Protect the job of Arroyo Grande’s Planning Commission

November 9, 2015
Arroyo Grande City Council

Arroyo Grande City Council


I am beginning to understand the issues about developer Nick Thompkins and the Arroyo Grande City Council’s consideration to dismiss Mayor Jim Hill’s appointee to the Planning Commission, John Mack. The matter is scheduled for hearing at the City Council meeting on Nov. 10.

First, certain council members — with Planning Commission backgrounds — have appeared to encourage Thompkins to take his project directly to the City Council thereby emasculating the Planning Commission’s final review on the Courtland matter. Thompkins requested the Planning Commission deny the project so that it could be immediately considered by council members friendly to his plan.

Tompkins was obviously upset with Mack’s comments on his project and responded by filing a conflict of interest complaint. The FPPC denied the complaint. Tompkins has additional projects coming before the Planning Commission and has sought cooperation with certain council members to have Mack removed — with alleged implications to embarrass highly regarded Mayor Jim Hill.

Second, those certain council  members have strongly supported Thompkins in his visions regarding the city — befitting his business model — with both positive and negative future implications for the city in terms of infrastructure requirements and the city’s character.

Third, there are certain negative consequences for pursuing the Thompkins/Mack issue since there appears to be no winners by its resolution — neither for Thompkins, Mack, the council or the city. This is an apparent exercise in hostility, what many citizens believe is an inquisition alleging Mack as a virtual heretic (staff report is 88 pages!). It promises to bear negative fruit for all.

By allowing the consideration to dismiss Mack’s appointment to the Planning Commission, those certain council members approving this initiative join what many citizens believe is an attempt by a developer to intimidate the city’s planning process. This poses as a serious negative precedent.

Fourth. This is basically an argument between Thompkins and Mack and the council should not have been involved. Since the council has now involved itself, I suggest the problem is the council is not defining the real problem. The problem involves  the planning process of the city.

In defining the real problem we may avoid a political disaster by addressing the real opportunity presented by the problem. Bear with me as I explain as follows:

I believe every problem presents opportunities, but one must understand the difference between a problem and a disaster. The people did not have a problem standing on the stern of the Titanic as it sank — nor the people on that Russian plane brought down in the Sinai –. They faced a disaster.

The analogy here for the citizens of Arroyo Grande is the Thompkins/Mack issue may spell political disaster for all where, I suggest, if it is treated as a problem, the opportunity presented may be constructive and positive. So, what is the problem?

I suggest what is happening is that Thompkin’s vision for the city may be positive and challenging and Mack’s planning discipline is regulatory and positive . Both should be married and executed in the framework of a new definition of the city’s general plan. Otherwise, the political fulcrum is decisively negative.

I suggest Mack item on the council’s agenda for Nov. 10 be abandoned. The city’s council should act on a new general plan definition. It should be articulated with citizen involvement — serving the best tradition in seeking citizen consensus.

Thompkins should be encouraged and assisted in his sincere business objectives for the city. But the planning process — if it is to have integrity — as exemplified by Mack’s and the other planning commissioner’s guidance — requires staff discipline in the context of citizen cooperation if it is not to be overwhelmed by the city’s legislative body — the city council.

Otherwise, the council’s actions will be interpreted as being overwhelmingly influenced by developer interests — which is obviously apparent to many citizens — in the present Thompkins/Mack matter.

In summary. I suggest that the Thompkins/Mack matter turn into a positive analysis and restatement of the city’s general plan. Forget 12a on the council agenda on Nov. 10. Otherwise, this Council will be approaching if not provoking a controversy paralleling that which occurred in 2014.

Otis Page is a citizen of Arroyo Grande.

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  1. CentralcoastRN says:

    Look, I am going to just say this again:

    Have the City Council actually BEEN TO THIS SITE??????

    I am serious.

    The plan makes NO sense.

    You have this cute little neighborhood, Berry Gardens. Then you drive north, where People’s Self Help Housing managed to get a 35ish unit low cost project put in with some parking in the complex, but of course people park on the street. Ok, it still works. But THEN, you have this MASSIVE 5 acre THING that is supposed to be a mix/match-hodge/podge of commercial-residential mess. The truth is, it is going to end up being a low income project of stuff that needs 78 parking spots that there are not 78 spaces FOR. If commercial property actually DOES mix into this property, where do the trucks go? A few years ago, a truck actually accidentally drove up onto the sidewalk and HIT A KID ON A BIKE!!! Luckily the kid was not hurt because the parent was right there.

