Brea Envisions: Tour de Farce.

EnvisionsBrea Envisions will be holding a joint “working session” with City Council this evening, Thursday, June 22 at 6:30 in Community Rooms A & B on the second floor of the Civic Center. When the news broke yesterday (no one saw any public notice) there was widespread confusion.

First of all, what the heck is a “working session” and after over two years, why is this such a rush? How much work is left to be done? The project is seven or eight months behind schedule and now there’s a panic to wrap it up?

Council information packet.

If you have the energy, you can download the attachments (126 pages) that are in Council’s information packet here: ENVISIONS or, let me share with you what I found when I went through everything, page by page, last night and early this morning.

Here’s what you’ll find.

Appendix A – Phase 1 Open Ended Data Tables: A 25 page disjointed document that tries to capture the anecdotal comments in the original online survey. Remember, it was available in one form or another for over two years.

Originally budgeted/funded in December 2014, the online Envisions website survey ran from early 2015 through May 26, 2017… almost 26 months. The Envisions website survey collected 716 participants. They were presented with 20 multiple choice questions and a variety of anecdotal opportunities.

The average response to the multiple choice questions was 307, or roughly 43%. Over half of those taking the survey, 57%, chose not to answer many of the questions! Consequently, with a response well below any credible statistically projectable number, Envisions makes no effort to tabulate or analyze them.

Appendix A’s fractured, unwieldy design renders it virtually impossible to review or understand the anecdotal half of the survey. Suffice it to say Appendix A is neither data nor is it particularly useful. No wonder the consultant budgeted at $200,000 was dismissed, replaced by other staff driven alternatives.

Remember those Envisions workshops?

It seemed that at every other Council meeting there was some strange “progress report” from Envisions, not that any progress was actually being made. They always ended with an invitation to drop by their next exciting open house to “join the conversation.”

Appendix B – Think Out Loud and Open House Results: 28 pages of brief comments collected at nine table-top events. On two occasions the number of participants were reported as 10 and 6 respectively, no tally was provided for any other events. Here’s the list of exciting workshops.

  • Think Out Loud Thursday (July 28, 2016) – 10 Respondents
  • National Night Out Data (August 2, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • Think Out Loud Thursday (August 4, 2016) – 6 Respondents
  • Open Houses at Community Center (August 4 and 25, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • Open Houses at Sports Park (August 11, 2016) and City Hall Plaza (August 25, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • Brea Fest (August 19, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • National Night Out Data (October 14, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.

Again, not data but a collection of bullet points captured on post-it notes under a wide range of topical questions. As with Appendix A, the information is not presented in a manner that makes it easy to absorb or understand.

Batting cleanup: True North Research.

Early last month an email from City Manager Bill Gallardo circulated to random Brea residents. It ask recipients to go to an online website and complete a new survey. Envisions was not mentioned at all, which is strange considering how they plastered the city with their stuff.

Here’s the almost funny part. The project, done with True North Research, was a Planning Department effort and they never ask for the City Manager’s review or approval. When ask about it, the City Manager had no clue what I was talking about. (Some ears are burnin’ down at city hall right about now.)

Envisions

2011 O’Donnell Survey

You’ll remember True North from those glowing report cards Tim O’Donnell sent to himself every time he wanted to lean on Council for another raise.

The similarities between the 2011 Report Card and the 2017 Envisions Summary Report borders upon plagiarism except True North is copying themselves.

They did all the hard work years ago and now just do a “save as” and plug in new numbers. A couple hours of creative editing and voila! A whole new report! I hope we got a huge discount on their fees.

Appendix C – Top Line Results: A breakdown of 730 survey responses gathered by True North Research using two methods, 1) Online survey promoted with email from City Manager and 2) random telephone surveys. I’m sure they had to add the phone surveys because the web survey drew such minimal response.

Envisions

2017 Envisions Survey

Information gathered covered Basic Demographics, Quality of Life, Strategic Civic Issues, Land Use and City Communications.

For each question responses are tabulated using a percentage of responses format for which there is no guide for extrapolating relevance.

Anyone attempting to review the report would only be able to speculate what the responses meant.

