Why Bother to Meet?

The Council recently had an unusual experience: its first February meeting was canceled. While we typically do that in the summer (to avoid wrestling with vacation schedules) and late December (because city hall closes to minimize operating costs) it’s rare to cancel any other meeting.

The decision to cancel was made, consistent with our policies, because staff said there was nothing urgent they needed the Council to do.

Postponing non-urgent items doesn’t save time over the long haul. All actions take time – study by Council members, discussions with staff – so it’s simply a question of whether you spend it today or tomorrow. Pushing things out also has a ripple effect, postponing other things because there’s only so much time the Council has available.

Keeping to our meeting schedule also makes life easier for residents petitioning us about issues. None of us want to frustrate community members who may have planned to approach us by canceling the meeting they expected to attend.

But there’s a much bigger reason not to cancel meetings.

Councils do far more than just decide matters brought to them by staff or hear petitions from residents, as important as those are. Many action items grow out of direction and guidance we give to staff…and that requires prior discussion as to what we want staff to work on.

You can’t decide on a course of action until you’ve established what direction you want to head, and you can’t decide on a direction by just choosing from a list. Direction-setting involves more free-wheeling discussion.

San Carlos today is at a critical moment in its history: millions of square feet of commercial office space are on tap to be built. True, we have rules in place for managing development projects. But the scale of what’s coming is so vast, and so concentrated, that we should review those rules to see if they need adjusting.

But while we made doing that a priority there are many aspects to it on which we have yet to come to consensus. We’ve spent, perhaps, a couple of hours talking about it so far…and the first of those projects will likely be submitted for review and approval real soon now. Keep in mind it’s virtually impossible to change the rules under which a project is evaluated once it’s submitted.

Before something this big can be analyzed by staff and experts the Council needs to figure out what it wants studied. That doesn’t require much expert input. It does require Council discussion, lots of it, with lots of input from the public…which can only take place at Council meetings. Otherwise we will end up with staff playing too big a role in deciding the direction we take and the choices we pick among.

Defining a significant part of San Carlos’ future makes all Council meetings precious resources. Even when staff has nothing significant for us to decide we have critically important things to discuss.

I am disappointed we canceled our February meeting. As one of my colleagues pointed out last December, dealing with all that development will be hard work. But it’s also our job. We owe it to the public to use all the time we have available on it and other vital matters.

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