Letter: Deja vu—Newly-elected Council members take aim at HMB Planning Commission

Letter to the editor

By on Fri, December 16, 2005

Lani Ream is a former Chair of the Half Moon Bay Planning Commission. Before she moved out the Coastside in 2004, she was a longtime resident of Half Moon Bay. In 1998, before becoming a Planning Commissioner, she was part of a grass-roots movement that collected over 1000 signatures in less than 10 days to protect the structure of the City’s Planning Commission from politically-motivated tampering.     

A December 7 article in the San Mateo County Times reported that newly-elected Council Members Bonnie McClung and Naomi Patridge will attempt to implement "a plank in their campaign platform" by "downsizing the Planning Commission from seven to five members." In the article, McClung also stated that she wants to "facilitate citizen participation." Both McClung and Patridge took office on Tuesday December 6 after McClung defeated incumbent Mike Ferreria by just 15 votes. A recount requested by Ferreria is currently underway.

Longtime Coastside residents might be feeling a sense of deja vu over the idea of purging the Planning Commission of two members in the aftermath of a City Council election. On January 6, 1998, newly-elected Council Member Betty Stone joined incumbents Jerry Donovan and then-Mayor Naomi Patridge to pass an ordinance that reduced the Planning Commission from seven to five members. [PDF]
Prior to the adoption of the 1998 ordinance,input from the public warned that it was "a very bad idea" to "replace our planning commission with a revolving crew of political appointees whose planning horizon is only as far as the next election." [PDF] Stone, Donovan, and Patridge forged ahead and passed the ordinance over the dissent of Council Member Dennis Coleman, while the fifth Council Member, Debbie Ruddock, was absent.

The 1998 City ordinance spurred a group of Half Moon Bay residents, including myself, to circulate a petition in support of a referendum that would overturn the Council’s decision and restore the Planning Commission to its original seven-member configuration. A sample of some of the flyers handed out during the 1998 petition drive can be downloaded from Coastsider.

On Tuesday, February 3, 1998, our group turned in a total of 1,026 signatures, 62 percent more than were needed to force the City Council to either rescind the ordinance or put it up for a Citywide vote [HMB Review story]. On Tuesday, February 17, 1998, the City Council backed down and repealed the ordinance [HMB Review story].   
Some may also recall that back in 1998, Half Moon Bay was in the midst of considering the notorious Wavecrest project for approval at the local level. As part of our petition drive, we surveyed the Planning Departments of Woodside, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Santa Clara, Monterey, and Carmel. All had seven-member Planning Commissions with terms staggered from those of the City Council. In calling around, we heard comments like these:

From Los Gatos, "Concurrent terms would completely politicize a commission that should be an impartial panel of individuals who interpret, to the best of their ability, the land use plan of our City. That would open the door to political favors."

From Los Altos, "The Planning Commission of Los Altos is in no way, at all, tied to the elections of our City Council."

From Woodside, "We recently changed our nominations such that no appointments to the Planning Commission occur either immediately before or after elections to the City Council. We did this in an attempt to make it as hard as possible to politicize our Commission."     

Last week’s online edition of the Half Moon Bay Review also carried a story about the possibility of downsizing the Planning Commission. The Review went to great lengths digging up the history of how the Planning Commission went from five to seven members back in 1996, but curiously omitted any mention of the more recent 1998 attempt at downsizing involving Stone, Donovan, and Patridge. Why do you suppose that is?

Written campaign materials distributed by McClung and Patridge made no mention of their intent to downsize the Planning Commission if elected. [PDF] McClung did not list the downsizing issue as a priority as part of her candidate profile at Smartvoter.org. She did, however, indicate a priority for "developing a long range planning and implementation process." A downsized Commission will be deprived of the knowledge and experience of two additional citizens. How does that improve long range planning and facilitate citizen participation in local government decisions?

McClung’s Smartvoter page lists her top priority as "Establishing open/transparent government practices and ending the polarization present in our politics today." How does a calculated political move to dump Planning Commissioners further that goal?   

Our current seven-member Planning Commission includes an architect, a retired educator, a journalist, a practicing lawyer, a mathematician, an economist, and an engineer. These people give their time and attention to our City with no compensation to help make studied planning decisions. 

The downsizing issue is set to be discussed at the next City Council meeting on Tuesday, December 20, 2005. My advice to Half Moon Bay residents is to step up and once again say "no" to any attempt to politicize the City’s Planning Commission. Do not back down from a referendum. In 1998, it took us less than 10 days to gather the required signatures. Back then, the Planning Departments we talked to were "horrified" by this kind of action.

Comment 1
Sat, December 17, 2005 11:22am
John Lynch
All my comments

This drastic action by the newly seated city council on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 will have far reaching effect for ALL COASTSIDERS.

Even though you may not live in Half Moon Bay, it is urgent that you attend this meeting and voice your thoughts.

We need to stop Marina, Naomi and Bonnie from taking such egregious steps.

REMEMBER: “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

I strongly support maintaining a seven-member planning commission.  I initiated the action to expand the number of planning commissioners in the mid-nineites as a key plank in my own city council platform.

The reasons I brought this idea to the table were several, and still apply:

Seven commmission members means there will almost always be a quorom in attendance to do the public’s business.

Seven commission members means there will be more eyes and ears attending to important planning issues, and reduces the likelihood of rubber-stamp votes and manipulation by developers.

Seven members means work on issues can be delegated to subcommittees of the commission.

Seven members means a bigger bench of potential future city council candidates.

Seven members means there is an opportunity to emply a broader talent pool.

Staggered terms provides the opportunity to insulate the planning commission somewhat from political swings and assure some continuity.

Reducing the commission to five members is nothing more than hardball politics on the part of council member Naomi Patridge.  She’s moving quickly to roll out the welcome mat for developer types in the event the new pro-development council majority won’t survive the next council election in two years.

This scheme must be stopeed cold now.

Deborah Ruddock
Former HMB Mayor

I think we need to rally, not only at the next Council meeting, but also in putting a petition on the street as was done in the ‘90s.

As for me, if there was a petition, I would be happy to gather signatures in my neighborhood!

Jim Henderson
Half Moon Bay

Comment 4
Mon, December 19, 2005 4:57pm
David Mayes
All my comments

We have only recently left the Coastside after many years to relocate to the southern interior of British Columbia, but the recent political events with the Board of Supervisors and the LCP, as well as the blatantly political effort to gut the HMB Planning Commission have convinced us that our move came none too soon. Four lanes of Highway One will cause less pollution? Greed is good, alive and well in HMB…Welcome to the new Laguna Beach of the north, with all the political monkey business, and all that has been lost in Laguna as well. The rethinking of the history of Laguna’s demise apply in spades to the entire Coastside, not only HMB. As we curl up by the fire of our log home, with fresh snow on the ground, we salute the Coastside we remember, but which is also fading, along with our memories.

Comment 5
Tue, December 20, 2005 3:28pm
lani ream
All my comments

A valid question to ask the Council members who would resign the “at large” Commissioners and change others would be what decisions has the sitting group made which Councilmembers McClung and/or Patridge disagree with. I hope someone asks them to shed light on why they are taking this action. Shouldn’t there be some explanation for such a major action? If the objective is a “pro-development” Commission then have the courage to clearly state it. lani ream