Has the Planning Commission Gone Rogue?

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The Newport City Council has overruled the Planning Commission on several key votes this past year.  It kind of makes you wonder if we really need a Planning Commission.

Hey, if the City Council is going to overrule the commission anyway, why put an applicant through the process?  Why take the extra two months?

After all, the City Council has the Planning Commission agenda from the previous week on its consent calendar every meeting.  This is to make it easy to appeal any commission decision that the Council doesn’t like.

Former Mayor Todd Ridgeway, a developer, had two projects come before the PC and when he didn’t get his way, he appealed.  He also made changes in his proposal, based on the PC comments, before he got to the council, and the council approved both projects (different meetings and independent of one another).

Does this mean “who you know” is what is important in Newport?  In this case, it probably means that the projects were out of the ordinary and without specific direction in zoning, the PC took a shot and “guessed” what the council would do, and in this case missed.

Part of the problem is that the PC doesn’t reflect the political makeup of the council.  That is because the commission is appointed “at large” – the entire council votes to appoint each PC member, who then serves a four-year term.  That means that the PC is made up of people who were able to get the four council votes necessary to be appointed.  Usually that means that the PC members are moderate (politically).  This by definition means that any councilmembers further to the right or left does not have someone on the PC who reflects his or her views.  Which also means that these “left-out” councilmembers have a higher likelihood of appealing PC-approved projects.

And it means that when the council changes direction politically, the PC usually takes 2-4 years to reflect that change, depending on when PC members’ terms are up.

Another way to appoint commissioners is to have each councilmember appoint a representative who lives in the same district to the PC (and all the commissions for that matter).  This appointee would serve at the pleasure of the councilmember who appointed him or her.  This would mean that all the city commissions would reflect the all beliefs of the council.  All the councilmembers would have someone that represents their political philosophy.  In Newport’s case, it would also mean that you would have a commissioner from each district, just like the council itself.  Irvine appoints this way and it is part of their charter.

One of the advantages is that the commissioners would all work together with their appointing councilmembers and keep each other informed.  This makes it easier for the councilmembers, because they don’t need to come up to speed on everything, with their trusted commissioners doing that for themm.  Councilmembers would only need to concentrate on the controversial projects, thus allowing the council to concentrate on the big picture.

I have served on both the Newport and Irvine planning commissions, and I think the representative appointment by councilmember better serves the people who elected them.  Newport ought to consider this as part of its charter review this year.

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  1. We are overwhelmed with bureaucracy in California among other places, but even more so where politicians allow themselves are carried away with a sense of false pride and power. Many forget they are to act in the public’s best interests, and not necessarily at the expense of applicants. Perhaps there should be more of an exchange of shoes, figuratively speaking.

  2. Most people have no idea what a developer has to go through to build something. I had two lots in Anaheim Hills and at a grading hearing, a nearby homeowner took time off work to object to the development of my vacant land by claiming “Rabbits live there!” I put two fingers on the grading plan and said, “See when you build houses here, Mister Rabbit goes hop, hop, hop, and moves somewhere else.”
    The chief engineer for Anaheim tried unsuccessfully to cover his laugh at the buffoon rabbit protector. The hearing was all about grading and drainage, not protecting Mister Rabbit.

    Again in Anaheim, we had plans for 20 condos, redeveloped from 4 very old houses. One neighbor (1) said “I don’t want condo owners looking into MY back yard.” Now because they were condos, and not single family residences, he was able to knock our development down from 20 units to 18. The two closest condos would be empty lots, unable to peek at him watering his back yard and mowing it. Lots of money out of our pockets, and he could care less. Development laws really suck.