumes that include some courses in planning or urban design. I am sure the community college could help us with that, as well. It wouldn’t hurt to see that requirement carried over to our elected officials also. We train our Justices of the Peace who are responsible for non-precedent legal decisions, but we let our elected officials team up with developers to give us structures and traffic jams that we have to live with for decades.
It is a warm and sunny time in the Southside. Let’s let some of that sunshine into our planning process.

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