Most people trust local government to get the job done. We do our civic duty by voting every couple of years, then assume everything’s working as it should. We expect city officials to keep their promises to serve residents’ long-term interests. We have faith they’re on our side and share our values. We believe they’re diligently doing their homework, asking the tough questions and making informed decisions.
At least, that’s what we hope they’re doing. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case – as evident at the City of Pleasant Hill.
WHO RULES THE ROOST?
Nearly 30 years ago, Pleasant Hill residents overwhelmingly approved a citizen’s initiative to preserve the City’s small-town character by limiting the height and density of new development. Afterwards the popular ballot measure, known as Measure B, was incorporated into the City’s land use laws. In addition, proponents of Measure B were elected to the City Council and served as watchdogs regarding land use issues.
In 2012 Teri Williamson, the City Council’s last Measure B watchdog, ended her long public service career and relocated out of the area. Since then, the City has radically changed its practices and approved new development that places the interests of developers over those of residents. More importantly, city officials are unresponsive to information requests and openly criticize those who raise concerns.
TAIL WAGGING THE DOG
Recently the City amended its zoning ordinance. Notably, some changes were made to accommodate projects that didn’t comply with zoning rules. Rather than requiring developers to meet city standards, Pleasant Hill is systematically lowering the bar to facilitate new development. In other words, community standards really . . . aren’t.
Further, proposed amendments contained in a 91-page document were considered by the Planning Commission without adequate time for public review. The City posted the materials on its website Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, leaving the public one business day for review.
Before the May 26th Commission hearing PHCRG Vice President Dorothy Englund submitted written comments, but staff failed to share her letter with the Commission. During the public hearing PHCRG President Mike Flake mentioned Englund’s letter. Only then was Englund's letter provided to the Commissioners, prior to their unanimous approval of the zoning ordinance changes recommended by staff. Comments made by Englund and Flake were ignored.
Prior to the City Council's hearing on July 20th, PHCRG submitted an extensive list of concerns that, again, were ignored. Ultimately the City Council unanimously rubber-stamped the recommendation made by staff and blessed by the Planning Commission.
Andy Warhol said, “Art is what you can get away with.” Pleasant Hill’s philosophy of governing seems to be, “City government is what you can get away with.”