Last week we sent you an alert to be aware of City Council proceedings regarding the Planning Commission. Since October of last year, we have asked Council to agendize for public input and further discussion the reduction in Planning Commission members and the transfer of design review functions to city staff. We hoped to show that in asking to restore the original number of Planning Commission members to seven from a current five members and to restore the broad oversight of the design review standards back to the Planning Commission for new and remodeled housing, there will be more transparency and public participation in the process of city planning.
Unfortunately, Council voted to keep the number of Commissioners at five, in keeping with the number of other commissions that they had also reduced in size. Despite numerous requests from residents to agendize the transfer of the design review function to city staff, Council has refused to do so.
We believe that this is the wrong decision because:
The Planning Commission is the voice of the people. Its members bring expertise from diverse professional fields. As residents, they are aware of our concerns. Seven members give an even broader range of experience, and make it easier to convene with a quorum to make decisions.
The State of California has recently passed many new housing laws, often overriding cities’ zoning laws. Our Planning Commission is vital to monitoring and understanding these laws. The Planning Commission reviews any proposed remodel or new house that is outside our zoning. The most common examples are a house that is over 3500 square feet, or is two story. With a staff review, the plans are reviewed in private. Residents have no way of knowing what is happening, until after decisions are made.
The current Planning Commission is an experienced cohesive group. One Commissioner will be termed out in July, two more in a year. Seven Commissioners are crucial to maintain the continuity and expertise of the Commission. It can take up to a year for a new Commissioner to understand how the Commission works. Five on the commission will mean that in two years, there will be only two experienced members.
We on the Preserve Sierra Madre Steering Committee are concerned that city planning is no longer open and transparent. There are currently seven applications being considered by the planning department staff. A couple applications are minor; however, the others would have been considered before the Planning Commission instead of city staff. Review by the Planning Commission means the application and all submitted materials would be available on line, and public discussion during an open meeting would occur. Applicants, neighbors and concerned citizens would be able to review and discuss each project. Currently, none of this is happening. Instead, interested neighbors and residents must figure out how to view this online, or make a trip to City Hall in the three hours allotted in a week to view the plans at City Hall. Without a public meeting, we residents do even know what has been submitted! For your information, current submitted plans are: 503 Acacia, 776 Valle Vista, 358 N Canon, 421 Mariposa, 677 W Montecito, 365 Toyon, and 718 Manzanita.
We send this to you as part of our mission to keep you informed. Changes were made during the Covid lockdown with limited public input and oversight. It’s time for us to be aware of what has been done over the past year and a half. We encourage you to participate in your City Government by watching or attending the Planning Commission meetings as well as the City Council meetings. The next Planning Commission meetings are June 3 and 17 and City Council meetings are June 8 and 22. As always, we encourage you to email your Council members or speak up about the issues that concern you. Feel free to send this letter to your Sierra Madre Friends.
Please send any questions or comments to Preservesierramadrenow@gmail.com