HMB City Council pushes ahead with HMB Planning Commission restructuring

Posted by on Tue, December 27, 2005

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re sorry it took a week to get this story online because of the holidays.  We won’t tag this one "Why wait till Wednesday?", but we still beat the Review by a day.

The Half Moon Bay City Council moved ahead with its plans to restructure the city’s Planning Commission at its December 20 meeting.  By a vote of 3-to-2, it directed the City Manager to bring back a draft ordinance that would reduce the size of the planning commission from 7 to 5 members and align the terms of the commissioners to run concurrently with those of the Council members who appointed them. Council member Patridge, Fraser, and McClung voted for the motion, and Grady and Gorn voted against.

Thirteen out of the eighteen speakers argued against changing the structure the planning commission. Included in this group were five sitting planning commissioners [HMB Planning Commission] (Joe Falcone, Jack McCarthy, James Kellenberger, Kevin Lansing, and James Benjamin). Four members of the public argued in favor of the proposed restructuring. Included in this group were George Muteff, the fifth-place finisher in the November 2005 City Council election [Muteff’s page] and Chris Mickelsen, President of the Coastside County Water District and Chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce . A full list of speakers with quotes from their public testimony can be found at the end of this article. 

Before to voting on the motion,  Patridge responded to accusations of playing politics by saying "Everything we do up here, most of the time, is politically motivated." Bonnie McClung said "This Council needs to be reflected on the planning commission—-five works better than seven in terms of staff time." Marina Fraser said "There is a real problem with the planning process. People are disgruntled." Later she asked "Do we really need seven people’s opinions on the planning commission? I think it should go to five."

David Gorn said that he thought the majority was pushing a pre-cooked solution, not addressing a real problem. He said "Independence of the planning commission is why the staggered terms are there. When this was brought up eight years ago, there was a referendum. To bring it around again eight years later seems wrong."  Jim Grady said "The planning commission’s purpose is the rule of law. It is not there to represent any perspective of the community. It navigates the details of the California Coastal Act for the City."

Click "read more" to see summaries of the statements of members of the public speaking before the City Council.

List of speakers for agenda item 10 at December 20, 2005 meeting of Half Moon Bay City Council

Joe Falcone, Half Moon Bay planning commissioner speaking as an individual
"The planning commission applies the law to projects. It does not make the law. In performing its duties like a court, the planning commission benefits from its diversity of representation, both in terms of occupation and in representing the various neighborhoods of the City,"

John Van Almen, Half Moon Bay
"We have lot of problems that need solving. So what are we doing discussing petty politics and personalities? This was not an issue during the campaign for City Council—-no one heard anything about it. This is going to cause a referendum, as sure as anything."

Mike Kimsey, Half Moon Bay
"The Council should keep a balance between development and environmental interests…Any decision by the planning commission can be appealed to the City Council, which ensures that balance."

Dale Dunham, Half Moon Bay
"No new administration, at least not on this planet, knowingly and willingly retains appointees of the opposition."

Ken King, Half Moon Bay
"What I just heard isn’t true—-the Federal boards and commissions are all staggered and independent…Our planning commission does due diligence. We cannot afford to have such qualified people not involved in our community."

Jack McCarthy, Half Moon Bay planning commissioner speaking as an individual
"The idea of staggered terms from the City Council and 7 members of the planning commission is the best way to do things around here."

George Muteff, Half Moon Bay
"Don’t be intimidated or swayed by threats and drama. I think that the commissions should all be appointed by the current City Council and the terms of appointment should coincide with the terms of the Council members."

Chad Hooker, Half Moon Bay
"The number of planning commissioners is much less important than the work that they do, The work is dependent on how the meetings are structured…I feel strongly that the terms should remain staggered to avoid the politicizing of the planning commission and to provide continuity beyond the next election…You can only look down the road if you can see past next November by a year or two. We presently have that arrangement and it should stay in place."

Dennis Paul, Half Moon Bay
I support the current structure of 7 members and terms staggered from those of the City Council.

James Kellenberger, Half Moon Bay planning commissioner speaking as an individual
"It is our duty as a planning commission to ensure that all development conforms to the law, and we do not make the laws…One of the basic tenants of the process is to make sure we have a diversity of people to view projects as they come before us and to make intelligent decisions….The staggered terms from those of the City Council prevents a crass politicization of the planning process.

