Santa Monica City Hall's lobby. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@www.smdp.com)

It says something about the significance of development issues in Santa Monica that one City Council member had to be coaxed back to the dais after storming off during a debate over appointments to the Planning Commission.

Longtime Landmarks Commissioner Nina Fresco will replace Jim Ries on the Planning Commission and current commission Chair Jason Parry was reappointed.

Carter Rubin, who was appointed in March and up for reappointment on Tuesday, withdrew his name before the meeting. His seat was not filled during the meeting.

Rubin, a staff member of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, declined to comment to the Daily Press about his reason for choosing not to seek reappointment, though he said he plans to stay engaged in the community.

Because Rubin declined to seek reappointment, Councilmember Pam O’Connor asked that council delay the vote on all three commission seats.

“I wasn’t expecting there was going to be an empty seat,” she said. “I didn’t have a chance to interview the folks. And now that there’s another open seat, there could be some people who didn’t apply who might be interested in applying.”

“There are two seats we knew would be open,” Mayor Kevin McKeown responded. “I could see the argument for the unexpected third seat, although frankly, the incumbent decided not to request reappointment but incumbents don’t own their seats so … “

“I know they don’t but I was out of town for a long time and I haven’t had the time to interview everybody,” O’Connor responded.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich pointed out that only one of the 11 applicants had applied for the position since March, allowing council members plenty of time to interview candidates.

She and Councilmember Ted Winterer asked that all three appointments be made on Tuesday.

Council has an unofficial policy that they make significant appointments only when all seven members of council are present.

McKeown, pointing out that there hasn’t been a full council since May 5 and that there’s not expected to be a full council at their next meeting in mid-July, concurred with Winterer and Himmelrich.

As he was speaking, O’Connor packed up her belongings and left the dais.

“We really should try to act civil here,” Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez said as she left her post. “This is not the way you conduct business. I mean come on. You don’t get your way and you walk out?”

O’Connor can be heard responding off microphone from the back of the room.

“You should come back,” Vazquez said. “I mean, we should behave like elected officials here.”

O’Connor then returned to the dais.

“I’m being told that the only way that we’re not going to do something different — that we’re going to vote for all three, and it’s because we have a full council,” she said, back at her microphone. “Well if that’s the threshold then I can help you not have a full council.”

O’Connor said she wanted the commission appointment to follow a similar procedure that is required by City Council election code: When a standing council member announces that she or he will not seek reelection, the deadline for candidates to enter the race is extended.

“I’m glad you stayed because actually, you make a good point,” Vazquez said in response to O’Connor’s plea.

Council then agreed to make only two of the three appointment.

Jim Ries, who’s served on the commission since 2007 and would need a super-majority, or five votes, to earn a third term, had support from Councilmember Gleam Davis, Councilmember Terry O’Day, and O’Connor.

Vazquez voted for Laurence Eubank. Himmelrich voted for Mario Fonda-Bonardi. Winterer and McKeown supported Fresco.

All the same nominations were made again, but Davis and O’Day flipped, supporting Fresco, and everyone else stayed put, leading to her appointment.

O’Day pointed out that Parry was the only commissioner who did not miss any of the Planning Commission’s last 30 meetings.

Vazquez voted for Eubank. Himmelrich voted for Fonda-Bonardi. Everyone else voted for Parry and he was reappointed.

With Rubin’s exit, the commission will be short a member, and potentially divided, until an appointment is made.

“We are part of the very large and complicated Los Angeles area, and a state struggling with financial and environmental concerns,” Fresco said in her application to the commission. “On a property by property level decisions must carefully balance the needs of those personally effected with the overall goals of the City that protect the needs of everyone else collectively. The success of the Planning Commissions handling of that balance will also determine how well we work with and contribute to the Los Angeles area and the State of California. For example, our most progressive efforts at creating alternative transportation modes in Santa Monica may not have the hoped for benefits until we can spread that influence beyond the borders of our nine square miles.”

dave@www.smdp.com

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