    I know all of this because I read some of the reports posted about this intersection by the architect the council HATES.

    I am a pragmatic gal. I like progress. I like a town that’s “happening”. But I don’t like myself, my neighbor’s, my kids getting run over. I don’t like the down looking like SHIT either. You don’t have one block looking like a Norman Rockwell portrait where hardworking families go to college with Masters degrees and bust their asses to buy their house and keep It nice, then ONE block down the street have a QUICK-E mart and homeless shelter that is ugly as hell with 78 cars parked illegally and kids getting hit. It makes no sense. THIS IS WHY WE HAVE CITY PLANNERS!!!!!! THIS IS WHY CITIES HAVE “CITY COUNCILS”. People don’t wear those suits to stare at themselves. I know our council members think this, but I want to remind them that there are events like the SLO Kazoo Symphony for that.

    Doesn’t this infuriate you all? I read about our “political leaders” and think they must have the IQ of Bubba Gump. Can they not envision the end result? I mean, they will have to at some point get their little asshole children Panda Express at that intersection, and they will see the chaos they have rain downed upon us all.

    If this passes, and that corner becomes some low income ghetto crappy shopping center, my hope is they name that hole after this council people…… I truly do.

    (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down
    • CentralcoastRN says:

      I apologize for the profanities that have escaped my soul today. You cannot really blame me. Anyone with a shred of intelligence who tries to understand the “logic” and stay sane without having a stroke or losing it is very difficult these days. I will try and behave….

      (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
      • whatsinaname says:

        Do you even live in Arroyo Grande? I ask because basically Grand Avenue is entirely made up of storefronts on Grand with residential housing immediately behind them. The property next door at Grand and Oak Park is an unappealing strip mall with housing directly behind. The Courtland street corner with Starbucks and Panda is of simple design as well. Grand Avenue is not and never will be a street that people meander down for shopping. People stop at a store for a specific reason and go on their way.

        So what should be built at that empty lot? I bet if you polled 100 people you’d get 100 different answers. The property owner does have the right to do something there, but every attempt seems to be shot down. So the question I’d ask is exactly what do people envision at that spot.

        I like the idea of some residential at the back of this development, but as usual, there are too many units and not enough parking. The residential needs to be scaled back. I would have liked to see a grocery store here, but that was shot down. Another good use would be a theme type center where people would stop and browse multiple stores. Maybe a craft and hobby theme, maybe an outdoor sports theme (fishing, camping, surfing).

        Instead of ranting and criticizing everything, I’d be interested to hear solutions.

        (0) 4 Total Votes - 2 up - 2 down
        • CentralcoastRN says:

          Yes I do. The last time an opinion piece on this issue was discussed, I was very descriptive about this intersection. I have read all about the proposals for this property. I am disgusted the City Council decided that since they “didn’t like” Mack’s opinion, who is an architect by the way, they just dismiss him and they will just “figure it out” on their own with all their “expertise” I guess.

          The real issue for me is safety and parking. The ugliness is secondary, as I do feel for the residents of Berry Gardens.

          A grocery store? There is Vons, there is smart and final, and dollar tree within several hundred feet of each other. How many grocery stores do you need? There is that California Fresh on 5 Cities Drive, Country Crock (crap), of course you can buy stuff at “the Walmart”. Trader Joes. I am sure I am missing places.

          The architect said building could be done, but it should be scaled down due to the traffic concerns. Instead of 38 apartments, how about 28? That was what Mack said. Oh no, that was not acceptable, and the property owner filed a complaint against Mack. Compromise and reasonable concessions were not allowed!!!!

          Where are the cars for 38 apartments going to park? If a grocery store went in there AND residential, where would all those cars park? Where would the TRUCKS delivering produce, dairy, meat park? Where would the garbage go? There are logistics to consider.

          I am not simply just “criticizing”. I am being pragmatic. I am using “critical thinking skills”.

