As a Gen-Xer, I grew up watching a lot of fairly silly cartoons, Scooby-Doo among them. The plot of Scooby-Doo was pretty much always the same. The main characters would ask a lot of hard questions, and always end up unmasking the “bad guy,” who would utter a phrase along the lines of “if it weren’t for those pesky kids!”
Reading Item 5 of tonight’s City Council agenda makes me feel like I am in an episode of Scooby-Doo. Commission meetings are too long, the staff report suggests. They duplicate efforts, staff implies.
Yet it was the commissions who asked hard questions about DISC. They asked, for example, about the carbon emissions from the project and better ways to mitigate them. They asked about the percentage of affordable housing. They asked about the number of trees and protection for burrowing owls. They asked about the effect of the project on our downtown.
These were hard questions that were not asked by staff and not asked by the City Council. They all ended up being issues in the campaign that resulted in voters rejecting the DISC project.
Now, it seems, staff would like to reduce the power of those “pesky” commissions with all of their questions.
Are the commission meetings really too long? One easy way to make them shorter would be to put a time limit on presentations by developers and others; we can expect that commissioners have read the provided written materials.
Are the commissions really duplicating effort? As evidence, staff provides a table where different commissions weigh in on the same topic. What staff fails to mention is that they are looking at different aspects of the same topic. For example, when Open Space & Habitat looks at a park, it considers habitat values. Rec & Park considers recreational values. Tree Commission looks at the number and species of trees. Yes, these can overlap, but they are distinctive issues that require distinctive expertise. There is no duplication.
Commissions are treated as pesky by those who have to answer their hard questions, but commissions keep the democratic process in Davis strong. If we want to revisit the commissions, let’s at least involve them – something that was not done for this meeting. Our past and present commissioners can provide needed insight into this process.