What should be talked about? What should be approved or denied without discussion, and who should make the determination? Five related items were pulled from the “consent calendar” at the March 11 meeting of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors after several members of the public complained the items were too important to be passed with no discussion.
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The consent calendar or consent agenda is a device whose primary purpose is to permit governing boards to deal with routine or basic or non-controversial issues in an expedited manner. Typically, those items are listed individually with some clarifying language as to their purpose but then lumped together so they can all be voted on “in bulk” without further comment or discussion. Defining an item as routine or non-controversial, however, may be difficult for the governing agency. Items placed on the consent calendar must be posted publicly at least four days in advance of the meeting in order to be in compliance with the Ralph M. Brown Act. Supervisors, county staff and members of the public may request that a particular item be “pulled” for later discussion. The board agreed to do that.
On Wednesday, County Counsel Ed Knapp forwarded an extensive discussion to the Mountain Democrat about what a public agency agenda must include and how it must be presented. A small part of it reads:
“The Brown Act requires only that the published agenda contain ‘a brief, general description’ of the matters to be discussed.”
In preparing Tuesday’s board agenda, county staff evidently determined that the five items were basically technical in nature and related to processes already in place, and therefore did not necessarily warrant further public discussion. Four of the five items dealt with existing contracts with several different consulting firms working with the county on Environmental Impact Reports and Specific Plan preparations. They involve the proposed west county residential projects — Marble Valley, Lime Rock Valley, the Central El Dorado Hills Specific Plan and the existing Serrano project. The fifth item related to hiring a separate consulting group to “develop a standard set of guidelines for Fiscal Impact Analysis and Public Facilities Financing Plan documents” of the three proposed projects.
The four current contracts or Applicant Funding Agreements under consideration on the agenda were increased by varying amounts based on projections of future work requirements. And each included the standard caveat of “in an amount not to exceed” and, in the case of the new agreement, “for a term of three years.” Specifics of each contract are available on the county’s Website on the agenda and “meeting details.” All of the environmental and consultant work is to be paid for by project developers, including payments for county staff time, thus there is no county cost to the projects in question, according to Knapp and Long Range Planning Assistant Director Dave Defanti.
District 4 Supervisor Ron Briggs put the issue in terms of control of a process. “If we don’t approve these today, the county loses control of the documentation,” he said. “The county should always maintain control of the documentation.”
Knapp explained in a prequel to the discussion that it is in the county’s interests to have control over the consultant contracts rather than have them hired direct by the developer applicants. “We hire the consultants, but the cost is borne by the applicant,” Knapp said. “(That they’re) spending a lot of money on an EIR does not guarantee the project will be approved. Developers understand this — that there’s no expectancy of approval. Most public entities do it this way.”
Knapp’s words did not convince everyone in the audience.
Diamond Springs activist Kris Payne suggested that by putting the items on the consent calendar, “the public perception is that (development projects have) already been decided.” Payne is a retired engineer with more than two decades in the county’s development and transportation departments.
“A discussion is really needed on what should or should not be on consent,” Lori Parlin said. “These are controversial projects. Why is it on consent? They (developers) are taking a huge risk, spending a lot more money on this. (You must) make clear that it’s not buying more influence. I’m willing to cut showers shorter for agriculture water but not for rooftops.” Parlin, a Shingle Springs Community Alliance founder, is also a candidate for District 4 supervisor.
Intertwined with the issue of consent items, District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp broadened the conversation to include both administrative processes to clarify fiscal impacts to the county and concern for potential lack of adequate water supplies to support large, proposed developments.
“We need to go by the General Plan, for viable, sustainable revenue,” Veerkamp warned. “The process is broken, and now throw a drought in there. I want to know where we’re going to get the water. EID says, ‘Oh yeah, we can provide that.’ I get it. They’re in it to sell water,” he said.
Veerkamp acknowledged that he was not “arguing” with the agenda items specifically. Rather, “We keep approving and approving (residential development) and adding to the inconvenience of residents with respect to water. The initiatives (proposed for this year’s election) are an example of us not doing it by a process. We need to go by the General Plan,” Veerkamp added.
As the public comment period wound down, Parker Development’s Kirk Bone spoke in favor of the agenda items and on behalf of the “Marble Valley and maybe Lime Valley Project. I concur with the concerns of other speakers,” Bone acknowledged. “We recognize that if it (an Environmental Impact Report) doesn’t answer those questions, we’ll be in trouble. We need to complete the process. The point is to find the information that answers the questions that you (the board) and the public have raised today. We recognize the risks and concerns.”
Veerkamp concluded the discussion reviving his concerns about water.
“We’re losing to Southern California with respect to water assessment reports,” he said. “This board has been deficient in (conducting) water assessments.”
The board voted 4-1 to approve the contract changes and new contract as recommended. Ray Nutting of District 2 opposed. In accordance with Knapp’s description of what the Brown Act requires, the board took no action with respect to changing policies or process regarding its consent agenda.