A Good Question.
That very question was posed to me over year ago by Council Member Matt Grocott after a series of council meetings that played out in front of a virtually empty council chamber. And this was right on the heels of the police and fire outsourcing discussions, which drew such large crowds and media attention that the meetings had to be moved to a larger facility to accommodate the demand.
But here he was only weeks later, staring out from the dais at a bunch of empty seats. “I don’t understand. We’re making some very important decisions that impact the City of San Carlos, and nobody seems to care.” At the time, I offered the following three possibilities for the lack of attendance:
- Time. The council meetings are held from 7:00PM – 10ish on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. People in San Carlos are usually pretty busy, and Mondays are one of the busiest evenings of the week since it’s back to work or school for the majority of citizens.
- Apathy. After attending the discussions on the police and fire outsourcing, I told Mr. Grocott quite bluntly that this process left a very bad taste in mouths of many San Carlos citizens who attended these meetings. It didn’t seem to matter if 10 people or 10,000 people voiced their opinion — the “power base” of that the Council that was in place at that time seemed inflexible on pushing their initiative through –whatever the topic seemed to be. The votes were always 4-1 or 3-2… with those 3 or four always being the same group. “Arrogant” was the word most people I talked to seemed to associate with that particular Council. And that wasn’t just because they had to render some tough decisions that probably weren’t popular at that time — it was the often condescending manner in which certain members of the council seemed to address those who took the time (and guts) to stand up in front of a big audience and voice their opinion, and the lack of consideration of other options that were often voiced.
- Tedium. The final point I made was on a bit of a lighter note, but nonetheless true — these meetings are tough to sit through! With all of the befuddling rules that govern how the council must hear and vote on a particular item, it’s easy for the average citizen to lose track of what they’re voting on in the first place! That process is mandated by the Brown Act and other laws, so there’s not much that can be done to spice a process that can be mind-numbingly boring at times. After a few of these meetings, you feel like you’ve earned a pin, much like the Giants used to award the ol’ Croix de Candlestick if you stayed through an extra-inning night game.
The latter part of of Mr. Grocott’s statement rings very true – no matter which particular meeting it happens to be, there are some very important things that are being discussed in these meetings that will impact the future of San Carlos. I attended last Monday night’s meeting — there were about 14 or so of us in attendance, but half were scheduled speakers on the different agenda items. The remaining half-dozen of us learned a couple of interesting facts — did you know that the City is considering a very aggressive “green” initiative for new construction that may require independent LEED certification for all significant commercial AND residential construction projects? This could add significant $$ to your project if you’re considering a remodel on your home.
Or did you know that the City will consider (as part of their long-term goals) connecting Crestview Drive directly Interstate 280? I had no idea! And if you’re at all interested in the status of the Wheeler Plaza project, or the Transit Village, there’s probably no better place to find out what’s happening.
A Kinder, Gentler Council.
One thing that struck me immediately with the current council that is seated is the complete change in attitude that seems to emanate from the dais. Gone is that aforementioned arrogance — there’s nobody watching the 2:00 clock like an over-zealous referee when someone from the public is voicing their opinion. There are no laptop lids or smartphones on the dais to compete with the attention of the council members. I was genuinely impressed by the thought and consideration that was given to each issue that was discussed, as well as to the opinions that were offered by council members and public alike. I left the meeting with a renewed sense of interest in the process, and more important, a rejuvenated belief that the City is indeed on the right track.
I know we’re all extremely busy. The meeting that I attended was the first I had been to in over a year! And I know my schedule will not permit me to attend all of the meetings. But I plan to attend as many as I can — someday I may even understand how the whole process works. But if you’re at all concerned about the future direction of San Carlos, it’s worth a few hours of your time to attend a few meetings. Here’s the general schedule: San Carlos City Council Meetings.
After all, it’s hard to complain about the solution if you’re not involved in the process.
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