December 17, 2004

National City Spotlight:

Welcome Changes Lead the Way From Here

by Ted Godshalk

Much of the first two years of this political cycle in National City has been marked with the air of urgency and the appearance of projects being railroaded through the process. Some people, including myself have insisted on changes to this system, which is supposed to protect the public’s right to know about plans and participate in the process. The election of 2002 brought in a mayor, Nick Inzunza, who professes to be dedicated to change. Two new councilmen, Frank Parra and Luis Natividad were also elected. Fideles Ungab, who filled the vacated seat of Inzunza, joined them through appointment. In 2002, with so many new faces, change was in the air.

Since then, most of the change has come and will continue to come through the work of the CDC (the Community Development Commission). In National City, it is interesting to note, that we have two boards that are made up of the same people, the Mayor and Council. It is sometimes said that the CDC has the money and the Council holds the bag, that is, city government has to maintain the projects, build the infrastructure, and deal with the impacts.

Over the last two years, we have seen the CDC attempt to hold meetings at off-hours or with inadequate notice to the public. In one notable case, the hotel project at 24th Street (now called Bay Marina Drive), the public was actually noticed yet the meeting was held at 9 a.m. when concerned working people could not attend. Crucially, due to improper notification several items have been pulled off published agendas at the insistence of the City Attorney. Now, after two years and numerous missteps, I think the CDC staff has reviewed the laws concerning public meetings and I am hopeful they will go the extra mile to assure the public has an opportunity to review projects and comment on them. This is a change we all welcome.

At the meetings of the CDC and Council on December 7, the Downtown Specific Plan I wrote about last time was discussed. Staff and consultants pitched the project that calls for over 4000 homes near National City Boulevard. At the very start of the discussion, Councilman Luis Natividad stepped up the plate and hit the ball right back at the pitcher, stating that he needed more time to think about the impacts of the plan. He noted that it looked like the developers would not necessarily pay for infrastructure in the city. He is right about this. Natividad’s motion for a 90 day continuance should not have failed like it did but it was at this moment of the meeting that I saw a subtle, but certain, change arise on the dais. Luis’ motion failed due to a tie vote, that rare political occurrence. With an absent mayor (back east at a training workshop), the council numbered four and a 2 to 2 vote means a motion does not pass.

Now you might think this would lead to stagnation, inaction, and a lack of movement, but it actually calls forth something much more profound. But this was not so. After hearing much testimony from residents, property owners, church groups, and affordable housing advocates the council discussed the plan. Natividad resoundingly chastised developers for dealing with only one elected official, behind closed doors, and not bothering to keep him informed. A motion to adopt the Specific Plan also failed in a tie and it was then that a most astounding thing happened. These guys demonstrated to all that they heard the input from the community and they began to talk about it with a tone of compromise and reason. Four elected officials worked toward a decision they could all support and the community was brought into the process through an extension to February 1, 2005 and a public workshop on January 8. The “Four” did what five might not strive for.

Vice-mayor Frank Parra deserves credit for guiding this meeting. Parra later played a key role in the board’s decision to hold all CDC meetings on every other Tuesdays at 6 p.m. starting in January. I am also happy to report that later that night the “Four”, which now includes incoming councilperson Rosalie Zarate in place of Ungab, unanimously rejected a pay raise for themselves and the mayor. This decision, along with the others, made this night one of the best in a long time for the people of National City. Our elected officials considered testimony, compromised on the spot, used good common sense, and set a tone for the future. Change is in the air. Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad to all.

Ted Godshalk can be reached at paradisecreek@mac.com

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