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If a tree falls in a forest...

A late report of the Board of Supervisors Meeting of 2-26-13

 

By Linda Stout

3/14/13 

 

The Board of Supervisors (BOS) final vote regarding the Day Reporting Center (DRC) was a rude awakening in civics 101: 


Toto and I had parked the car in the relatively charming downtown district of Fairfield.  We blinked in the sunlight--across the street rose up a sort of Emerald City of OZ.  Before us lay polished county headquarters that squeaked clean, sparkling new buildings with groomed landscaping and spectacular fountains.  County employees dashed about in the sunshine wearing suits and ties, carrying briefcases and cellphones.   Nary a drug addict, mental patient off his medication, or menacing thug to be seen.  Clearly we're not in Vallejo anymore. 

 

We went to the Board of Supervisors meeting aware that there had been a substantial last minute outpouring of emails from Vallejo.  We assumed there was going to be, at the very least, an acknowledgement of the continuing disquiet many residents have over the placement of a DRC in Vallejo, not the least of which is that it will be the only one and would possibly service the entire county.  We thought the combined impact of public comments at community meetings, sustained citizen emails and a Vallejo city council resolution backing those concerns were now part of the equation.  We walked into the county chamber optimistic that Vallejo had been heard, concessions worked out.  We picked up Community Correction Partnership (CCP) handouts at the back of the chamber. Dismay began to set in when a quick perusal indicated that modifications in the name of fairness to our community and the establishment of "firewalls" to preserve some sense of safety in Vallejo were, for the most part, absent. 

Citizen concern is accomplished on the citizen's dime and this was a daytime meeting. It was discomfiting to see fellow Vallejo residents arriving amidst other obligations, rushing comment cards to the clerk, flustered to see Agenda Item 15 had suddenly been moved up and was underway. Switching a public agenda item on the spur of the moment in the midst of a meeting seemed ethically wrong, particularly one as controversial as the Vallejo DRC. 

Public comment: A chaplain asked that a spiritual component be added to the program.  A pastor spoke glowingly of the political process taking place in the county chambers and enthused about the rapturous wonders of Vallejo, particularly around Gateway Plaza/Six Flags.  He insisted Vallejo was a "university town" (don't we wish). The supervisors nodded, smiling, cheerfully laughing at the pastors unbridled enthusiasm.  Supervisor Jim Spering (district 3) suggested the county recruit the pastor to promote the Solano360 plan.

Next came the naysayers: Vallejo residents Ann Carr, Doug Darling, Robert Schussel, and Nate Stout spoke up in a chamber that suddenly seemed to echo as though a chasm had opened up. The pastor had been allowed to ramble well over his allotted three minutes.  When a couple of the speakers critical of the program requested extra time, they were abruptly denied by Supervisor Linda Siefert (chair, district 2).  Our newest county representative, Erin Hannigan (district 1) had virtually nothing to say deepening the void that seemed to be swallowing up Vallejo. 

Vallejo citizen Mr. Darling opened his comments with "realignments brings with it an awakening from Vallejo."  He stated that "there will always be a disconnect between the CCP/BOS and us...you are paid and we are just trying to live in the community."  He stated that "most Vallejoans understood what the DRC was all along--we didn't need to 'learn' it."   Mr. Darling noted that in regards to the name change from Day Reporting Center to Center for Positive Change, "the address of the Ohmega Boys and Girls club in Vallejo is 'One Positive Place.'  When I think of a positive place I think of the Ohmega Club--kids."  He continued, "it's a correction office (the DRC) and that's what it should be called."  Dr. Schussel pointed out that "the people that are asking for approval are county employees (CCP) that don't care about my community" and that the BOS "ought to thank us for the improvements" (sadly, for the most part, not implemented).  Dr. Schussel stated that for the last three CCP meetings he "asked for the criminal history of non-non-nons" and that this information has not been forthcoming "even though its in the files and the county has a full-time researcher."  Ms. Carr eloquently spoke of the many issues raised by placing a test program in our troubled city.  Ms. Siefert responded that she was offended by Ms. Carr's comments, stating that "to say we (the supervisors) were behind on facing the challenges (of AB109) is a misrepresentation." 

The effort to create "externals," (a term Vallejo City Manager Dan Keen used to describe the stream of outside events 
that are unimaginable or unavoidable and demand reaction on the part of city hall) one step up the food chain at the county is an even a bigger challenge than at our own city hall.  The plush chambers of the county seemed to only widen the gap between residents and the "public servants."  The insulation around these career politicians feels thicker. One sensed an underlying indignation in statements/responses from county officials intolerant of having a "public" in their faces.  The board of supervisors made the most implacable of our own city council members seem warm and fuzzy. 

After the public comment session each of the supervisors took turns taking swipes at the the concerns of Vallejo.  Mr. Spering stated that "most of the objections are what people think is going to happen."  He added "we're not here to solve all the problems of Vallejo--the voters caused the problem--you need to go back to your city and clean up your own house!"   Mr. Spering rhetorically asked "do we need a program up in Fairfield?  Absolutely.  Can we do it by tomorrow?--I don't think so!" (an odd lack of reassurance in-spite of nearly a million suddenly added to the CCP budget).  He stated that the county "heard what you (Vallejo) said, we just don't agree with everything you said."  Supervisor Skip Thompson (district 5, vice chair) stated "its been a painful public process."  He added, "when I cast my vote I'm doing it for Vallejo!"  Ms. Siefiert stated that "if we made a mistake (about the Vallejo DRC) it was because it was a no brainer--such a positive thing for the community." ....hurray... 

So here in Vallejo, if we only had a brain... The vote was 5 to O in favor of the Solano County Center for Positive Change. 
Lesson learned: if you object to a dish being served up by the county be prepared to feel like you were the one that was butchered for the meal... 

Later that evening we attended the Vallejo City Council meeting (2-26-13). During the public comment section before the action item, the Vacant Building Registration Ordinance, one of our neighbors, a former resident of Detroit who had witnessed that historic city's sad, horrific and ongoing decline, spoke up about the massive harm squatters are causing our community and the lack of response by city officials.  He ended his account and plea with this prophetic quote: "the only people who will benefit are those who will profit from our decay."  Makes one wonder about city officials that subsidize out-of-town investors through the vehicle of 'affordable housing,' who bizarrely turn a blind eye to desperate neighborhoods overtaken by squatters, and who probably wouldn't have blinked about a Day Reporting Center coming to this city if residents had not staged what was essentially a revolt... 

Residents of Vallejo are doing just what Supervisor Spering suggested--we're cleaning up our own house.  We are, as a community, creating "externals,"--the unimaginable idea that citizens do more than merely vote and blithely go on with their business while trusting public servants to do what is best for our city.