Protect the job of Arroyo Grande’s Planning Commission
November 9, 2015
OPINION By OTIS PAGE
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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