Last night, the Goodyear City Council voted unanimously to allow a Taco Bell with a drive-through to locate in the community of Estrella.
Bringing fast food restaurants into Estrella is a hot topic among residents. Council members know it's a hot topic, too, or at least should after the McDonald's debate in the spring of 2013. But, I'm not going get into the mud on this one.
I do want to talk about the element of "surprise."
When discussing this with others in the community, one resident commented that they didn't even know there was a meeting. In fact, not a single resident from Estrella spoke at the meeting... even though resident conversation on this topic has been ongoing for several months.
Reasonable thinking would conclude it's the resident's responsibility to know when council meetings are scheduled. In Goodyear, meetings are posted on the city's website and in its InFocus citizen newsletters mailed mailed to residences.
But, it may not be enough. And I do believe there's a solution.
In the spring of 2013, I was among a handful of council members from Goodyear who attend the National League of Cities, or NLC, conference in Washington D.C. One seminar that sticks with me today covered "Innovative Strategies for Involving and Engaging Citizens." Here are my notes from the meeting:
What creates an uninformed public in the first place?
Let's face it, government meetings can be downright boring. The typical government meeting is speaker-focused and involves just those who are already active on the issues. Afterward, there's little reporting about what happened at these meetings. This scenario makes for an uninformed public, too.
As a solution, the NLC seminar speakers from "America Speaks" suggested cities engage residents by holding "deliberative forums." What's that? It's an effort to reach into communities by getting residents who are typically not engaged to attend convenient "participant-focused" meetings. This approach invites citizens to conveniently share their ideas and concerns with lawmakers and city planners. It does require government to recruit the hard-to-reach and be creative. Successful out-reach strategies include:
If it's not cost-effective to hold a meeting in a rare location, why not send out surveys for citizen input? That's a lot cheaper and incredibly convenient, as well, for both government and residents.
*To the city's credit, planners did hold a meeting regarding the Taco Bell drive-through on February 25th at 6:30pm in Estrella. News about the meeting was hard to find. I heard about it from a neighbor who happened to see it at the bottom of an HOA email blast. It was not mentioned in the InFocus newsletter. And as you can see, the meeting is not on the city's website calendar. Turnout was small... and when that happens, the city considers the "issue" to be a non-issue.
Make no mistake, the City of Goodyear knows how to successfully pull off neighborhood events when they want to. Staff practiced the recommended approach when gathering public input for the 2025 General Plan. This document outlines every open house meeting held in which residents could attend and learn more about the plan.
So why isn't this approach being used on hot button topics like the one last night in Estrella?
When officials engage the public, the forums and results are "often seen as more legitimate." The results are more "consensus based." And the action taken is more "supportable."
If government works hard enough, it can eliminate the excuses that people use to avoid meetings. When residents feel they can have a say, such as in small group discussions and Q&A, they're more likely to get involved. Take a look at the wonderful photos from the General Plan open houses. That was highly successful... even if it took some extra work.
I was able to watch last night's meeting online. I'm incredibly concerned about the traffic safety issue and have contacted those at the city who I think can help. And that's what residents should do. Instead of complaining, be proactive. Look at the wonderful example of the "Saving the Orchard" movement.
No excuses, people. No excuses.