HMB City Council compromises on Planning Commission

Why wait till Wednesday?

Posted by on Wed, January 18, 2006

In an dramatic turn of events, the Half Moon Bay City Council has compromised on the membership of the city’s Planning Commission, rather than change the number of commission members and their terms. McClung made the proposal at the meeting, and the details were worked out by the City Council. Council members David Gorn and Bonnie McClung had discussed this compromise (which McClung had proposed earlier) before the meeting.

Under the compromise, all planning commissioners have been asked to resign.  Each City Council member will nominate one member. Of the two members chosen by the council as a whole, one will be nominated by council members McClung, Patridge, and Fraser. The other will be nominated by Gorn and Grady.  The result should be a board with four members nominated by the new council majority, and three nominated by the new minority.

The council voted 4 to 0, with Naomi Patridge abstaining, to table the ordinance; and 5 to 0 to ask for the resignations of current commissioners and advertise the two positions to be chosen by the council as a whole.

David Gorn told me he wanted to avoid six months of fighting in the run-up to a referendum on the ordinance and untold months of bad feelings after the vote. "We couldn’t pass a parcel tax or a bond for the library or the police station in that kind of atmosphere," he said.

Bonnie McClung said, "We talked it out in front of the people and I like that sense of openness.  I’m proud of the entire City Council."

This also ends the promised referendum effort by Half Moon Bay resident John Lynch, who spearheaded a referendum that ended a 1998 attempt to restructure the planning commission.

We’ll post more details on this story later. The tape of the meeting, which promises to be interesting viewing, will be shown on MCTV, cable Channel 6, tonight at 7pm.

Click "read more" for a detailed account of the meeting.

At last night’s meeting, the Council voted 4-0 to direct the City Manager to table the draft ordinance and place a compromise proposal on the consent agenda for the next meeting to be held on January 31. McClung, Gorn, Grady, and Fraser voted in favor of the motion (made by McClung and seconded by Gorn) while Patridge abstained.
Citing the likelihood of a divisive and expensive referendum in the event the draft ordinance was passed, Council member David Gorn put forth a compromise proposal before the Council heard any public testimony on the agenda item. Gorn proposed making use of a provision in the existing City ordinance that states "Although a [planning commission] member shall be appointed for a term, he or she may be removed, without cause, by a majority vote of all of the members of the City Council."

Gorn said that the Council could simply start the appointment process from a "clean slate" by removing all 7 commissioners under the existing ordinance. The Council could then appoint 7 commissioners (5 nominated by individual Council members plus two "at-large" appointments) from a pool of applicants. The pool would include any sitting commissioner who wished to be reappointed and anyone else who applied to serve on the planning commission.

In Gorn’s view, the resulting appointments could reflect recent changes to the City Council, but still retain the existing structure of 7 commissioners with terms of appointment staggered from those of the Council members’ terms. If a sitting commissioner did not wish to apply for reappointment, or alternatively, was not selected for reappointment, that commissioner’s term would end upon the appointment of a replacement.

Gorn’s compromise proposal was met receptively by recently-elected Council member Bonnie McClung who stated that she was "surprised" by the strong reaction in the community to the draft ordinance—-apparently referring to the looming referendum and a recent citizen protest at Half Moon Bay City Hall. [PDF of staff report]

McClung went on to state that while she still preferred a 5-member planning commission with terms concurrent with the City Council, she was not a "draw-a-line-in-the-sand type of person." She also said that "I was elected by the people who voted for meàbut I am a Council member and I represent all of the people."

Vice Mayor Naomi Patridge said she did not like "the threat of a referendum," or "people picketing in front of City Hall." She also indicated that while she did not want a super-majority of one political voice or the other on the planning commission, she could not support the idea of 7 commissioners. She said, "I still think 5 is the magic number."

Mayor Marina Fraser initially appeared to favor sticking with the draft ordinance. She expressed her view that there is "personal bias" on the planning commission and a lack of "customer service." She also reiterated her wish to "try a 5-member planning commission for a year." 