The ever popular strategic plan.

Brea Envisions Community Strategic Plan (Draft June 22, 2017): This is the only document mentioning the Brea Envisions Committee (page 27), 16 members of the community tasked by City Council to oversee the execution of the information gathering process and production of a final strategic plan.

As has been noted from the beginning, the Envisions process was orchestrated by the Planning Department with occasional review and approval by the committee. Brea Envision was, without question, a Planning Department project with limited committee input.

If the committee were actually carrying out Council’s mandate, they would have selected a chairperson, kept minutes and reported more regularly to Council. Didn’t happen.

They were discouraged from taking full responsibility because Planning was reluctant to give up control.

The document is anything but a strategic plan. Most of the first half of the document is devoted to validating the project and it’s execution.

The balance is founded on perpetuating Envisions information gathering in perpetuity. Defined as an “outreach culture facilitating the continuous flow of information among all parts of the community” they want to stick us with the Envisions concept forever.

While a wide variety of broad guidelines and recommendations are provided in this document, there is no resemblance to any strategic plan I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the “who cares” part.

If the level of response Envisions has attracted over the last two years is any indication, the only folks who give a rip about this sort of fool’s errand are the handful that drank the Kool-Aid on day one and those of you that have read this far down the page.

Envisions has been classic GIGO, garbage in, garbage out, project. The good news is we probably spent a lot less than the $200,000 originally estimated. The bad news is we’ve put off updating the General Plan and several other truly strategic operating policies for two years.

Whether it’s job security, resume or pension padding, overtime, busywork, inefficiency, inexperience or incompetence… this sort of thing needs to stop. We can’t afford to direct funds away from critical human services and pubic safety just to do happy projects and focus groups.

Envisions

Televised, broadcast, archived?

While Council chambers underwent remodeling, meetings were held in Community Rooms A & B… where tonight’s meeting will be held. I can think of no reason or excuse why the meeting will not be on cable and streaming live tonight. This may be a “special” meeting but it certainly isn’t an emergency.

11 thoughts on “Brea Envisions: Tour de Farce.

  1. The minimal 48 hour notice for a special meeting held mid-week on a topic that should be high on the list of most Breans is criminal. It is an intentional avoidance tactic designed to evade scrutiny and accountability!

    Like those study sessions tucked away on the third floor and held right at the dinner hour, this is intended to keep the public as uninformed as possible. I made plans several weeks ago for this evening that cannot be broken.

    I’m just now going over the packet. Your summary of it’s contents is accurate. I’m glad you find the time and energy to make Brea Matters a priority.

    • George… Getting same comments offline, via email and phone, about staff sneaking this one in to duck public “joining the conversation.”

  2. As I went through it, it seemed to me that slowing down development was a consistent issue throughout the two year period. Also, it seems that it contradicts the document of the City Core where the emphasis was on developments to attract the 20 and 30 year olds. Seems like parking issues and keeping the small town atmosphere rather than the high density infills.

    • Christie… Yes, you nailed it. Perhaps that helps explain why Planning has tried so desperately to hold Envisions tightly and why the surveys all obviously attempted to push respondents into results that suited Planning’s agenda.

      Getting anything out of Envisions require you to blur everything until you start to see trends. On that level it could be helpful.

      If the Planning Department, developers and residents can’t get on the same page… progress will continue to be hard fought for.

  3. Hi Rick… if I didn’t already have a commitment for this evening, I would attend to add my insight. Thanks, Bill

  4. Rick – You are right on with the idea that consultants are costing us a fortune and obviously are way overused. It seems like City staff are incapable of accomplishing management functions without running to hire a consultant. Or could it be that having one makes staff’s positions more palatable.

    Either way we have had many surveys in the past where the position of Council/Staff were already decided and then the consultant’s questions were drafted to get those responses. Getting those calls, I refused to answer those questions and I indicated that they were totally biased. That could be a reason why several questions in the surveys were left blank.

    Why can’t our leaders hold a town hall meeting with the residents where we are all given the opportunity to speak without a time limit and we can then express our concerns directly to our leaders and City staff and get a dialog back? What a radical idea and I have proposed it several times at Council meeting but that would mean talking to the resident so obviously it has not occurred.

