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CPAC reports "Vast Majority Opposed", yet votes against the "vast majority"

July 9, 2017

A lot of people went away disappointed on 6/22/2017 after the Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council (CPAC) voted 4-2 to endorse the Merlone-Geier development proposal for some new buildings and some sprucing up at the shopping center at Arden and Watt. As the graphic below shows, the CPAC did demonstrate a little bit of listening behavior by saying that the proposed giant signs should be smaller and by indicating the importance of walling off the retail site from nearby residences. As noted in a post here on 6/24/2017, the developer intends to save money by building a concrete panel fence instead of the traditional concrete block wall like the kind that buffers residences from freeway noise -- even though, as demonstrated by the nearby Quick Quack car wash project, those cheaper panel fences don't work. But that's not what this post is about. Instead, if you look at the graphic again, you will see that even though the CPAC gave thumb's up to the project, the CPAC's summary of the neighborhood response or reaction says, "Vast majority opposed." Vast. Majority. Opposed. Let that sink in.

The CPAC's role in the land use planning approvals process is to ascertain community opinion and advise the Planning Commission and, therefore, the Board of Supervisors about the public comment on a given project. If the public's response to a proposal is, "We don't like it for these reasons...etc.", then it would seem that CPAC ought to convey those sentiments onward. Yet, as the Arden/Watt shopping center proposal demonstrates, it looks like the CPAC has taken upon itself the task of defusing public criticism to help a project gain approval.  Their action gave impacted constituents of the Third District Supervisor the feeling that the County used the CPAC to keep the public at arm's length from the actual decision makers. In this particular case, the actual decision maker is a County staff member, the Zoning Administrator, an unelected servant of the public who ultimately reports to the Board of Supervisors (which routinely defers to the sense of the Supervisor whose District holds the site of a proposed project). The local-community guidance to that decision maker comes from CPAC members, all of whom are appointees of the Third District Supervisor. Obviously, the loyalty of County employees goes to their bosses, as does the loyalty of the appointees.

There are about 4,000,000 of California's 40,000,000 souls who live in unincorporated areas and depend on County Boards of Supervisors to deliver municipal services. Around 15% of those people are residents of Sacramento County's vast, unincorporated UnCity. State law enables Counties to establish Municipal Advisory Councils (MACs, called CPACs by Sacramento County) to better understand the needs of unincorporated communities. The law also allows such bodies to be elected.  As reported in our post of 6/6/2017, about 35% of MACs/CPACs in California are elected to office, though none are elected here in Sacramento County. While there is no guarantee an elected official will pay attention to the will of the voters, the chances are better for an elected official to actually listen to a constituent than for an appointee to do so. Is it possible that the Arden/Watt CPAC action has moved people to wonder whether our local CPAC should be elected?

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