Supervisors: We May Defy Logic, But Don't Question Our Motivations

The Marin Supervisors defy logic by failing to represent - yet they seem to be repealing the law of gravity by warning residents not to question their motivations.

If representation is failing, DO NOT question supervisors' motivations
If representation is failing, DO NOT question supervisors' motivations
Tuesday's Marin supervisors meeting agenda issued a "soft warning" to the public. The warning reads:

"The Marin County Board of Supervisors encourages a respectful dialogue that supports freedom of speech and values diversity of opinion. The Board, staff and the public are expected to be polite and courteous and refrain from questioning the character or motives of others." 

I am still trying to reconcile how the supervisors' own behavior qualifies as respectful. This must be another case of "do as I say, not as I do".

The Broken Record Request - Who is Being Unreasonable?

Bruce Corcoran from Strawberry has now formally asked at 13 consecutive Supervisor meetings for a date for the Strawberry PDA to be put on the supervisors agenda.  This seems reasonable to me given that Strawberry residents, just like Civic Center residents, were never consulted before being designated as a target for high density development.

When the issue was raised in San Rafael Mayor Phillips put in place a thorough and well thought through process to review if the designation was appropriate:
- he convened a committee to understand the key questions (I was one of 10 on this committee; the committee was balanced with 5 pro and 5 against the designation)
- he tasked his planners to research the answers; Paul Jensen and Nancy Mackle produced this excellent document addressing PDA questions that all inflicted with the PDA designation should read
- armed with complete questions and answers the council conducted a dedicated session, then in a subsequent session voted to rescind the PDA

Are Hundreds of Strawberry Residents Making Unrealistic Demands?

Does something seem illogical about Bruce's request? The same request initiated a very thorough process in San Rafael. So is Mayor Phillips, elected leader of Marin's largest city unrealistic? I think he righted a major wrong and restored resident's trust.

Is Bruce some crazed individual out of line with any other residents? A petition signed by 754 people asks the precise same question. So unless the entire neighborhood of Strawberry has gone off the deep end it's fairly clear to me as an outside observer who is being reasonable and who is not.

All Bruce and hundreds of Strawberry residents have got so far is a run around where Supervisor Sears attempted to divert the conversation to the Transportation Authority of Marin (and failed) and still no date. And they're not allowed to question motivations?

Dodging the Issue - Passing the Buck to TAM

Sears hoped to deflect the heat by getting TAM to demonstrate that removal of the PDA designation would result in the loss of transportation funding. A paltry $261,000 - an almost insulting amount to Strawberry residents considering this would barely pay for planning, let alone actual construction that might mitigate current traffic issues (notwithstanding that the planned development would make traffic issues more acute).

The TAM board simply threw the PDA decision back at Sears. TAM's board quite justifiably queried why they would assign any transportation dollars when the community shows such strong opposition - presenting a possibility that the designation may be lifted. 

Repealing the Law of Gravity

Given the baffling failure of representation it is only human nature for residents to question the supervisors motivations on the matter. To ask them not to question is akin to attempting to repeal the law of gravity or human nature.

