The first punch was thrown during Tuesday night’s meeting of the Monterey Planning Commission when two commission members, David Stocker and Paul Davis, received emails from Mayor Clyde Roberson and Vice Mayor Alan Haffa asking them to withdraw their applications for reappointment to the commission.
Roberson and Haffa constitute the council’s nominating committee for commission appointments and they indicated in the emails that they have essentially decided to impose term limits for commission members though neither the council nor voters have enacted term limits. Traditionally, a two-person committee nominates residents for commission appointments that are then voted on by the five-member council.
The terms of four commissioners, including Stocker and Davis, are set to expire and the city has received applications from two others active in city politics, Rick Heuer and Sharon Dwight. Heuer is a lobbyist for the hospitality association and has been an adviser to the mayor, especially during the current effort by other council members to toss out a set of sweetheart leases between the city and wharf-related businesses. Dwight is a key figure in the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Program.
(UPDATE: Heuer says he has not applied for a position on the Planning Commission. Roberson says he cannot comment because commission applications are confidential under California law, specifically the Maddy Act, which requires government bodies to advertise commission openings. The text of the Maddy Act makes no reference to confidentiality, however, and a spot check of other jurisdictions found that commission applications in many California cities make it clear that the applications are subject to public disclosure under the state Public Records Act. Monterey’s application, however, says the form remains confidential until the appointment process is complete. The spot check turned up one other city, Ripon, that labels the applications confidential.)
The terms of Planning Commissioners Willard McCrone and Luis Osorio are also set to expire but they apparently have not received emails asking them to resign. McCrone has been a leading force behind the effort to require wharf business to begin paying market rates for their space. The business and the hospitality industry has mounted a campaign to beat back the increases by portraying city officials as incompetent and uncaring. Perhaps not incidentally, Roberson and Haffa have been on opposite sides of that debate, with the mayor siding with established wharf interests and opposing the reform efforts.
McCrone commented Wednesday, “I expect my (email) any moment, and Luis Osorio, too. That is four of seven commissioners from the best PC on the Central Coast, by far. Dismissing over 50 years of experience. It will have the effect of gutting the Waterfront Master Plan, in which we have pushed to recapture some of the waterfront from the wharf merchants for the public. The Plan has been languishing in the back room for over 6 months while Clyde waits to get rid of us. ”
In a response email to the City Council and the rest of the Planning Commission, Stocker wrote that if the City Council wants to establish term limits, fine, but only after the matter is subject to an “open, public council discussion and decision.” As it is, the attempt by Roberson and Haffa to reshape the commission is simply “unacceptable,” Stocker said in a phone interview Wednesday. Stocker, a builder, has been on the commission for at least 15 years.
Davis, an architect, couldn’t be reached for immediate comment, but Stocker said he had spoken to his commission colleague.
“He said this is bullshit and he’ll fight,” Stocker said.
City Councilwoman Libby Downey said she also considered the attempted elimination of the commissioners as unacceptable.
“I’m very disturbed,” she said. “Two people cannot do this.” And if Roberson has received support from Councilman Ed Smith, which would provide him with a council majority, it would be a violation of the state’s open meetings law, Downey said.
Downey and others have said that Roberson ultimately would like to do away with the Planning Commission, partly because he believes it has too much authority on some matters and adds unnecessary bureaucracy on others.
The letter from Roberson and Haffa to Stocker reads:
Thank you for your years of dedicated service on the Planning Commission to keep Monterey a special place to live, work, and visit. We value your contributions and caring for our precious City.
At this time, our subcommittee feels that it is time to allow other dedicated citizens to serve. We feel that 8 consecutive years on the Planning Commission in a good number. Going forward, it is important to bring a variety of people from the community onto our commissions.
Unlike other commissions, the Planning Commission often acts as a quasi-judicial body, and many instances, is the final approval body.
If you decide to take a break, we hope you will apply again in the future. If you desire a break, you might consider withdrawing your application for the Planning Commission so it is clear that you are not being “fired,” which is absolutely not the case.
The subcommittee does not want to lose your expertise and experience. To that end, we hope you will consider serving either on the Architectural Review Commission or Historic Preservation Commission. There are openings on both, and both would benefit from your membership.
We hope to hear your positive response on the ARC and HPC opportunities. Please let us know as soon as possible.
Mayor and Vice-Mayor
Here is Stocker’s response:
Last October, during the election cycle, when we met at Libby’s, you had said that you would be putting in term limits for all committees, including the NIP (Neighborhood Improvement Program), and therefore, you would not support me for another planning commission appointment. When you said that, I had indicated that if that was the decision of the council, I would consider a different committee. The council has not voted on term limits, and I believe that discussion should happen, instead of it being put in place on select committees and individuals. I understand that my long service to the city has been at the pleasure of the Council, that is the essence of an appointed position, and it has been my pleasure to serve the city. But if the decisions not to reappoint are due to time limits, it should be a open, public, council discussion and decision.
I wish you all the best.