The normally ho-hum annual report to the Mill Valley City Council from the outgoing chair of the Planning Commission took a stark turn Monday night as 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.
In his verbal report before the council Monday night, Rand, whose three-year term on the commission began in March 2010, said that since he joined the board there has been a “basic philosophical disconnect [that] speaks volumes about the issues we have.” He said there have been “significant lapses in communication” between city staff and the commission. Rand's presentation was representative of his own opinions, and not clearned with any other commissioner.
“The problem is best summed up by the introduction that I received on the day I was sworn in,” Rand 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.”
City Council members reacted with surprise and concern, but had minimal disucssion on the issue.
“You’ve thrown down a pretty serious gauntlet,” Vice Mayor Shawn Marshall said after Rand’s presentation. “I think we need to pay attention to it. I think a lot of this should be taken up offline.”
Mayor Andy Berman said the Council has asked for an investigation into the allegations.
"Our silence then or now should not be interpreted as validating the statements made or the manner in which they were shared," Berman said in an email. "Until that investigation is completed, I really can not comment further."
In his presentation, Rand expressed the need to formalize a requirement for a study session for all new construction so that projects don’t go straight into the design review process with applicants creating expensive and detailed plans that contain basic problems.
“Understandably, owners of projects that are not approved on the basis of such fundamental issues are very upset at the wasted cost of preparing complete drawings before the underlying conceptual sketches are reviewed,” Rand said.
When an applicant chooses to forgo a study session and goes straight to the design review, the problem is compounded by the fact that Planning Department staff frequently recommend approval of the project, according to Rand. The project applicants are often then "surprised by the commission's lack of enthusiasm," he said.
“I have requested that staff refrain from setting forth a recommendation that the commission approve design review,” Rand said. “It has been my experience that the visions that those on the commission have for the development of Mill Valley very frequently differ from those of staff on those subject matters that go into design review.”
Rand cited "one very large project" that "is still pending," likely the controversial Blithedale Terrace proposal to build 20 residential units on land at the base of Kite Hill along East Blithedale Ave. near Camino Alto. That project has languished in recent months before the Planning Commission formally holds a hearing on the project's Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and its overall merits.
Planning Director Mike Moore said part of the Planning Department’s job is to schedule projects that it feels should be approved for the Planning Commission’s agenda.
“Our recommendation is only one component of the complete public hearing process,” Moore said. “Part of our responsibility as staff is to be able to make a recommendation. And that’s exactly what it is. It’s a recommendation.”
Moore said he was surprised by Rand’s presentation, and wasn’t previously aware of his concerns.
“My department and I have to have a close working relationship with the Planning Commission and have good communication to make sure we’re on the same page on a lot of these issues,” Moore said. “If that communication is not the way it should be, obviously that’s important and something we need to get resolved.”
The City Council also briefly revisited Rand’s presentation toward the end of its meeting.
"I think we need to follow up on the planning commission presention," said Councilmember Garry Lion. "I don't know quite how to do that but I think people ought to put thier heads together and in a tactful way figure out how real and deep the problem is."
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