Public perception of planning commission major problem, city officials say

Commissioner David Adams spoke early on in the meeting about a disconnect in the how city officials’ actions were perceived by the public and by city officials themselves, a concern echoed by other commissioners.

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In a sometimes spirited conversation about recent controversies around the Bellvue North proposal that spanned throughout the July 23 Planning Commission meeting, commissioners and city staff identified what they called skewed public perception of North Area Planning as an obstacle.

Commissioners called for increased community outreach and engagement to address misinformation and inform the public on how and why city planning functions. Officials occasionally voiced criticisms of a disengaged and uninformed—yet critical—community, as well as this newspaper’s coverage.

Not a single member of the public attended the meeting, which was held in the conference room adjacent to the City Council Chambers, part of what city officials called a “disconnect” from the public.

City Manager John Donlevy—who has faced recent public scrutiny over the land deal following email communication with Bellvue North, published by The Winters Express—seemed beleaguered as he maintained that development of the residentially zoned North Area is determined by the General Plan, adopted in 1992.

Winters still owes nearly half a million dollars for its commission of the 1992 General Plan—one Donlevy said he supported.

“If you look at the city’s general plan, the policies in it are actually really good. They’re really good. Nobody reads them, but they’re pretty good because they talk about all those values. Go back and look at all the goals and the policy objectives of the General Plan. You tell me one you don’t agree with,” Donlevy said.

According to the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) report’s recommendation for North Area Zoning and Planning, “The City will work collaboratively with North Area property owners to plan and expand economic development zoning. Essentially a zoning clean up will add available land for economic development.”

“The idea of the North Area Planning…” Donlevy said. “Yep, all the controversy—Jeff Roberts, talking with the folks of Bellvue North—all had to do with the idea of bringing them into that process. You have to talk to the property owners—you just do.”

Donlevy said small-town hypocrisy—such as older residents lacking in understanding over utility rate increases due to rising costs—makes it difficult for city officials to do their jobs. He also criticized millennials for being disengaged with their community.

Commissioner David Adams spoke early on in the meeting about a disconnect in the how city officials’ actions were perceived by the public and by city officials themselves, a concern echoed by other commissioners.

Commissioner Gregory Contreras said public sentiment based on misunderstanding presents a major obstacle to any economic development policy the Commission recommends or the Council adopts. The Commission would need to engage the public to a significant degree in order to counter claims that they aren’t included in the planning process, Contreras said.

“I think this is such a big undertaking that it’s kind of a threshold matter,” he said. “There has to be a substantial amount of input from the citizens of Winters, otherwise anything we do won’t be legitimate, no matter how brilliant it might be.”

Chairman Paul Myer said the community doesn’t understand that residential development in the North Area is called for in the General Plan.

“This has been the plan for the city for decades—and the discussion with these people in the north has just brought that to people’s attention for the first time,” Myer said. “They’ve been slowly getting things out of the General Plan. If you put a frog in a pot and raise the temperature a degree at a time, it doesn’t get too excited, but the North property discussion gets people excited.”

In August, the city will host a public workshop to address concerns over the issue.

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  1. The public doesn’t bother coming to multiple meetings anymore because they don’t feel their voice is heard. Most recently a large outcry for additional parking for the new hotel downtown was pretty much ignored. When you speak of reading the General Plan, it doesn’t mean anything. The General Plan is just that, basically saying, someday it will be nice to have homes in the north. The questions arise with the specifics.

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