To be fair, I was one of the ones that suggested a larger hearing room. When I heard "Western U" I was originally thinking Buffums, but the location is actually the "Health Education Center", Building 6A, which is next to the old Freeman's Shoes and a brand new building with twin 356 seat lecture halls necessary for simultaneous Spanish translation, required under the CEJ vs. Pomona (First Street trash station) precedent. (Of course, the CEJ now supports the Ninth Street Trash Station - since they were opposed to First Street as part of a proxy war between two trash giants, but I digress.)
There are multiple issues, however, with the location:
- You can't find it: Opponents have a point in that buildings on the Western U campus, for outsiders, are hard to find. "309 East Second Street" on the street grid nominally is across the street from Robbie's, not all the way down by Towne Avenue. Here's a campus map to orient yourself. Lots of signage will be necessary to direct people in the right direction.
- Where's the parking: The big parking structure off Towne Avenue is supposed to be for patients and authorized Western University staff and students only. VPD lots in the area all charge for parking after 7 p.m. with the exception, ironically, of the lot adjacent to the hearing site. The streets south of Western U have lots of cars from the apartment complexes off of Third Street. With something attracting hundreds of people, and hundreds of cars, they will be scattered all over. People will park in the VPD lot without paying, or in the parking structure, get ticketed, and get mad.
- Where can people assemble: One concern is that as private property, Western U can ban gatherings and assemblies - and since the president supports the trash station, they might have the motive to do so.
- Who's guarding the meeting: Another person at the city council meeting brought up the issue of security, and Western U's possible heavy handedness at the meeting leading to a YouTube moment.
The location is closer to the residents than City Hall, but is less accessible to public transportation, requiring a four block walk from Mission and Towne. The Village Academy High School auditorium, used for the PUSD redistricting public hearings, would have been a great choice but it doesn't appear anyone thought about it.
Of course, having so much interest in the public hearing leads to additional issues:
- Limiting public comment leads to charges of bias in the decision. Because of the large number of speakers present, either the meeting will extend forever or you give a speaker less than the regular three minutes. You can shorten the time for the hearing by throwing people out for clapping (although again, see above about YouTube moments), but there could still be significant disruption. Someone with technical testimony will complain that their sixty seconds was inadequate to present their statement. And, if you dial down the time in the middle of the hearing, someone will complain of unjust treatment since early speakers got more time than late speakers, based solely on luck of the draw. And will there be four votes to squelch public comment to sixty seconds?
- If you make a decision too late in the evening, you could be challenged. The Assistant City Attorney noted this as a reason for forcing the Planning Commission to adjourn at 11 p.m., which led to the trash station hearing being held over three nights. The CEJ argued that since the First Street Trash Station was approved at about midnight, that there was a lack of deliberation because people just wanted to go home. So any decision after 11 p.m. could be suspect in the eyes of a court. One option is to hold open the public hearing, send everyone home, and discuss this later, but...
- There's too much important business to postpone. With the tax increase needing to be discussed in July and the regular city council break in August, there's a lot to pack through. In September the fire proposals will come to the table. Even without public comment, having only six voting members means that four out of six have to make a decision. Otherwise, the proponents could argue in court that the project is "deemed approved", turning the opponents' use of the Permit Streamlining Act on its head.
It's too late to change the location now, since further delay will result in a lawsuit by the proponents.
Nevertheless it is clear that the lawyers for the opponents will have more fodder for legal action should it be approved, as do the proponents if this gets denied. Opponents need to ask who is paying for the City's legal bill - the proponents of the project, or the General Fund, and gather funds to hire a good attorney. Proponents need to get their forces together and try a ballot measure to approve their facility if the council doesn't approve this, if they really want it.