Twilight Zone Kick the Can

“This is tough one, better wait until after the election…”

When we last left the Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan it was August, and the City Council voted to postpone a decision on the controversial 1,300 acre plan until “a date uncertain.” That date uncertain now seems to certainly be sometime after the November City Council elections. When the DCCSP was scheduled to be considered by the City Council on August 5 the Rag pointed out that both Mayor Doug Chaffee and Council member Jennifer Fitzgerald would need to recuse themselves from voting on it because each had a financial interest in separate properties located within 500 feet of the plan area.

The City Attorney suggested that all council members would be able to vote on the plan because it was of such importance that it would override conflicts of interest the two aforementioned council members might have. The City Attorney’s logic was completely backwards, of course. The primary problem with the DCCSP is that it is inherently too large and comprehensive a plan for anyone other than perhaps the voters themselves to consider. Suggesting that it was of overriding importance is ludicrous, when the plan could easily be broken up into smaller constituent parts that would obviate the need for Council Members to recuse themselves in most cases. To assert that a plan for development is somehow of such importance that it overrides a clear financial conflict of interest on the part of some Council members is also a measure of what passes for important these days.

“Too Big to Mail” were the words of Friends for a Livable Fullerton founder Jane Reifer, who objected to the city’s failure to effectively alert property owners and local businesses of the impending vote. Mayor Chaffee and the rest of the City Council quickly decided that a study session was in order and that thousands of residents in the draft plan area should indeed receive letters notifying them about the DCCSP before any action by the Council should be taken. No date was set, but the month of October was mentioned. However, the DCCSP doesn’t appear anywhere on the forecasts found at the bottom of the latest City Council agendas, leaving the Rag to conclude that no study session and no vote will be heard until after the Nov. 4 election, although “Conflict of Interest Code” update does seem to be scheduled for October 21.

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Why it will have taken the City Attorney two and a half months to update the City Council on what properly constitutes a conflict of interest as defined by state law is unclear, but the timing of the update suggests that the DCCSP could be heard right after the election.

Waiting until after Nov. 4 will save two incumbent candidates from alienating either the developers, who want to see the DCCSP approved to streamline high density residential projects over much of the city, or voters, who are rightly concerned about what impacts these developments may have on their neighborhoods. The outcome of the election could also change the balance of power on the council, making it either harder or easier to pass the plan with new members in place. But if the DCCSP vote is taken right after the election and the Council decides that conflicts of interest-be-damned and everyone can vote, then the plan’s backers can have their cake and eat it too because they can probably count on a three vote majority to pass it following the election even if one of those three isn’t re-elected because a new council would not be seated for another two meetings.

In one sense, voters will have the chance to weigh in on the plan by choosing who to elect in November. Kicking the can down the road may be convenient for some candidates now, but anyone running for Fullerton City Council should have something substantive to say about the DCCSP one way or the other, or they shouldn’t be in the race. And if the City Council membership does change after November 4, then a vote of this magnitude should not be taken until a new Council is seated.