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Carol Brandt January 29, 2014 at 12:55 PM
Richard, just a couple of clarifications: The "flyer" was actually the Board Agenda and according to Supervisor Sears, this new heading will show up on all future agendas. Also Supe. Sears got a little snarky with the public at the Jan. 14 BOS meeting. After Bruce Corcoran spoke for the 12 consecutive time, she responded that no one seems to remember she stated at the 12/10/13 BOS meeting that she would indeed put the Strawberry PDA on the agenda sometime in February or March - yet it is now Jan 29th and no date has been set. Ridiculous beyond belief. How hard can it be to put something on the agenda?!
Susan Kirsch January 29, 2014 at 12:58 PM
Richard - great post! Why would we believe the reassurances that PlanBay Area, ABAG, and the Sustainable Communities Initiatives, etc. maintain local control, when the community can't even get an issue of major impact on the agenda for discussion? If anything, we need to dig deeper to understand the motives of people who block community engagement.
Carol Brandt January 29, 2014 at 04:54 PM
Here is exactly what the Board agenda says now at the top: "The Marin County Board of Supervisors encourages a respectful dialogue that supports freedom of speech and values diversity of opinion. The Board, staff and the public are expected to be polite and courteous and refrain from questioning the character or motives of others. Please help create an atmosphere of respect by not booing, whistling or clapping; by adhering to speaking time limits, and by silencing your cell phone."
Bob Silvestri January 29, 2014 at 06:17 PM
This statement by the BOS is a clear violation of First Amendment Rights - Freedom of Speech - under our Constitution. This is actually very bizarre. A desperate act of desperate minds to think they can actually dictate what speech is allowed, what opinions can be censured, what questions can be raised? Time to call Bay Area Legal Aid on this one.
John Parnell January 29, 2014 at 08:04 PM
Judy Arnold has made it clear that she represents developers instead of her constituents. Steve Kinsey stood with the race-baiters, calling us all racists. Kate Sears would be more polite & accommodating to her Strawberry constituents, if she would tell them to stick it & go to hell. And Katie Rice tells her constituents that Wincup wasn't her fault, but that of Corte Madera residents, who didn't fight it hard enough (but it fits with Marin's character). Yet she leaves out that part about her voting for Plan Bay Area. ____________________________ If we aren't questioning their character or motives, then we are all a bunch of idiots who don't deserve our democracy. Bob is right, that line violates our free speech. Great article, Richard. Why won't our elected officials even be straight with us about the definition of a PDA?
Kevin Moore January 30, 2014 at 02:41 PM
I was appalled at how Kinsey treated the public in one meeting. Over and over he kept telling the audience to stop clapping. Shouldn't the people in a public meeting show support for good ideas by clapping and silence for ideas they do not agree with? It would be simple enough to have a 20 second audience response time, then hold up a "Silence" card. Instead Kinsey kept wasting time by lecturing the audience about being silent. ----------- I 100% agree there should be no negative feedback, but muzzling the audience deprives them of hearing what the audience thinks of the presentation. First Amendment, which is about the people's right to speak to the government. ----- I left the feeling that the Supervisors were just going through the motions. If there is no audience feedback, then just email in your text or video. Really sad.
Richard Hall January 30, 2014 at 08:57 PM
In defense of supervisors Kinsey rules such as the following are fairly common - this is from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Rules of Order,2013: -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Actions Prohibited during Board of Supervisors’ Meetings. • Applause or vocal expression of support or opposition -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- http://www.sfbos.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=45855 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Do I like this rule? Not especially. I'm interested in knowing if there's reasoning behind it that one may appreciate. I can see that it might intimidate - imagine if you were in the minority and all around you showed their feelings this way. Could this affect the process, the outcome...? Potentially I stand with Kinsey on this one. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Perhaps someone more informed can comment on why public meetings ban such expression, and whether this is legitimate.
Franz Listen January 31, 2014 at 03:56 AM
Courts give public meeting participants wide latitude in the ideas that they can express. However, they have tended to uphold practices that prohibit the disruption of a public meeting. Chanting, banging on trash can lids, heckling speakers, talking beyond your allotted time, and loud booing and clapping can all be considered meeting disruptions. Just because these behaviors have become common in Marin does not mean that they are constitutionally protected or that the chair of the meeting cannot curtail them. If you hold up critical signs while in the audience, do a quiet thumbs up or down, or criticize Board members and staff (even very sharply) when you are at the podium, you are likely on safe first amendment ground.
Kevin Moore January 31, 2014 at 12:51 PM
I am not talking about disrupting a speaker while they are speaking, nor the process, but simply giving audience feedback once the speaker is done. A 20 second applause period would let the politicians know if the audience supports the speaker or not. --- Imagine one speaker preaches the virtues of Hitler and the other the virtues of JKF... and the audience is suppose to not have a different reaction?
Kevin Moore January 31, 2014 at 12:53 PM
I took a debating class in high school. A class that should be mandatory for all students. Two basic rules: 1. Don't interrupt the speaker. 2. Don't monopolize the speaking time. If you do all of the talking and no listening, it is not a conversation or a debate, it is a dissertation. Both are equally rude.
Michael January 31, 2014 at 07:59 PM
How dare them! They can't stop those who question their motives or those of anyone else. That is not only our right but our civic responsibility as taxpayers living in Marin. Perhaps these politicians never studied civics. Don't fall for this stuff as it deflects from the focus on the real issues. And didn't these folks spend some of their slush find just this week? Continue to question at all times. If they can't take it then we must get rid of them. How dare them attempt to treat us like children.
Jonathan Frieman February 02, 2014 at 11:28 AM
Anyone who espouses the belief that the county champions censorship and control of the content of open time speakers speeches with the above admonishment both misses and hits the mark, but only if we reveal certain facts which place into unique perspective that viewpoint and its superficial value. First off, Franz Listen is correct. Here’s why: Any 1L law student would here show that the rule governing open time resides within state law and a 20-year old case known forevermore as White v. City of Norwalk. Both citations reveal that said speaker—so to speak--may, in open time, criticize any sitting official to their face as long as the speaker doesn’t get out of hand or “otherwise" impede the orderly conduct of the meeting. So yes, clapping for 20 seconds, especially if it’s organized, can be restricted. That’s because Norwalk does mention that these are indeed public meetings—please make sure to include the letter “l” there—and they do need to be conducted, and, if impeded despite requests, only makes the impeder look bad. The declaration that everyone is “expected”--not your average enforceable legal term--to be polite and courteous is, as per the cited rules, supported somewhat by Norwalk. Interestingly, though, the county code doesn’t define genteel behavior. Second, refraining—which presumes we frained in the first place--from questioning motives and character denies our species’ ability to gossip. And gossip is SO important. IMHAHEO (say those letters out loud), the county’s effort to enforce Norwalk like Al Boro invites parody, requests parity and needs to be made pretty, but it’s not heavy-handed. Folks who think censorship is their intent need to think another think.


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