          As a 5 Cities resident, I am trying to ask myself what I “want” and what I “need” as a spender and a consumer. I PERSONALLY don’t want or need ANOTHER grocery store. If I cannot get an item I want, I will drive to SLO or Santa Maria to Costco, whole foods or something. It isn’t like we don’t have CARS nowadays.

          Here is my PERSONAL opinion, and you can take it for what it is. My money is on them making is government subsidized housing. Shhh. No one wants to talk about it. It makes people mad. It is a BIG money maker for the property owners, because the government heavily subsidizes those properties, so even IF renters flake out on the rent, the owners are getting most of their rent. In addition, government programs will make needed repairs! EOC has weatherization programs for low income renters. Now, the City Council will try and shove 38 apartments in that space and say that only 38 parking spaces will be needed or whatever, because we all know that low income people will follow the terms of their lease 100 % and NEVER allow additional people to live in their rentals, park their cars on the street, in the lots, etc.

          Do I think we need more affordable housing on the Central Coast? Sure. The problem is the term “affordable”, who “gets” (the process by which housing is doled out to people in “need”).

          Now, if I had MY way, I would have the whole 5 acre parcel be an artist showcase if I could have my “dream”. Do some focus groups to see if there would enough local artists of all kinds and types to set up shops and display uniques wares in each a variety of local shops. That way, a “tourist” could go from shop to shop, eat some taffy, look at some local jewelry, buy some nerdy comic books, grab a cup of coffee.

          There are a LOT of ideas of what that place COULD be with the appropriate planning. Sadly, it probably will not happen because the City Council doesn’t seem willing to let experts discuss ideas. And THAT is why I am angry.

          Intelligent people should be able to discuss things. Maybe my idea would NEVER work. And that’s ok. Maybe your idea would NEVER work. It is the discussion that should be able to happen. Our City Council wants to take discussion away. NOT OK.

          (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
          • SLOBodan says:

            CENTRALCoastRN , I love your passion!

            (6) 8 Total Votes - 7 up - 1 down
            • CentralcoastRN says:

              Thank you.

              This whole time, I felt Mack’s responses to the owner were reasonable. He didn’t say “no”. He said, there is too much “stuff” on the space, scale it back. 38 apartments and 4 condos is too much. How about 28 apartments?

              In my family of FOUR, there are three cars. How many cars do you see each family needing? Poll your family. If you have teenagers, you may have quite a few cars. If you have a 1 bedroom apartment even, a couple may each have a car. That’s a whole lot of cars in that area.

              The City Council isn’t thinking about this because they don’t have degrees in planning neighborhoods. ARCHITECTS do. Hmm.

              (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down
  2. Julie says:

    Dear Mayor and Council members,

    Please consider the following:

    To determine whether an official has a conflict of interest many factors must be analyzed.

    For example, is it reasonably foreseeable that the official’s interest will be affected by a particular decision?

    Mack’s home is 1,000 feet from the Courtland Project (300 feet is the rule for CEQA noticing).

    Mack quit claimed the property to his former partner; insuring there was no conflict.

    The General Plan and Specific Plan amendments made for the Courtland Project to “fit” in the city were specific to the 4 acre Tompkins parcel and do not apply to Mr. Mack’s residence.

    Will the decision have a significant monetary impact on the financial interest or is the impact minimal?

    Mack’s benefit/detriment from the Courtland Project is immeasurable.

    Will the decision affect the official’s interest differently than members of the general public?

    Mack’s benefit/detriment differs none from the project’s impact to his neighbors.

    Is the official even making a governmental decision?

    Mack serves on the Arroyo Grande Planning Commission; which is advisory. The City of Arroyo Grande’s Advisory Body Duties & Responsibilities are as stated below:

    “Advisory bodies have the authority and duty to consider, advise, and/or recommend to the City Council or city manager regarding its area of interest. These recommendations may encompass, but are not limited to, programming of improvements, land acquisition, development or ordinances, and development of public interest. The advisory body shall have other authorities and duties as the City Council may, by ordinance, confer upon it.”

    Tompkins FPPC complaint asserts, Mack used his “Political Position” to influence the council.

    Mack voted unanimously with his fellow commissioners to deny the Courtland Project, at the request of the applicant Mr. Tompkins, and was not a “governmental decision.” The vote was advisory only.

