Upland's last Planning Commission meeting (07/22/15) went exactly like we all thought it would. It was just like the other Planning Commission meetings we had endured before. Even a number of the jokes Chairman Schwary used were the exact same ones we had heard at the past meetings. EXCEPT...SEIU showed up.
It looked like there were near thirty Service Employees International Union members in purple SEIU t-shirts from two chapters. A woman with a clipboard was checking them in. (They were being paid for coming.) When several of them were asked why they were there, most couldn't speak English and indicated they could only speak Spanish. Those who could answer, said they were there to support there union. "Why did your union ask you to be here?" They answered, "To support the plan." One woman said that she was glad they came early to get the seats. (There was standing room only for many residents!) Another woman had half sheets of white paper with Post-It notes attached to each. She handed them out to three women. One named "Isabel" dropped her Post-It note and I snatched it up for proof that they didn't write their own comments. When they spoke during the public comments, it was also obvious they didn't know what they were taking about.
The entire City Council showed up and sat toward the back rows. Mayor was off to the side.
We sat, very quietly and respectfully as commanded, and watched slides on the screen and listened to a presentation by Shannon Kimball, a contract environmental planner for the city. We became interested when Ms. Kimball announced that the Development Services Department had received 15 letters on various topics and then put a slide up with a list of topics. It was in very small print and most in the audience couldn't read it, but I recognized a couple of the issues I wrote in about.
And then all of a sudden the slide was gone and she moved on to her next topic. What??? No answers to our questions??? We had been promised at two separate meetings we would receive answers to our written questions at this meeting. Well, more of the same ignoring the citizens.
The presentation portion of the meeting was done and it was now time for public comments. Everyone was told that they had five minutes and even if we needed a few more seconds to finish a thought, it was allowed. We didn't know what to expect or how our issues would be discussed.
At the beginning of the week, someone emailed Development Services Director Jeff Zwack to find out the format of the meeting and if there would be a true back and forth dialogue after our comments were discussed by the Commissioners and Staff. We wanted to know if we would have a chance to ask follow-up questions to their comments. No reply. So we went into this meeting trying to understand how we should approach our topics. We had been told by Mr. Zwack at the previous city council meeting to come prepared with specific issues and where they were located in the plan.
The comments varied between questions and issues with requests to remove items from the plan. And yes, Eric Gavin, town rabble rouser, and Eric Hanson (Council member Debbie Stone's boyfriend...so we've been told) got up and cheered the plan. I don't think they knew how ignorant they looked. It was obvious they had not completely read the plan, or even really browsed through ANY of it. Mr. Gavin said he wanted "Big Brother" to tell us what to do! Amazing! (So the book "1984" was comforting to him instead of scary???)
The questions that were asked were put on a screen for all to see. Then they were answered by Jeff Zwack or staff. Many of the answers were half-truths or political double-speak to hide the real data from the Commissioners. (They still said there was NO HIGH DENSITY!!)
Those of us who were knowledgeable about the plan were VERY prepared with very specific issues, including the page numbers where the objectional items were located. We were completely ignored. We each sat down waiting for some kind of discussion of our issue and requests. Crickets! Zip! Nada! On to the next speaker!
By the time the last speaker stood and asked the Commission for a survey of the residents as to whether they liked the plan or not, and was ignored, we were all just outraged. We could all see what they had done. After the meeting, one speaker went to the Senior Planner Tonya Pace who was typing the questions for the screen and asked why his topic of Smart Growth wasn't on the screen. She said they were only tracking questions. Outrageous!!
So I guess we were played. They ran out the clock. The public comment period officially closed at the end of the over three-hour meeting. We didn't get one thing we asked for changed in the plan.
So as I said at the beginning, the meeting went just like we thought it would. NO CHANGES IN THE PLAN!! Oh, they might fix a typo or two or cross a couple words out...but that's about it. So when Jeff Zwack said to a group confronting him after the very first meeting on the plan on March 25, "We are not holding a town hall"..."Oh no, we're not going back". "This plan is being implemented nationally". "I support this plan 100%"....he meant it and stuck to it.
All of those who spoke on specific issues and were ignored put our signatures on a letter to the City Attorney, objecting to the format of the meeting and that our issues were not discussed. We cited the City Council Resolution of July 13, 2015 that was to guide the meeting's format and include "open" and "extended dialogue."
After the meeting, one city council member said he was pleased how the meeting went.
I say that we put an ordinance on the ballot that says that "When a General Plan gets updated, it cannot be approved without being voted on by the people!"