Occasionally, a hot topic will invite heated comments both at the start of the meeting and when those issues are discussed later on the agenda. The Walmart debates brought out hundreds; a developer's plan to build homes on the Oak Grove property in the hills above Kottinger Ranch brought out even more.
What few of the council-watchers see, however, are the hundreds more of comments and complaints sent by email to one or more of the council members, which are then reproduced and distributed to officials. They're public documents and any of us can ask the City Clerk to let us see them, but most don't. Unlike seeing these folks visually stating their case at the council lectern with the media in the room and a video camera showing viewers how well you're doing both in the council chambers and at home, emails are about as unnoticed and possibly unread as public comments can be.
Take the hundreds of emails sent to the City Council and city staff about Walmart's bid to open a Neighborhood Market at the long-vacant Nob Hill supermarket on Santa Rita Boulevard. The council, after months of discussion, debate and public meetings, signed off on the petition last Tuesday, giving Walmart the right to open its store. A review of some of the emails that have been sent since last fall, when the Walmart application first surfaced, shows a myriad of thoughts from residents who either liked the idea or didn't. Often, the email was left unsigned (although the sending email address gave the identity away) or like "Ryan," using only a first name, who said that "Pleasanton is too nice of a community for ANOTHER Walmart." Robert Israel and others whose emails followed used much of the same anti-Walmart language, borrowing their scripts from a campaign called CitizenSpeak, which battles Walmart building applications across the country. More than 100 of these CitizenSpeak emails flooded council members' computers, sent on the same week and often the same day. After reading a few, I'm sure staff and the council got the drift and many more emails may never have been read.
Lost in the shuffle, no doubt, was the email from Leon Fenton who said that neighbors around the old Nob Hill store would be "extremely pleased" to have a Walmart market in the neighborhood. "We are tired of having to get in our cars and drive half way across town for milk or bread," Fenton said. Maureen Carpenson complained about all the fliers she was receiving from a group calling themselves OurPleasanton.org. "They are urging people to send you emails on their behalf," she wrote to Mayor Jennifer Hosterman. "I have no objections to the store opening," she stated. "I think if it was good enough for Nob Hill to have a store there, it should be OK for anyone else."
Kathy Engel, Don Bartel, Nancy Krakauers said much the same, urging the council to approve the Neighborhood Market. But Linda Corbett, who opposes Walmart, took her email message a step farther, attaching a 24-page article from the Ludwig Von Mises Institute that appeared on Facebook. Just printing her document repeatedly cost the city staff time and reams of paper to distribute a number of times to those who receive council packets. If the piece by the Institute's author Paul Kirklin of the University of Texas was ever read, we'll probably never know. For council aficionados, we know his name or message was never voiced publicly in the council chambers or on TV29.