John Lynch, Half Moon Bay
"Back in the days of antiquity, I was a member and Chair of the Half Moon Bay planning commission. I don’t know why you want to change something that is not broken…This is Deja Vu, just like in 1998…I can guarantee you that there will be a referendum.

Krista Alexander, Half Moon Bay
"I think that 7 accomplished people dealing with such difficult and complex issues would be far better than 5 people. Staggered terms protects their objectivity and the results that their research yields."

Brian Ginna, Half Moon Bay
"I support the effort to make the commission 5 members instead of 7. Having only 5 would be more efficient and more responsive to the needs of the citizens. Quite simply, the spirit and letter of the law should rule, not personal bias."
Kevin Lansing, Half Moon Bay planning commissioner speaking as an individual
"Any member of the planning commission can be removed at anytime by a majority vote of the City Council . But that process requires the Council to state clearly what it is doing and explain its motives for doing so. That is exactly what transparency in government means. The proposal put forth by Council members Patridge and McClung is the exact opposite of transparency—-the City Council would not be explaining its true motives to the public."

James Benjamin, Half Moon Bay planning commissioner speaking as an individual
"I agree with Chad Hooker. I am unaware of any streamlining benefits of reducing the size of the planning commission….The simplicity of things back when the City was formed in 1959—-before the existence of the California Coastal Act and the Endangered Specifies Act—-do not justify a return to that era."

Leonard Woren, El Granada
"The average person looking at an agenda needs to be able to understand what is to be discussed without having to do other research. The way this agenda item was worded does not meet that requirement."

Robert Clinton, Half Moon Bay
"I would like to see 7 members because, as with any kind of organization, you get more input. I would like to see people on some kind of staggered terms. You need diversity and you get diversity by having 7 members."

Chris Mickelsen, Coastside County Water District
"This community can no longer tolerate a planning commission that consists of members who are openly hostile towards just about any project that is brought to them…You need to show some respect towards sister agencies. And not be attacking our engineers and our sound planning for fire safety. If you could do it with a 5-member planning commission, that would be fabulous."

Fact-check alert:
Correction: Contrary to Commissioner Lansing’s partial note that the “process requires the Council to state clearly what it is doing and explain its motives for doing so,” section 2.24.030 of the City’s Municipal Code states that Planning Commission “members may be removed, without cause, by a majority vote of all the members of the city council.”

FYI, half of the Cities in San Mateo County—plus the County itself—have 5-member Planning Commissions. In San Mateo County, only 1 City smaller than 25,000 people (other than HMB) has 7 Planning Commissioners. Fully 8 of the 12 smallest cities in San Mateo County have 5-member Planning Commissioners.

Maybe it’s just simply that HMB voters want to see if a newly formed City Council can provide essential services (and create parks) in a less divisive and more efficient manner than the last City Council. Seeing the accomplishments (or lack thereof) of the last Council and a 7-member Planning Commission that has existed for roughly 10 years, a majority of voters has entrusted, for the next 2 or 4 years, this new Council to act in the City’s best interest. Shouldn’t the new majority be given some latitude to enact its vision?

Comment 2
Tue, December 27, 2005 11:54pm
Joe Falcone
All my comments

First, this was not a campaign issue in any materials that I saw and in any debates that I’ve read reports for.  So to say that the citizens of HMB were voting for a 5 member planning commission with aligned terms is simply not true.

Second, it was a razor thin “majority” of 8 votes.  I’m sick and tired of politicians winning 51 to 49 and claiming a mandate from 100% of the people.

Third, most of San Mateo County is built out - there is no buildable land left in the incorporated cities over the hill and most of the focus is on re-development which is usually managed through separate agencies.  In contrast, Half Moon Bay has the highest growth rate of any city in San Mateo County.  And if you look at coastal cities like Carmel and Monterey, they have 7 member planning commissions. 

Fourth, there is an element of the population out there that seems to want to blame the planning commission for a rezoning that the city council performed some 25 to 30 years ago (apparently to encourage and support the development of the newly-created Alsace-Lorraine neighborhood).  The planning commission does not zone anything - that is always the responsibility of the city council.

