Summertime, and the meeting was easy…
The June 23rd meeting of the CCSD Board was a fairly quick-moving, less hostile and positive session. With two of the five Directors away on vacation, the discussions and reviews at the Big Kid’s table went 40% quicker. In the audience, attendance was lighter than normal, and those who spoke during public comment kept (mostly) to the three-minute limit.
That’s not to say it was all hugs and kisses, but it did start out that way. After a year of transition the Cambria Fire Department officially swore in a new Fire Chief. William Hollingsworth, a long-serving member of the Department was joined by his family and representatives from other Fire Services. He received a warm, heartfelt ovation from all of us in attendance – a nice moment where the community rose together to congratulate a fellow citizen and wish him well. As the baton was passed, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Eric Shalhoub shared his thoughts on his time as interim leader of the Cambria Fire Department. He spoke with great admiration for the members of the Fire Department, and noted how every member of the service is devoted to the protecting community. He also noted how supportive and involved the CSD Board and Staff had been during the transition period. Chief Shalhoub took time away from his duties fighting the Sherpa fire to be at this meeting. Leadership.
Calling all cars…
The monthly report from the Sheriff’s department was a combination of shifts and giggles, as the Commander offered some color commentary on several criminal activities that occurred in and around Cambria. It felt at times like a conversation around the table at Creekside (where great pancakes are born) rather than an official report – and that isn’t a criticism. The Commander gave an update on what the Sheriff’s office was doing to address the recent increase of crimes in the area; he provided specifics on additional budgeted staffing, alternate policing methods including bike patrols through town, and an increased ability to reduce response times in the overnight hours. Overall a good, solid complete update, except for one small detail – nobody checked to see if one particular gadfly was in the room during the report. So of course said gadfly rose during public comment demanding answers about what was being done to address the increase in crime. A perfectly timed pause, looks of disbelief shared among some attendees, and then in a nice display of civility the Board President invited the Commander back to the podium to give his presentation again. You know, so nobody would feel like they were not informed.
Less is more… (aggravating)
The meeting continued on, and a representative from Balance Communications (a consultancy engaged to help the Board and Staff navigate the political landscape of Sacramento) provided an update on activities and progress since the last meeting. The contract with the consultancy is not viewed positively by a part of the community, and these updates are often met with negative comments from the public. One of the main criticisms has been the lack of detailed results in place of general bullet points. In the case of this particular presentation I would have to agree – not a lot there and the presenter did not seem well-versed in the detail.
For those not familiar with Cambria’s complex and often confusing issues around water, property ownership, and growth – well I’m probably not the best guy to explain it.
If I could simply describe the situation it would be:
- Water – always a precious resource, made more so by the brutal multi-year drought that is changing the landscape of California. Unless you don’t believe that – then it’s just a puzzle piece being used by big developers to gain control of the area. (Based on the recent events in the larger county there may be some bits of truth in that viewpoint.)
- Growth – maintaining Cambria as it is versus managed, limited growth versus not so managed and not so limited growth versus Cambria as Carmel South. This issue contains several subcategories including environmental, cultural, economic and isolationist positions. It’s here where you get to really see the rich diversity in this small community.
- Trust – it seems that nobody trusts anyone outside their defined “group”, and nobody trusts the CCSD!
Nothing is simple or straightforward. Every issue or challenge has to be viewed in a larger context. Everyone weighs in, from the alphabet of committees, governing authorities, permitting agencies, policies, commissions, ad hoc committees, judicial reviews, citizen’s advocacy groups, local and regional media outlets, environmentalists, scientists, engineers, politicians, developers, – sorry, my keyboard just overheated. Let’s just say it is a complicated stew topped with a healthy dose of passion sauce. This is the landscape the CCSD Board and Staff has to navigate. Partially lush and lovely, partially barren and forbidding, pockets of unstable ground surrounded by hostiles waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Lots of toxicity waiting to be unleashed. Everyone is an expert or an idiot. An enemy or an ally. On one side of the fence or the other – and by the way that fence better have a valid permit, mister!
OK, we got this...
To manage these intertwined issues the Board has to tread carefully and make decisions that are in the best interests of the community. In the case of allowing new water and sewer hookups it gets more tricky. There are policies in place that under “normal” conditions would allow a number of new connections per year. Under current drought conditions – and a declared Stage 3 Emergency, the rules become much more restrictive. Add to that the governance around the use of the recently built, newly-rebranded “Sustainable Water Facility” which was originally presented as an Emergency Water Supply and is still going through the lengthy and very necessary Environmental Impact Review, replete with legal challenges and conflict over who the governing authority is in the process and decision-making becomes an exercise in going down The Rabbit Hole (which must remain undisturbed and preserved for generations of Board Members to fall down in the future.) Now, refer to the issues above, sprinkle in advocates for each, and try to solve the puzzle. Yelling “Off with their heads” is optional. Not very productive, perhaps but kind of fun.
One Two Three kick…
An agenda item that would highlight the complexity of this situation was wisely deferred until the August meeting, when there might be more clarity around the status of the Declared Stage 3 Drought Emergency, which would then inform the discussion around new hookups. In public comment there was some grumbling about the decision, which to my thinking provides an opportunity for the Directors to get ahead of the game and put together a simple 1 or 2 page document that would outline the issue, the potential resolutions, the impacts of those resolutions, and the factors to be used to make a determination. This could go a long way towards building a better dialog.
- The community would have the same set of facts that the Board is using to deliberate and decide.
- People will be able to do their own research based on the same set of facts the Board is using.
- People will be able to provide input based on a common understanding of the facts.
- Misinformation can be identified and rectified.
- The community will be better informed and can provide input prior to the meeting.
- The Board will have a better sense of how members of the community view the issue.
I think this would fall under the definition of transparency.
After much spirited community discussion a revised Employment Agreement for the General Manager was presented for review and action. The contract was stripped of many of the original items, reducing it to a simple agreement that provided the General Manager with a 6% increase. The revision addressed the major points that had caused such agita for some in the community. Along with that it also stripped out a lot of the mutual benefits the original proposal contained, but none the less the contract was agreed to by the Board and the GM.
Public comment on this issue was interesting. Three citizens rose and spoke in support of the GM, citing their experiences working with him across a range of issues and highlighting the progress that has been made under his administration. The three spoke in rational, measured and respectful tones. Opponents of the General Manager approached it differently, with comments referencing a mess of an article from an online source to excerpts from emails obtained through Freedom of Information requests that according to the speaker proved that the current GM was unfit to serve. Well, ok then…
When we walked out of the Vet’s Hall after the meeting the sun was still shining, birds were still chirping, traffic was still humming up and down Main Street, and we all had the opportunity to go on with our lives, free and safe for another two months. As they say on the television – “until next time!”