At a recent Torrey Pines Community Planning Board (TPCPB) meeting, Councilwoman Sherri Lightner declared that she was not allowed to listen to the TPCPB or citizens in attendance discuss the One Paseo Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). The reasoning is a San Diego City Attorney Opinion No. 90-2 from June 15, 1990. The opinion related to ex parte communications by council members. The short version is that council members are required by law to be impartial, noninvolved decision makers.
The devil is in the details between quasi-judicial versus quasi-legislative matters. In the often cited Fairfield decision, the court stated, “A councilman has not only a right but an obligation to discuss issues of vital concern with his constituents and to state his views on matters of public importance.” (14 Cal. 3d t 780). The issue is the legal rights of an applicant to impartial council decision on their project versus the U.S. Constitution rights under the first Amendment.
Is the public gullible enough that they would believe that even if the council member walks out on a community board meeting that their staff does not inform their boss what transpired? What about all the literature printed by the applicant or the opinions voiced in news articles? Does this not influence the decision maker? What about all the private meetings held in council offices?
There are two ways to address the “Silencing of the Public’s Voice” and that of our community’s civic engagement. Sequester the council member during the public response period on a DEIR. This is what judges do to avoid a jury being tainted by outside influence. I am not suggesting that but rather our council member should publicly announce what their guiding principles are in regards to large-scale projects.
A list of questions to be opinioned on can be developed such as:
• Would short-term economic benefits outweigh future quality of life issues?
• How do you weigh the consequences of cumulative environmental impacts to your district versus perceived benefits to the entire city?
• To make an informed decision, what questions would you ask after reading the DEIR?
Our voices need to be heard not squelched by bureaucratic red-tape !