In a surprise development on the eve of a much-anticipated City of Sonoma Planning Commission hearing, Commissioner Chip Roberson submitted his letter of resignation from the commission this week, effective immediately. The reason he gave, in a letter to Planning Department Director David Goodison, was the non-renewal of fellow commissioner Ron Wellander’s appointment to the seven-member commission.
“I really don’t know how to put this into words but in light of recent developments,” reads the letter, “I feel that I can no longer serve on the commission. While I have had my disagreements with the City Council in the past… the decision not to nominate Commissioner Wellander for his second term was a final straw for me.”
Wellander, at the end of his first two-year term, was serving this year as vice-chair, behind James Cribb. Planning commissioners are nominated by the Mayor, and approved by the full City Council. Term lengths vary – the first term is two years, a second term is four years, and a third term is two years.
Wellander said he was contacted by City Clerk Rebekah Barr early last week to set up a meeting with Mayor Rachel Hundley to discuss his role, and expected a renomination. Wellander, Hundley and City Councilmember Amy Harrington – who joined the Mayor on the two-person committee for selecting members of the Planning Commission – met on Wednesday afternoon, March 15, for about 20 minutes.
During that conversation, Wellander recalled, "the Mayor asked me if I had come to any decision” on three significant projects the city is facing – the affordable housing project at 20269 Broadway, the Hotel Sonoma Project on West Napa, and the First Street East mixed-use development – which is on Planning Commission March 23 agenda.
“I told them I had not," said Wellander. "I have not received all the information on the projects and have not reached a decision.”
Hundley remembers the interview differently. "There were never any questions about what people’s opinions were. We asked if people had taken a public stance on things, because we were trying to find people who weren’t going on the record about projects that were coming up.
“None of this was about any particular slant toward projects, it was about finding people who would be good on the Planning Commission and make a good General Plan,” she said referring to the expected general plan update later this year.
Several days later on Tuesday, March 21, Wellander said he had a phone conversation with Hundley when she told him he was not being renominated. However since he would still be an official member of the commission until a replacement was appointed, he was eligible to attend the March 23 meeting as a commissioner.
Wellander declined, choosing not to spend the preparation time on a role he would no longer be playing.
Roberson's reasons for leaving the commission are different. He has served for over seven years, and was in his final term when he resigned.
“Through my whole term,” Roberson told the Index-Tribune, “I have never felt any kind of pressure from city council to act one way or the other, that I always felt that I could be there as a representative of the community, to listen to all those who come forward to speak, to interpret the city code and the city plan, and act accordingly.”