The fact is that these have been the rules of the game for 10 years and during that period 100s of homes have been built with the blessing of the planning commission and, by extension, the coastal commission.  Will someone please explain to me (through the wonderful transparency of this new government) what the intention of this change is?  It can’t be about approving projects because we already approve projects of all sorts.

By the way, exactly how much parkland was acquired and developed by the city in the 25 years between 1975 and 2000?  This was a period of significant growth and construction, and yet the benefactors of this growth somehow did not see fit to provide for amenities like parks, trails, and bridges.

Joel Farbstein is comparing apples to oranges in his planning commission size comparisons. Joe Falcone gets it. When I was researching the issue of planning commission size, I looked at communities with coastal zone jurisdiction, as well as semi-rural communities like Woodside. At the time, Woodside had a seven member planning commission, and I seem to recall thay also had a seven member architectural review committee. I didn’t/don’t care about the size of Colma’s or Burlingame’s planning commission or that of any other built-out community. They don’t deal with the same kinds of issues. I talked with planning directors and city managers. The ones with seven-member planning commissions went that route because of the complexity of the issues and the sensitivity of the issues with the residents.

Shucks, Joel, you say you want to see if the new council can provide essential services, and I can tell you that their top vote getter didn’t produce anything in the way of street paving, parks, or city-owned ballfields. The age for geting things done and turning HMB into a professionally run city began when the pro-development majority on the council in the mid-90s quit, was beaten at the polls, or assumed the minority position.

I would just like to set the record straight regarding Chris Mickelsen’s statement above, which is not true, but nonetheless self-serving.

The planning commission provides regulatory oversight of CCWD’s development activities. The planning commission reviews CCWD’s proposed pipeline projects to ensure that they comply with the California Coastal Act.  The law requires pipelines to be properly-sized to avoid growth-inducing impacts and the project should be financed so that current residents are not forced to subsidize the building of infrastructure that will serve future development.
CCWD’s track record with the California Coastal Commission reveals a distinct tendency of its elected board members to resist regulatory oversight. I have written about this elsewhere, noting that the Coastal Commission staff found CCWD’s engineering analysis for the El Granada pipeline to be lacking in important ways.

Far from being “hostile” to CCWD’s pipeline projects, the HMB planning commission has simply done its job. The planning commission followed the Coastal Commission’s lead by imposing conditions of approval on CCWD’s pipeline permits. These conditions prohibit the water system from being expanded beyond “Phase 1” unless it can be shown that roads, sewers, and schools are adequate to handle the next phase of development.

The response from CCWD’s directors was to declare at a public meeting their intent to ignore these conditions of approval (Fortunately, CCWD’s lawyer managed to convince them that this would be illegal). Earlier this year, official CCWD correspondence signed by Mr. Mickelsen accused City officials of promoting a “scheme of building inadequate infrastructure.”  Shrill accusations are the norm for Mr. Mickelsen.

What we have here is this: an elected official of the water district using his considerable local political influence to weaken the independence of a commission that is supposed to provide regulatory oversight of the water district.

Comment 5
Wed, December 28, 2005 3:34pm
lani ream
All my comments

Parks? Where are the Parks and Recreation areas approved by Naomi after years on the Council? The roads were the worst in the Bay Area and that is a supportable statement. I just saw a recent survey and while you say half were five members, half are 7. None, None are concurrent with City Council terms. None are directly appointed by one City Council member only but are appointed by majority. Ten years ago the “majority” was made up of David Mier of CCWD employment status, John Sullivan, Bob Hansen, Robin King, and three other planned growth advocates, Don Heinz, Lisa Randolf, Dick Curtis. I can hardly find anything in what you have posted that resembles the reality. lani

So, I’m not sure I understand where we are now.  By “bringing back a draft ordinance”, has the planning commission been reduced in size, or has the council begun the process of reducing?

Kevin Lansing’s characterization of Chris Mickelsen’s tirades is, I believe, accurate. Chris Mikelsen has never like operating in a context with constraints. He and the other water board members do not understand their role within the regulatory context, and have always bristled at the fact that their special district has to collaborate with local government in order to provide essential services in a manner compliant with, and consistent with, California law. They don’t hold one progressive idea about water resources planning and wsater infrastructure or the environment that I’ve seen. They just know they got water and that means they should be able to tell the rest of us to get out of their way. They want the old days back. They want to be cowboys.