    Mr. Mack never identified himself as a Planning Commissioner when he spoke before the City Council. Neither at the Sept. 8 or Oct. 8 public hearings where the Planning Commission’s recommendation was overturned by the majority of the council — the same council members who have asked to remove Mr. Mack from the Planning Commission.

    Mack never argued “against” the Courtland Project, he offered compromised solutions to traffic circulation related to the Courtland Project as proposed.

    To remove Mr. Mack would have a chilling effect on all the city’s commissions and the willingness of volunteers to participate in their city government.

    Thank you for your attention to this very important matter.

    (4) 22 Total Votes - 13 up - 9 down
  3. Otis says:

    Respectfully, agdon, the facts on this matter are presented in the two prior excellent articles provided by the respected journalist, Karen Velie, and the astute presentation on the issue by Leeann Adkins.

    Your assessment suggests mine is based on conjecture, which is based on wrong facts on the matter.

    I suggest yours is just a disagreement on the conclusion provided by the totality of the facts at issue and not on the validity on the facts at issue.

    This is serious stuff. And great harm is the resulting fruit of this matter — and if you do not understand that — please understand that I disagree with you. That is a fact.

    (21) 25 Total Votes - 23 up - 2 down
  4. AGDon says:

    It is always good to see articles like this put in the opinion section which is appropriate since they are generally devoid of fact. Much like the author’s other recent opinion, there is more misinformation that fact.

    In order of Otis’s presentation.

    First, conjecture is not fact. The fact is that Tomkins presented project options before the council first in the form of a unanimously approved agreement. Then he went through the approval process. The fact is that the planning commission indicated that they felt they did not have to follow the agreement that the superior body set up. This, along with Mack’s predisposition to fight anything Tomkins or RRM does, was likely the basis to request a decision and not a continuance so he could get a hearing with the approving body. Anyone would do the same if they found that personal issues were preventing a fair hearing.

    It should also be noted that the FPPC filing is still in review as reported in many places and this was filed after Tomkins completed his process with the city, thereby having no impact to the hearings

    Second, there is no relevant comment in the second attempt to make a point other than the suggestion that city infrastructure is unreasonably burdened. As it is typical that the developer pay these costs and this project was conditioned the same, this is an manipulative statement at best.

    Third, there are winners and losers. Integrity and fairness within our city process will be the winners. Collusion, disregard for the law, back room dealings, and mob rule will be the losers. Otis’s words sound a lot like Tony’s during the Adams issue. I thought we were supposed to get better from the new mayor.

    Fourth, this is not between Tompkins and Mack. Our city’s planning commissioner appears to have circumvented the spirit of the law and undermined the integrity of the process while ignoring city council agreements. And the list is a lot longer than that. It is very appropriate that these issues be heard in public so the citizens know we have a system that attempts to be fair to all.

    The rest of the article lacks in coherence or practical understanding of how cities work, so take it for what’s it’s worth.

    (-11) 39 Total Votes - 14 up - 25 down
    • joseywales says:

      you have your head so far up thompkins arse i dont know where you start and he ends!

      (20) 28 Total Votes - 24 up - 4 down
    • agag1 says:

      What we hoped would stop with the election of a new Mayor are the back room deals NKT got during the Ferrara reign. How about that taxpayer rip off for City Hall? Did that circumvent the spirit of fairness for AG citizens to benefit Mr. Tompkins? ENOUGH!
      The perception for much of the public is that Tompkins has been the recipient of favorable deals for far too long. Cities aren’t supposed to work like THAT.
      Our city is the big loser when developers aren’t all treated fairly and the deck is stacked in favor of one in particular.

      (20) 28 Total Votes - 24 up - 4 down
    • dogeatdog says:

      AG Don, you sir are incorrect with your first fact(?) concerning the agreement (MOU) and that planning commission did not follow it.

      Mr. Martin asked staff about that MOU and staff responded it was there for them to consider and for informational purposes. They were not made to believe they had to follow it. So if you are going to blame anyone blame staff for their response.

      (9) 11 Total Votes - 10 up - 1 down
    • MajorityFan says:

      Unfortunately, you are preaching to the wrongdoers, who will only continue their bullying tactics in spite of factual evidence.

      (-2) 6 Total Votes - 2 up - 4 down

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