Editorial: Sonoma Planning Commission appeals self
The linguistics term “collocation” refers to a combination of words that are paired with such frequency that they’ve fallen into common parlance as a single term. Examples are thank you, fast food, big deal, ladies first, etc.
With that in mind, here’s a good one to describe the Sept. 4 meeting of the Sonoma Planning Commission: Painfully awkward.
That’s the only adverb-adjective one-two punch that aptly captures the tone in Council Chambers last week when the commission ostensibly gathered to hear public feedback on the revised draft Environmental Impact Report for the Hotel Sonoma Project, the long-deliberated 62-room hotel and 80-seat restaurant proposed for West Napa Street.
But not everyone left the meeting discussing the new inclusionary housing alternative in the EIR. Instead, a lot of post-meeting buzz was about Planning Commissioner Carol Jansen’s public chiding of city planning staff over what basically amounts to personnel matters within their own department.
Here’s an overly brief recent history of the Sonoma Planning Department: Sonoma Planning Director David Goodison announced his impending retirement last March, saying he’d hang up his planning cleats for good in early August, after more than three decades with the department. Then the department’s institutional knowledge took another major blow in June when longtime senior planner Rob Gjestland took a job with a private consulting firm. The City brought in retired Fairfax planning director Jim Moore on a part-time interim basis, while it conducted a broader search for a permanent replacement. But after only two weeks into the post-Goodison era, on Aug. 20, Moore unexpectedly resigned.
For those who follow city planning diegesis, the clear question was: Who’s steering the planning ship with so many project applications coming down the pike?
In an email to the Index-Tribune, City Manager Cathy Capriola described it as “a rebuild and transition time for the Planning Department,” noting that the high cost of living in Sonoma, coupled with the better pay of private-sector planning gigs, makes recruitment a challenge.
In the meantime, the City has brought on Jim Reese, a planning consultant with Management Partners, on a two-day per week schedule to lead Sonoma’s department while the search for a director continues.
Nevertheless, time waits for no one – and, in the world of city planning departments, neither do development proposals. The show must go on.
And it was about to Sept. 4, when Planning Commissioner Jansen strayed from the hotel-EIR-agenda at hand to request that the comment period for commissioners be moved to the beginning of the meeting in order for the public to hear her questions to staff. The commission agreed, and Jansen set in with a minor interrogation of city staff – she repeatedly demanded explanations about Moore’s departure, made Reese detail how his work schedule was impacting the Commission’s meeting calendar, and rebuked Commission Chair Bob Felder’s attempts to steer her back to the agenda at hand.
“No. I’m not going to do that,” Jansen responded, when Felder suggested she change her line of questioning. “I’m going to ask the question and I want an answer.”
Jansen’s pointed, at times patronizing, line of questioning to staff went on and on. Meanwhile, the other commission members stirred uncomfortably in their chairs, or simply stared at their shoes.
For whatever reason, Jansen had clearly planned to put the beleaguered staff on the hot seat – earlier in the meeting she’s said she wanted as much of the public to hear her questions as possible, an indication she was hoping to make a spectacle. At one point, when she didn’t get an answer she liked from staff, she sat back and threw her hands in the air.