Public input, public trust
There’s only one thing that gets Cape property owners riled quicker than a proposed change to their neighborhood.
And that’s a surprise proposal, especially one related to perceived green space or intrusive enterprise.
Cape Coral City Council found that it had poked both bears Wednesday night as residents who live near Jaycee Park filled the Council Chambers and sent more than 200 emails — 114 pages worth — to protest the city’s plans to spend up to $573,565 for “final design services” for a major park revamp.
The sad thing?
There’s two, actually.
One, despite the agenda legalese, the design element for the Jaycee Park Improvement Plan is still in the conceptual stage.
Two, the concept for the riverfront park at the end of Beach Parkway has a lot of good things going for it:
The retention of most of the green space.
More interconnected walking paths, including a waterfront boardwalk and overlook.
Additional recreation amenities, including a vastly improved playground area with shading and small splash pad.
Better parking with space moved to the front of the site to maximize both access to the water and open areas.
Unfortunately, as city projects too often do, the plan progressed mostly through the administrative channels at City Hall, with little thought of public discussion — not even Wednesday night where the design contract was parked on the Council Consent agenda for approval with neither discussion nor a presentation by staff as to what the project entailed.
There had been no dedicated workshop.
The concept plan had not even come to the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, according to one of its members who spoke.
Mayor John Gunter, and other members of Council, said the city could have done a better job presenting this project.
Where we — like all those residents who spoke or wrote — have an issue is that city officials, staffers and elected alike, assured the packed house that the procedure used to bring this project forward is, well, the procedure the city uses.
We are going to agree again.
It is, all too often, the standard MO: A project is envisioned — or worse, revisioned — at the staff level. Our elected officials are looped in via closed door one-on-ones. Money is spent on concept plans or revisions.
The public comes in at the end.
Residents protest their lack of input.
So here we are.
The “process” is wrong.
And it needs to change.
Not because a workshop would have prevented protestations against changes that residents living near Jaycee Park fear would have the greatest impact– the incorporation of a six-to-eight unit food truck park with a bar; the two “finger piers” with slips for a dozen boats each; the band shell and the prospect of losing the shade from the Australian pines, once widely planted, now considered invasive.
But because scheduling the now-promised town halls, or holding those pre-project input sessions the city calls charrettes early in the process, would have put the emphasis on “concept” instead of “final design.”
More importantly, it would have allowed for broader-based input and mitigated the done-deal perception that fosters the type of resistance rightfully expressed.
With public participation comes public trust.
With public trust comes a willingness to listen.
With a willingness to listen comes compromise.
That’s a concept plan worthy of design.
We urge the city to pursue it.
— Breeze editorial