SACOG meeting turns hostile

Group of audience members take on government control issues
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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A rowdy crowd turned Monday’s Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) hearing into an outburst-filled debate instead of the informational meeting it was meant to be. A group of about 12 audience members out of the 30 in attendance monopolized the meeting at City Hall. The group interrupted the presentation several times, despite requests by two councilmen to show respect toward the presenters and the other audience members. Sacramento Area Council of Governments representatives were in Lincoln Monday to give a presentation on the Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy, which is slated to be adopted by the organization in April. The plan “is a 28-year plan for transportation in our six-county region based on projections for growth in population, housing and jobs,” according to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments website. Those counties are Yolo, Sutter, Yuba, Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer. City Councilman Tom Cosgrove, one of 31 elected officials serving on the regional agency, requested the hearing after concerns were voiced about the plan during a Nov. 8 council meeting, according to previous News Messenger reports. Matt Carpenter, Sacramento Area Council of Governments’ director of transportation, attempted to give an overview of what the Metropolitan Transportation Plan is about but was interrupted several times by at least three audience members. “His presentation is baloney,” Neil Wilson, a Lincoln resident, shouted. “He’s going to wear us out with details and then he’ll walk out. You don’t have to give us all of this baloney.” Wilson stood up and interrupted several times during Carpenter’s presentation. Both Cosgrove and Mayor Spencer Short addressed him and other audience members who spoke out. “I asked that the folks come up from SACOG to present information because of concerns raised about this plan,” Cosgrove said. “These folks will provide the information and open it up for comment. One of the things I ask people to do is have respect for one another.” Several times, Cosgrove asked audience members to be respectful. Then Short addressed the audience. “I’m going to ask each of you to take a step back and listen to the presentation,” Short said. “You can still have the discussion you want to have. I’m asking you to respect others and not just yell and scream.” The Metropolitan Transportation Plan projects that the region will spend $35.2 billion on transportation projects, according to Carpenter. Those projects include maintenance and rehabilitation of roads, transit, bike and pedestrian improvements, and air-quality programs, according to Carpenter. Carpenter was able to finish his presentation, and then the floor was opened up for comments. “What the hell is SACOG for?” asked Bob Rafighi , a Lincoln resident. “I’m fed up. I don’t think this is even necessary for us.” Rafighi questioned the need for improving transit in Lincoln. “I haven’t seen a bus go by with more than two people on it,” Rafighi said. Audience member Judi Caler called the Metropolitan Transportation Plan “a sham.” “I encourage people from the city of Lincoln to drop out of this travesty while you still have the chance. I encourage the Lincoln City Council to stand up for the people and opt out of the grant money,” Caler said. “You are being led by federal grant money and that money has strings attached. Please don’t bring us down with you.” Audience member John Hammer said the project was “social control reminiscent of communism.” “The plan plans utopia and all you are going to give us is hell. We are going to be enslaved,” Hammer said. “They are spending money to end up with a plan to steal our freedom.” Some audience members left the meeting before it was over. “I think people are here with an agenda and came to speak, which is fine, but you need to give other people the opportunity,” said Lincoln businessowner Wayne Sisneroz, who departed the meeting early. “Plus it’s rude to interrupt the SACOG members when they came here to speak. Short called the meeting “very intense,” afterward. “(People) had very strong feelings about the plan,” Short said. “I think it’s important everyone be heard but we maintain a level of civility at meetings.” Short also said that “it was very unfortunate to have a situation where we couldn’t have a rational discussion and where it degenerated into accusations instead of exploring what the basis of the policy is.” The News Messenger also asked Cosgrove for his take on how the meeting turned out. “Unfortunately, some people chose to use this venue to express an agenda that has nothing to do with the Metropolitan Transportation Plan, and unfortunately interfered with the opportunity for people who were interested in learning more about the plan to ask questions,” Cosgrove said. “Unfortunately, some people left and that’s unfortunate because, in our community, everyone should have the opportunity to express themselves.” Councilman Gabriel Hydrick also attended the meeting. “I do not endorse at all the behavior,” Hydrick said. “I do endorse 100 percent the comments.” Jean Ebenholtz attended Monday’s meeting and addressed City Council on Tuesday night regarding the meeting. Ebenholtz said “an unruly atmosphere was created by some in the audience.” “Had they been teenagers or in their 20s, they might have been referred to as hooligans but, since they were clearly grownups, you might have expected them to have some respect for Councilman Cosgrove or Mayor Short as they sought to keep control over the meeting or for the speaker from SACOG who had been invited to the meeting and others in the audience who might have wanted to speak,” Ebenholtz said. “But they did not have respect for anything except their own desire at hand.” Some audience members “indicated they were frightened by what they were seeing,” Ebenholtz said. “I asked to speak this evening to try to convey to you who were not there the terrible atmosphere of the event, an event that the city of Lincoln was sponsoring,” Ebenholtz said. “Perhaps what they want is to discourage other citizens from participating in government. If so, I encourage Lincoln residents to make the effort to participate and attend city meetings when possible or we may lose our participatory government.”