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City Council Digs Into Planning Commission Spat

On the heels of Planning Commissioner David Rand's criticism of city staff, City Manager Jim McCann delivers a report on the issue Tuesday night, including a handful of recommendations.

Less than a month after Mill Valley Planning Commissioner David Rand called into question City Hall's view of the commission and said the two entities are engaged in a “turf war” on issues with “different visions” for Mill Valley, the Mill Valley City Council is set to dive into the spat Tuesday night.

In his report on the matter (attached at right), City Manager Jim McCann wrote that he, along with Mayor Andy Berman and Vice Mayor Shawn Marshall, met with each member of the Planning Commission individually to discuss Rand's concerns and their own. They determined that "not all points raised by Mr. Rand are shared by the commission as a whole."

McCann also addressed the larger issue of the tension sparked by Rand's comments.

"The Planning Commission and staff have to affirmatively recognize that each has an important role to play and the process cannot succeed unless each values the other and acts as a team," he wrote. "Each does not have to agree with the other all of the time but they should strive for mutual respect, teamwork, and consensus on a solution based on ordinances, Design Review Guidelines and precedent. Ideally, differences should be well articulated too."

McCann wrote that "it is clear that there is room for improvement around a handful of topic areas to benefit our planning processes." He highlighted five specific areas for improvement:

  • Roles. According to McCann's report, some commissioners "desire a stronger role by the (Moore) in the initial intake, evaluation, review and presentation of matters to ensure consistency with the City's General Plan policies, the Zoning Ordinance requirements and Design Review Guidelines, past practice and traditional areas of concern" without having staff "usurp an applicant's design and program."
  • Training. McCann said that additional training was necessary for commission members on a range of issues, including: ethics, the role and function of the Planning Commission, traffic engineering, an overview of General Plan, Zoning Code, and Design Review Guidelines.
  • Communication. Because several commissioners noted a "lapse in regular communication" with Moore and planning staff, McCann plans to schedule quarterly meetings between the chair of the commission, Moore and himself, as well as a brief meeting prior to each commission meeting to review the agenda and go over any commission concerns about the agenda items.
  • Process. Both commissioners and staff expressed concern about the various procedures involved in processing an application. For instance, McCann noted that some study sessions "may have lost a primary purpose of being a mechanism to test the waters on a project" and become too costly for applicants. McCann pointed out that "there are areas where provisions of the Zoning Ordinance do not match the Commission's or the community's expectations or practice" and that "Planning Commission and staff decisions should be based on specific ordinances, Design Review Guidelines, impacts and precedent. Arbitrary and novel decisions and recommendations are to be avoided."
  • Staff report recommendations. In his presentation, Rand described a steep divide with staff in this area, asking that staff "refrain from setting forth a recommendation that the commission approve design review” because the "the visions that those on the commission have for the development of Mill Valley very frequently differ from those of staff."

McCann wrote that "commissioners want staff to address the degree to which a proposal satisfies the standards and to touch upon the design and policy matters in a less declaratory manner."

McCann outlined a number of immediate recommendations, including better communication between staff and commissioners prior to a public hearing, "civility at all public meetings" and having Moore "take an active role in managing his staff, understanding clearly the nuances of every application brought to the commission."

He also called for a retreat between the commission and Moore, a future agenda item about the exact scope of study sessions and a schedule for previously identified Zoning Ordinance amendments.

Rand's presentation was a stark departure from the commission's normally ho-hum annual report to the City Council. “The problem is best summed up by the introduction that I received on the day I was sworn in,” he said. “We were told then, quite bluntly, that staff leadership did not believe in the usefulness of the Planning Commission in Mill Valley and did not see a need for it.”

The 411: City Manager Jim McCann will deliver his report on the Planning Commission to the Mill Valley City Council at City Hall Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. To watch the meeting live or archived online, click here.

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Rebecca Chapman February 18, 2013 at 04:04 PM
david never said the commission shared all of his views, i don't think. i believe he made it clear which points were his alone. anyway, i hope more people will show up for this, as the issues raised are so important for the future look & feel of our town. see you all at the meeting!
CMCM February 19, 2013 at 02:49 AM
Mill Valley City Council, Planning and Parks Meetings also are cablecast live (with repeats) on Marin TV (Comcast 27, AT&T 99). Meetings also stream live on our web site (http://cmcm.tv/livegov) at a much higher resolution than the link listed above.
Jim Welte February 19, 2013 at 04:10 AM
Thanks Michael! Great point. Hope you are doing well.
Rebecca Chapman February 19, 2013 at 04:50 PM
thanks, cmcm. i had no idea! no wonder people think i'm seeking fame...

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