Get over it.

Deborah Ruddocdk

Bringing it back to the original thread….

If John Edwards were to be elected President in 2008, should he keep Donald Rumsfeld? If Hillary Clinton wins in ‘08, should she retain Sec of Energy Ken Lay (I mean Sam Bodman)? Would Evan Bayh re-up Condaleezza Rice?

The point is, the new City Council should be able to act on its vision and shape its administration as it sees fit. Heck, even George Bush the elder didn’t resurrect James Watt.

Why should the new City Council keep appointees of Toni Taylor, Sid McCausland, Mike Ferreira and other defeated (or out-of-office) candidates? Answer: They shouldn’t (necessarily), if their views don’t jibe with the CC’s vision.

Maybe voters just want a less contentious City Council. From what I’ve seen, Jim Grady may be able to work in a kinder, friendlier environment. Despite some early posturing, David Gorn may be able to work from a minority position. We’ll see. But there are reasons why the old City Council’s slate of candidates was defeated by nearly 500 votes (cumulative) against candidates who ran independently. To invoke Deborah Ruddocdk’s advice: Get over it.

For old guard supporters, why not be conciliatory and work with the new majority, instead of starting the new year trying to further polarize the community?

For the next 2, 4, or more years, instead of remaining in a state of denial, you might consider finding common ground on what’s minimally acceptable, and shoot for that.
-Joel Farbstein

I am planning to use my three minutes tonight to expound on the lack of openness shown by our new Council members when this issue never appeared in their campaigns, but seemed to be their highest priority.

Good idea or bad?

Good idea but they won’t listen, or at least that was my experience in 1997. We were so innocent in our perspective that we thought we could shed some light on other communities and they might reconsider. Not even close. However standing up and speaking is a privledge we our honored to have in this country and using it helps inform the public. lani ream

Was Mayor Marina Fraser trying to mislead the public and her fellow council members at Tuesday’s city council meeting?

During discussion of the new council majority’s scheme to politicize the planning commission, Mayor Fraser stated that the City of Burlingame’s planning commission has 6 members. A check of that city’s web site reveals that the size of its planning commission is 7 members. The reason only 6 citizens currently are seated is that one of the commissioners has vacated the position and the seat awaits appointment.

Are we going to have to fact check all of her statements?

Deborah Ruddock

Making an analogy to the presidential cabinet is inappropriate because that is the president’s staff in the executive branch.  The Planning Commission is a quasi-judicial body.  When a new president takes office, he does not throw out the judicial appointments from the previous administration.  Yes, he can appoint new judges to fill vacancies but that’s it.  He also does not throw out the regulatory body appointments from the previous administration, like the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Trade Commission.  For example, here is the text from the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914:

A commission is created and established, to be known as the Federal Trade Commission (hereinafter referred to as the Commission), which shall be composed of five Commissioners, who shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. Not more than three of the Commissioners shall be members of the same political party. The first Commissioners appointed shall continue in office for terms of three, four, five, six, and seven years, respectively, from September 26, 1914, the term of each to be designated by the President, but their successors shall be appointed for terms of seven years….

Yes, the FTC has staggered 7-year terms which means it takes 5 years to completely replace the FTC.  This gives the FTC the independence to do its job in a very political environment.

It has occured to me that I saw a “thread” which stated that former City Council members had tried to “shove a Park down the throat of Cypress Cove” homeowners. Even here in Florida I hear rumblings of the new majority’s desire to sell off public property for development and profit for the City. Didn’t Marina vote “no” on the Conservation Easement for 144 Kelly Ave(part of the Railroad Right of Way)? If that was to happen the Planning Commission would be the first place for approval of any type of development. The current Commission would ask all of the important questions concerning infrastructure, Access, Riparian Corridore protection, ESHA protection and Measure A compliance plus impacts on the City and surrounding area. A new , reconfigured, pro-development Commission of five people will most likely not be as discerning if it is the wish of the majority of the City Council to see such development happen. It might be wise to take a hard look at what is being asked for by the homeowners of Cypress Cove as in “be careful what you ask for, you just might get it”. lani ream