Hughson Mayor Matt Beekman will continue to serve as a member of the Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, at least for the next 60 days as the county's mayors decided they needed more time to determine if he is fit to represent their collective interests.
Thirty community members took to the podium at the nearly four hour long Stanislaus County City Selection Committee Wednesday night to vocalize their concerns about Beekman being bumped from his appointment on LAFCO. LAFCO is composed of various city and county representatives and though often regarded as nebulous by the general public, one central goal of the commission is to preserve agricultural land while also promoting orderly growth.
Beekman's role on the commission came under speculation after a deciding vote he cast on land mitigation efforts at the March 25 meeting left some of the mayors feeling misrepresented.
LAFCO convened in March to discuss refining the language of its in-lieu fee methodology, one tactic aimed at achieving 1:1 land mitigation. This ratio ensures that if land is developed, an equal amount is also preserved for agricultural use, thus retaining the region's resources.
In a 3-2 vote Beekman voted with Stanislaus County Supervisors Jim DiMartini and Terry Withrow to amend the LAFCO agricultural preservation policy to set an in-lieu fee methodology of 35 percent plus a five percent endowment. The item was opposed by Turlock City Council member Amy Bublak and LAFCO public representative Brad Hawn.
As chair of the Stanislaus County City Selection Committee Beekman governed Wednesday's agenda with the only item for the mayors' consideration being his removal as the LAFCO representative.
"Frankly, we shouldn't be here tonight," said Beekman, who listed his experience and perfect attendance as a testament to his eligibility as the LAFCO representative."The reason why I'm being asked to step down is because of one vote, not because of a voting pattern."
A central concern of many of the mayors was that Beekman did not take into consideration the impact that his vote would have on the diverse communities he represents on LAFCO: Waterford, Newman, Ceres, Oakdale, Hughson, Turlock, Riverbank and Patterson.
"The City Selection Committee is supposed to select a member that fairly represents the diversity of the cities," said Riverbank Mayor Richard O'Brien. "We selected you thinking you would fairly represent us. When you have seven cities saying 'don't go forward with this' and you did, that shows us that you have a disregard for our opinion when you've already made up your mind."
However, not all of the mayors were willing to hold Beekman singularly accountable. Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth vocalized support not necessarily for Beekman's decision, but rather his right to make it.
"Here we have someone who did not do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. He did his homework, is very qualified to represent us — not only the cities but the county residents on LAFCO — and made a judgment call. I think that there were mistakes made, I think we could have had a lot more communication, and that was admitted by Mayor Beekman and that is something I think he will work on," said Soiseth."This is just a disagreement on a policy and I'm not diminishing that at all, but I'm saying that we do not have to remove Matt Beekman tonight. We do not have to remove him from LAFCO because we disagreed with him."
Stanislaus County Supervisors Vito Chiesa and Withrow took to the podium during public comment and urged the mayors to consider the long-term ramifications of their vote as well as the perception it lends the public.
"This is dividing our community," said Chiesa. "It is not right. It is going to be a black eye for our community. I hope that you will reconsider."
"Decisions that are made emotionally are usually the worst decisions," Withrow cautioned. "I ask you to redirect your angst towards me if that is what is takes because I'm the one that initiated the vote on this thing and I'm as much to blame as anybody... I would not have changed my vote, but if I had understood that there really was this confusion out there amongst everyone, and more time would have helped ease that, I would have done it in a heartbeat if it would have kept Matt."
An overwhelming majority of the 30 individuals that made public comments vocalized their support for Beekman, many noting that his vote is a sign of his commitment to his community and farmland preservation. Others took a less personal approach and suggested the mayors focus on the issue at hand.
"LAFCO is legally bound to fully fund one-to-one mitigation, period. It has to be done. This has nothing to do with Mayor Beekman or any other mayor, this is the legal responsibility of LAFCO," said Jeani Ferrari.
Others felt differently, such as Ceres resident and former LAFCO member Edward Persike who said Beekman did not take into account all of the communities for which he is beholden to represent.
"Mayor Beekman did not represents his constituency. He represented a constituency, but not the constituency that elected him and for that infidelity, really, he has one of two choices: He can resign or I believe that he will be removed and another person will take his place," said Persike.
Persike said Beekman's removal "would be a breath of fresh air and a chance for this LAFCO to reorganize and re-look at some of the things that it's doing."
While the opinions of the public at the podium and the elected officials at the dais were as diverse at the communities represented, several participants in Wednesday's discussion took a moment during their comment to reflect that being able to publicly discuss the issue was valuable.
"This is America in its purest form," remarked community member Lloyd Blackman.
The mayors ultimately decided in a 2-7 vote to table the discussion of removing Beekman from the committee and will reconvene in 60 days to reevaluate his position on LAFCO. The only dissenting votes were Beekman and Waterford Mayor Michael Van Winkle who also opposed Marsh's first motion of keeping Beekman on the LAFCO committee which failed by 3-6.