Commission Post Unfilled, but Council Still in a Hurry

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During a special meeting Tuesday night, the City Council voted 4-3 to waive a council policy and continue the expedited process of finding a new planning commissioner.

But, due to state law requirements, the council pushed the vote for a new commissioner back to Dec. 13, and the deadline to apply was extended to Wednesday.

The accelerated appointment process gives the public shorter notice than usual and eliminates an applicant review subcommittee.

The position became available when commission Chairman Charles Unsworth unexpectedly resigned Nov. 14. Unsworth stated that since he wasn’t up for reappointment and the commission’s involvement with the Banning Ranch project would extend past his term, his resignation would allow for someone new to be involved with the large and contentious project from the beginning of the commission’s decision-making process.

The special agenda item was supported by Mayor Mike Henn, who agreed it is important to seat the new member quickly so he or she can get up to speed on the pending Banning Ranch review.

Under the regular appointment process, the city clerk initially projected that the new planning commissioner would be in place no sooner than the group’s first meeting in February.

“I was very concerned about that … because of the Banning Ranch situation,” Henn said. “That’s what drove me to suggest an accelerated time frame.”

Henn had originally wanted to appoint someone at the Tuesday meeting, but state law requires the City Council to wait at least 10 working days after the notice of vacancy is posted before appointing someone new, and this week’s meeting occurred sooner than that.

So Henn suggested proceeding with an expedited appointment process, but extending the application deadline and continuing the issue until the next council meeting in order to comply with the state requirements.

Banning Ranch is a very carefully intertwined and complex environmental impact report, and someone with appropriate knowledge and experience needs to be appointed quickly, Henn said.

“I don’t see the urgency in the matter, I don’t see the need for waiving your normal policy,” resident Jim Mosher argued during public comment time at Tuesday‘s meeting.

There have been several technical difficulties with the EIR for Banning Ranch, Mosher said, so it is questionable whether or not the issue will be back before the planning commission by January.

Mosher also questioned whether or not the vacancy had properly been announced.

“The whole thing has not been handled terribly gracefully,” Mosher said.

The move eliminates the step of forming a sub-committee that would go through the interview process and narrow down the list to just two candidates.

Councilmember Keith Curry said that ,by waiving the policy and expediting the process, more applicants would be considered by the council, since there would be no subcommittee whittling the list down.

Under that thinking, the entire policy should be changed then, Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Gardner countered.

“We’re changing all the rules,“ Gardner said. “I think it’s unfortunate.”.

Councilmember Steve Rosansky agreed with Gardner, saying the expedited process isn’t necessary. It’s not fair to the public, Rosansky said.

“In this case, I think it’s especially important to follow our policy, because it is such a critical appointment,” Rosansky said.

The project has been in development for so long already, Rosansky argued, that the extra time that the normal appointment process would take is not going to make much of a difference in the long run.

Councilmember Leslie Daigle agreed.

“There’s no justification to shortcut this,“ she said.

Daigle stressed the importance of following city policies and keeping a process that serves the public.

Daigle, Gardner and Rosansky voted against the motion, while Henn, Curry, Rush Hill and Ed Selich all voted in favor of it.

The appointment will be on an interim basis, to finish off Unsworth’s term, which will end June 30. Applications are available at the City Clerk’s office or on the city website. Contact the City Clerk’s office at 949-644-3005 for more information.

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