I don’t have a car, and I use public transit almost everywhere I go. So when In opened my e-mail one morning and found an announcement with the heading “SCAG Seeking Input from SoCal Residents”, I was definitely interested. SCAG is the Southern California Association of Governments, and they handle regional planning initiatives. The announcement explained that SCAG was holding six open houses to get input from the public on their Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS).
Because transit planning affects me personally, I felt like I should show up at one of these meetings. But when I looked at the schedule, I realized that it would be pretty difficult to attend any of them. In the first place, all but one of the open houses were happening during working hours, which meant I’d have to take time off work. In the second place, it would take at least an hour for me to reach any of the locations by public transit.
To me the most bizarre thing about these open houses is that not a single one was held within the City of Los Angeles. When you think about the fact that LA is the largest city in the region that SCAG serves, doesn’t it seem weird that they would ignore it completely? There are tens of thousands of Angelenos who depend on public transit to get around. Apparently SCAG doesn’t feel that they need to hear our input.
I found this so hard to believe that I wanted to research it further, so I went to SCAG’s web page for the RTP/SCS. I found out that a couple of meetings had been held in Downtown LA back in May, but as I read further I was even more dismayed. The two meetings they held on March 17 and March 18 were part of the scoping process for the Program Environmental Impact Report. In other words, these meetings were intended to get feedback from the public that would determine the scope of the PEIR, or the range of issues that needed to be addressed. And that’s all they had. Two meetings. One started at 3:00 pm and the other started at 5:00 pm. Again, SCAG seems completely oblivious to the fact that most of us have to work for a living.
And now we have the same problem in reverse. This recent series of meetings leaves LA residents ouf of the picture. But the scoping process apparently excluded everybody else. Were there other meetings held throughout the region to kick off the scoping process? I couldn’t find anything else on-line. The SCAG web site also alluded to a 30 day comment period, which ended on April 7. Unfortunately, I don’t recall receiving notification about any of this. I would’ve liked to be involved in the scoping process, but I guess I’m just out of luck.
The web site itself is an indication of how little SCAG scares about getting the public involved. On the page titled Public Participation Opportunites there’s a timeline with a series of links. Unfortunately, all of the links open a blank page with the message “404 File Not Found”. A number of PDFs are embedded in the page titled Staff Reports and Presentations. I clicked on all of them, and none of the files opened.
So back to this series of so-called open houses. Check out this map. The sites for the meetings are marked by black dots.
Yeah, I suppose I could’ve gone to the meeting in Culver City. If I’d been able to take the day off from work. If I’d been willing to travel at least an hour each way. But if SCAG really wanted to get my input, wouldn’t they have scheduled at least one meeting in LA? One meeting that Angelenos could easily get to on public transit? And why weren’t all the meetings held either at night or on weekends? Do they really think it’s fair to make people take time off work, especially when for many transit riders that would mean losing income?
The bottom line is, they don’t want my input. Or your input. Like many government agencies, they see public meetings as a nuisance. They’ve already figured out what they want to do. Getting feedback from the people is a time consuming process, and there’s alays the possibility that the public might want something different than the plan they’ve already decided on. The problem for these agencies is that a lot of the funding they get requires them to show that they’ve solicited feedback from the community. So in many cases, they slap together a series of token meetings which are deliberately planned to discourage attendance. And then when they submit the documentation required to justify the funding, they claim they’ve done extensive outreach.
SCAG isn’t the only guilty party. The City of LA frequently does the same thing. And I’m sure it happens all over the country. But SCAG’s series of “open houses” is maybe the most transparent scam I’ve seen along these lines. It really does make me angry. Not just because they’re shutting the public out, but because they have the gall to claim they’re serving the public. What’s really happening is that a closed circle of planners and politicians have gotten together and decided they know what’s best. And that they don’t need to hear from the people.
The timeline on the SCAG web site indicates that they’re planning to hold more meetings for public comment when the PEIR is released in October. But my guess is that when they post the schedule it’ll be more of the same. Call me cynical, but based on past experience, I’ve really lowered my expectations.