This is the third story in our series on Redding riverfront land development.
The Redding City Council’s plans to discuss a possible sale of more than 200 acres of prime riverfront land, including the Redding Rodeo grounds and Redding Civic Auditorium grounds, were unexpectedly tabled just prior to Tuesday night’s closed session. Mayor Erin Resner said the council had decided not to discuss the item in closed session due to community concerns about a lack of public involvement in the process.
Many, like former Assembly candidate, Dr Paul Dhanuka, were surprised the Council had ever planned to use a closed session meeting as a first step to discuss such a significant land deal. “How are we getting to the point of a negotiation yet?” Dhanuka asked, “We haven’t decided as the citizens of Redding that we are selling it yet.”
Council Member Michael Dacquisto spoke strongly during Tuesday’s meeting, saying constituents were clearly concerned about transparency related to the land discussions, and calling for the full proposal to be disclosed to the public in response to those concerns. “It’s not marked ‘confidential’,” Dacquisto said, referring to a proposal the Council had been offered for review at the closed session.
The proposal reportedly includes what’s been referred to as an unsolicited offer by K2 Development Companies, Populous ― a multinational stadium design firm ― and the McConnell Foundation to develop the more than 200 acres of prime riverfront land. Details of the proposal and the process by which it came before the city remain a mystery to the public.
Speaking to Shasta Scout after the meeting, Dacquisto said he believed the council was entitled to disclose the proposal to the constituents. “What are you trying to hide?” Dacquisto said, “Show them what it is!”
City Manager Barry Tippin and City Attorney Barry DeWalt pushed back on Dacquisto’s request during the meeting, saying that it might not be in compliance with the Brown Act to disclose the documentation and that such a disclosure might put a competitive offer at risk.
“No one is hiding the ball here,” DeWalt said during the council meeting Tuesday, “On disclosures like these I tend to lean in the direction of transparency.” On Wednesday, in response to a Public Records Act request for the proposal, DeWalt said he was still researching whether he could release the proposal and would respond within ten days.
Tippin told Shasta Scout the city had followed its usual process for land transactions after receiving an “unsolicited” offer that “showed up” on his desk.
“Pursuant to council policy and past practice,” Tippin said, “land deals can be considered in closed session … obviously last night they determined they didn’t want to listen to it in closed session. That’s their prerogative.”
“I would say the way the system worked was proper,” Tippin added, “The item was agendized, people found out about it, the Council took it off the agenda and said bring it back later.”
City staff chose to notify the public of the land sale only by listing a series of eight parcel numbers on the agenda, without any associated press release about the identity or importance of the land. Shasta Scout broke the news of the importance of those parcels to the public last Thursday night.
But Tippin said using parcel numbers is just the city’s usual practice. “It’s not uncommon for us to just put APN numbers (on the agenda) because of the difficulty of identifying the land,” Tippin said, “But in hindsight, sure, identifying that land might have been a good idea.”
Council Member Julie Winter did not respond to a request for comment, but posted about the riverfront land proposal on Facebook Wednesday afternoon, saying that the materials the Council had planned to review involved a “very important unsolicited proposal by K2, McConnell, Turtle Bay, and Populous to purchase several riverfront parcels from the City to masterplan and potentially develop the entire area.”
She said the Council wasn’t trying to hide anything related to the discussions and “has made every attempt to be transparent,” but were restricted from discussing the issues publicly by the Brown Act rules for closed-session meetings. Her statement contradicts the clear wording of the Brown Act which indicates that the Council may, but is not required to, hold a closed session for real estate negotiations regarding the price and terms of sale of specific land.
Speaking about the process for city land sales, Tippin said the closed-session Council meeting would have been used to decide if the Council was in favor of selling the land so further steps could be taken.
“There’s no way for the Council to do what everyone suggests,” Tippin said, “stay behind closed doors … and sell the property.” That’s because, “No negotiations can be taken until the property has been deemed surplus. Once that gets done you can negotiate price and terms.”
That’s why such a discussion that should have been held in public, according to David Snyder, the head of the First Amendment Coalition and an attorney specializing in the Brown Act. By law, until the Council was ready to negotiate price and terms of sale, they were not authorized to discuss the land deal privately.
“There are many reasons a city council might want to have a conversation in private about a real estate transaction,” Snyder said “and there might be some good reasons.”
“But,” Snyder continued, “transparency is inconvenient.”
Marc T Dadigan contributed research and interview material for this story.