Council member Jim Grady said he wanted to see the Council move to a "middle ground." He said, "I did not run for office to talk about the planning commission. The planning process can be improved without the issues becoming personalized."

As a backdrop for the discussion, the staff report prepared by City Manager Debra Ryan presented the results of her research on the planning commissions of other cities. This information was requested by Gorn and Grady at the January 3 meeting. Ryan wrote "Staff researched all the cities in the County and did not find any city in San Mateo County in which planning commission terms were concurrent with (the same as) City Council terms."

The staff report included some interesting quotes obtained from anonymous planning officials in other cities and a table summarizing the data collected.

On the idea of concurrent terms, one anonymous official responded, "Oh no. I see a problem with making the terms concurrent with individual Council members. The Planning Commission would become too political. I have been with 5 cities in northern California and none have had concurrent terms. All 5 followed the same process of having the full Council interview all commissioner candidates and vote on who to appoint."

The public testimony portion of the meeting did not pass without its share of sometimes-heated rhetoric. One member of the public accused the current planning commission of "acting like the Gestapo." Another member of the public chastised protestors standing in front of a closed City Hall on a Saturday, by saying "Shame on you for being stupid."

Below is a list of the public speakers and the general leaning of their testimony for agenda item 11 at the January 17, 2006 meeting of the Half Moon Bay City Council:

In favor of the draft ordinance to restructure the planning commission


  • Ozzie Montero, Half Moon Bay

  • William Dahl, Half Moon Bay

  • Michael Fahey, Half Moon Bay

  • Dale Dunham, Half Moon Bay

  • George Muteff, Half Moon Bay

  • Chris Mickelsen, Coastside County Water District

In favor of compromise proposal under the existing ordinance


  • Joe Falcone, Half Moon Bay planning commissioner speaking as an individual

  • Sofia Freer, Half Moon Bay planning commissioner speaking as an individual

  • Kevin Lansing, Half Moon Bay planning commissioner speaking as an individual

Comment 1
Thu, January 19, 2006 6:41am
lani ream
All my comments

So the entire Commission “resigns” and who knows who then becomes the “new” Planning Commission? It seems to me that this is no compromise but a way to get around changing the ordinance to avoid a Referendum. Everything in the data supplied supports staggered terms and a politically segregated Commission but the action being proposed does anything but that. New people taking over existing terms? New people starting new with concurrent terms to the new City Council because they were appointed in Jan 2006? A “new ” majority created by the action? Why don’t I see a difference. Why was it not acceptable to just “remove” the Commissioners for Patridge and McClung and Marina if that is what they wanted to do and reappoint? Why does the entire Commission have to resign? lani ream

I’m not sure about why the whole Commission is resigning, but by not adopting the new ordinance, I’m pretty sure that the terms of commissioners remain staggered.  I think that the mass resignation is a compromise designed to keep the commission at 7 members.  It would have been in the authority of the Council to fire the two at large commissioners and not appoin new ones.  This solution gains the slow growth community an extra vote and saves face for the pro growth community while giving them back their admittedly just majority.

Comment 3
Sun, January 29, 2006 8:11am
lani ream
All my comments

I just read Dave Gorn’s opinion piece in the Review. I served over five years on the Commission and nearly everyone currently serving has served almost as much or more. Marina used the term “volunteer” which, of course, is what the position is, however what she didn’t say was that it takes anywhere from ten to twenty hours every two weeks to do the job and that doesn’t include sub-committee work such as the Mobile Home Zoning Designation etc. I never thought the Commission should be placed as a pawn in the position of “winning” or “losing” or whose right and whose wrong. If the ordinance is in place to govern it’s selection process and it’s terms, and it appears to work for ten years, then work within the ordinance.If the Council chose to change the existing ordinance a Referendum is the public’s democratic choice to stop that from happening. No win/lose, no right or wrong. It is an insult to the Commissioners to ask them to resign and re-apply for the positions they made a committment to hold.You take an oath of office when you are appointed to the position. These are talented individuals not just “seat holders” to be bargained away to settle politics. I personally thank them for their time and committment.lani ream