Last Tuesday, City Council was scheduled to make three appointments to the seven-person Planning Commission. Itfailed to perform that simple task. Of course, it all had to do with politics, hissy fits and the inability of council members toappoint peoplewhowould best serve the community.
Here’s the scoop: Three Planning Commission positions are set to expire at the end of this month. Council could reappoint commissioners for additional four-year terms or make new appointments from alist of applicants. Chair Jason Parry’s term was up, as was member Jim Ries’. Carter Rubin apparently withdrew his name as an applicant the day that council was scheduled to vote on the three appointments.
Council member Pam O’Connor announced that she was not prepared to vote for three candidates because she didn’t have the time to interview or “get to know” all the applicants even though most of them had been on the candidate list since late 2014. O’Connor announced she wouldn’t be voting, got up and left the dais before being called back by Councilman Tony Vazquez, who begged the ruffled O’Connor to continue. The whole scene was pathetic.
This led to a series of motions and discussions about whether to appoint three commissioners or just appoint two commissioners that night and hold off on the third seat until a later date. Voting for three seats ran the risk of losing O’Connor and possibly one or more other council members.
During deliberations, Mayor Kevin McKeown, commented,”The public expects us to do our job.” Yes, we do, but this appointment fiasco fell far short of barely adequate. I wouldn’t expect this council to “do anything for residents,” butit set a new low standard for acting petulantly and predictably. Although this would have been a perfect time to initiate a new direction for a commission, council members rewarded familiarity and personal agendas.
Ultimately, the council moved and voted to appoint two of the three positions and go for a third person at a future date.
Council first voted on the seat held by Jim Ries, who was seeking reappointment. It went to longtime landmarks activist Nina Fresco. Time and time again, Reisdefied residents and neighbors over his dogged advocacy for extra height limits during the debates on LUCE zoning updates. He pushed hard for increased heights for new developments on LUCE-protected, “neighborhood” streets like Montana Avenue to accommodate an extra floor of “affordable” housing. Luckily for us, his “more development” efforts were unsuccessful.
Time will tell whether Fresco’s obsession with landmark preservation will leads to support of smaller or larger developments. Fresco strongly advocated for height and density bonuses for renovated landmarked properties during the recent Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) zoning update process, angering many neighborhood activists.
Next up was Chair Jason Parry’s seat. Parry, another pro-developmentadvocate and social engineer, had asked for an additional term and got his wish. Parry was reappointed — get this — for having a perfect “30 meeting” attendance record while a commissioner! Unfortunately, that perfect attendance means he’ll be around for four more years, making more bad planning decisions and unpopular choices.
Although the popular favorites, architect Mario Fonda-Bonardi and Northeast Neighborhood Chair and community activistAmy Aukstikalnis, received a couple of nominations, along with Wilmont Chair Laurence Eubank, they did not garner enough support to score a seat on the commission.
In a few weeks, council will have an opportunity to bring independent thinking to the commission by choosing a candidatewith expertise who is not obsessed with the city’s overwrought housing agenda. The new commissioner must be an individual favored by residents, who have been underserved due totheincompetency or personal agendas of the political appointees who’ve been and/or are currently serving. Fonda-Bonardi and Aukstikalnis still have a chance, but don’t hold your breath; they’re too smart and independent for this council’s palate.
We’ll be watching the next Planning Commission appointment very closely. The road to re-election next year for some council members may be coming to abumpy ending, as everyone I’m talking to says they’re tired of being repeatedly slapped in the face and not seeing community needs addressed.
The new revolution will begin with a ballot measure to undo what thisPlanning Commission and City Council havedone, and that’s to reduce post-LUCE density and height standards for future development, citywide. The next step is to find good individuals willing to serve us instead of themselves and then get them elected.
No Oscars for Oscar
After a dozen years, Council unanimously agreed to staff’s request to cease funding the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC). The nonprofit that works with at-risk youthapplied for a city grant this year of $190,000. City Hall is funding a number of “at risk” youth programs and Human Services administrators didn’t feel the PYFC was getting the results they wanted for the money being spent.
Most of the PYFC’s problems centered around is its founder and director, Oscar de la Torre, who is also on the school board. The consensus is that de la Torre and his nonprofit had done good work with its clients. However, the constant organizational and financial problems, added to de la Torre’s ongoing clashes with City Hall politicians and administrators — on top of the PYFC’s stepped-up political organizing and social justice activities — had become major stumbling blocks.
Moral of the story: Want city money? Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Bill Bauer can be reached at email@example.com.