"What you're seeing on this project is just an unparalleled amount of outreach, moreso than I think we've done on any project ever before. In the old days of roadway projects and environmental documents, you would have a scoping meeting, so you would tell everyone that you're going to do scoping. You'd have two meetings, one in the day that public agencies would go to and then one in the evening that citizens would come to. Then the agencies would disappear, there would be no touch with people until you produced an environmental document. That draft environmental document, maybe several years later, would show up in libraries. Nowadays, it'd be online. You'd call people in, you'd have a couple days of public hearings, then you'd disappear again and people wouldn't hear from you until you had the final environmental document.
"In this case we've developed three different series of outreach that are available. We have our stakeholder outreach advisory committee that we're running policy and decision making through. We have technical advisory committee meetings, and we've actually scheduled community liaison council meetings to help us best understand how to best outreach to the community, make sure we're reaching out to all the groups."
Those are the words of Metro's Executive Director of Highway Projects, Doug Failing, speaking to KPCC's Airtalk on Tuesday morning.
, SR-710 opponents have pilloried Metro both online and in public meetings for what they consider to be insufficient communication regarding the potential highway extension.
member Janet Dodson has called Metro's outreach efforts "a sham." Peter Bedard, a local neighborhood watch captain, said during a community meeting on Monday night that Metro's community liaisons were "failing miserably."
During that same meeting, attendees demanded that their Community Liaison Council (CLC) members stand up and make themselves known. Not surprisingly, no one stood, probably for fear of reprisal from a large and increasingly angry audience.
On Tuesday, we asked Metro spokesperson Anne Killefer if she could provide us with the names of the CLC members, and were turned down.
"To protect the privacy of CLC members, I am unable to provide you with a list of their names or their contact information," Killefer wrote in an e-mail to Patch. "I’m sorry I cannot provide you with any more information at this time."
We recognize that Killefer is only following orders, but Metro's refusal to release the names of people who volunteered for the job of community liaison will surely solidify the opinions of those who have criticized the organization's lack of transparency.
The list of CLC responsibilities listed on the Metro website include:
- Sharing updates with others
- Providing feedback to the study team
- Helping shape improvements proposed for the study area
- Gathering feedback received from others in your community
- Recommending outreach activities and making suggestions to enhance the public participation program
How can CLC members fulfill any of these responsibilities if they remain anonymous? Ideally, the CLC would provide community members a chance to give unvarnished feedback to their peers, which would then be relayed to Metro staff. Not everyone is comfortable communicating directly to government agencies, especially those with plans to build highways through their neighborhoods.
Sam Burgess, a longtime freeway fighter from South Pasadena, said the reason the CLC has been so ineffective is that many of the volunteers who signed up for the job didn't even realize they had done so.
"How did we become members of the CLC? Easy. Upon arrival at a previous CLC meeting we provided our names and e-mail addresses on the sign-in page. Presto! We were your representatives--without knowing it! This now applies to all of you who signed in on the Metro sign-in sheet. You are now a CLC member and are responsible for notifing your community of all things Metro."
Burgess' comments reveals Metro's CLCs to be little more than a trumped up sham, an effort to disguise gathering names and e-mails as meaningful outreach.
It's unlikely that Metro will ever win over residents of Highland Park or South Pasadena, given the potentially devastating impact a freeway extension would have on homeowners. However, telling the truth might be a good place to start.
We think Metro needs to drop the CLC facade and stop holding community meetings like Monday's, where residents were provided little in the way of technical information about the SR-710 extension.
Instead, it's time that residents were provided access to the engineers and executives who are behind the freeway plans. It's time for Metro to stop touting its outreach efforts, and to start providing real answers.