    I do realize that such an approach could bring up ideas and concerns which our leaders don’t seem to want the public to see; however, that would provide them with information on what the residents feel about the City and it would be a whole lot cheaper that using consultants to survey for those results.

    It is also obvious to me that with the short notice that City Staff and Council are trying to keep this away from the public which is not unusual. Since I moved to Brea I have been amazed by the amount of discussions and some actions that are done in Study Session away from the cameras. Also, the timing of Matter from the Audience at the Council Meetings makes it difficult to talk on something you have not yet heard and they will have that ability this evening probably before any of the discussions.

    Finally, the location in the conference rooms on the second floor will remove it from the cameras of the Council Chambers which eliminates any public record which could be viewed later. Maybe, they will decide to film it but I would doubt it.

    • Donald… You make several good points. We spend far too much on consultants with dubious credentials. If town hall meetings are okay for state and federal officials, they should be okay here too. The current Matters from the Audience format makes no provision for two way dialog… which is funny when you think of the tag line Envisions borrowed, “Join The Conversation.”

      Another major peeve of mine are the huge financial commitments made under the guise of the Consent Calendar. Rarely does a Council member pull anything for discussion and the public doesn’t read through these to see where their money is going. There should be a maximum expenditure set.

      And, of course, Community Rooms A & B are not the optimum choice. It’s not likely the extra space is needed to accommodate a huge turnout. Not on a Thursday evening with little notice having been provided. Regarding video, I just added the following to the blog a few minutes ago. It addresses your comment.

      Televised, broadcast, archived?

      While Council chambers underwent remodeling, meetings were held in Community Rooms A & B… where tonight’s meeting will be held. I can think of no reason or excuse why the meeting will not be on cable and streaming live tonight. This may be a “special” meeting but it certainly isn’t an emergency.

  5. Addressing the meeting location, it appeared to me that that room was chosen for a good reason because of the tremendous amount of displays and material that was out for everyone to see. There was the work product and actual handwritten comments from residents, graphs, displays, etc etc.. This could not have been done in the council chambers. Thank you

    • Dwight… Envisions has been the master of show-and-tell from the very beginning, creating the appearance of a concerted effort is no guarantee that it produced results. The “Strategic Plan” and attachments reveal how tragically little real data was developed.

      From the information gathered one might speculate about resident’s preferences, interests and concerns but the sampling is so small it provides proof of nothing.

      Half of the Envisions Committee was absent, which I’m told has been fairly typical over the last year or so. Was there any attempt to explain their absence? What was the final product of last night’s special meeting? What was Council’s role last night? Will Envisions be reaching any meaningful conclusion in the near future?

  6. There was back and forth between the committee and council where council wanted to know what specific things people meant when they would say “Keep Brea like it is now”. What does that mean? They asked how some respondents said to not build anymore and add more workforce housing?

    The reply was to repurpose old buildings for housing. Clearly these two things are not incongruous thoughts.

    The bottom line is Brea is going to grow, and keeping the integrity of Brea’s history and building towards a prosperous next 100 years is the mandate. Those two desires are extremely achievable, and I am optimistic we will get there.

    Don’t forget that there is a natural phenomena that happens in every town in America, and it’s called NIMBY (Not In My Backyard), so no matter what is proposed, the starting point would be “just don’t build it next to my home”. LOL

    • Dwight… Council’s question underscores my view that Envisions has produced a body of information that results in many more questions than answers. The questions raised by Council you mention is a case in point. What are we to do with that in terms of updating the General Plan or anything else for that matter.

      Repurposing old buildings for housing suggests creating a General Plan that aims to be more permissive than restrictive, that seeks to creatively solve issues rather than impede progress through over regulating an already constricted industry.

      Most would agree I think. But achieving that sort of enlightened perspective will occur more in spite of silly, time and money wasting projects like Envisions.

      I would remind everyone that for every NIMBY there exists a YIMBY, both being very small special interest groups with very large mouths. It ought to be that the majority rules… which would necessitate them abandoning their silence.

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