Mayor pulls agenda item related to Planning Commission membership

March 06, 2009
Santa Paula City Council

Annoying as it may be Mayor Ralph Fernandez acknowledged that the Planning Commission has the right and duty to act independently and pulled an agenda item at the March 2 City Council meeting that could have led to the removal of some or all of its members.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesAnnoying as it may be Mayor Ralph Fernandez acknowledged that the Planning Commission has the right and duty to act independently and pulled an agenda item at the March 2 City Council meeting that could have led to the removal of some or all of its members.But his prepared remarks also stated he hopes the Commission would reconsider the Council’s request to delay any decision-making until a vacant seat on the panel is filled.Fernandez made his remarks to a packed Council chamber a week after Commissioners defied the Council’s direction to postpone votes on land-use decisions until a new fifth member could be seated, a move expected in April.The vacancy was created by the Council’s removal of Jesse Ornelas, an employee of Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation, which has been locked in litigation with the city over the proposed Plaza Amistad low-income housing development.Late last month the Commission - after a failed motion to delay business per Council direction - proceeded with a public hearing on Plaza Amistad, the only business before the panel.Cabrillo’s attorney Barbara Macri-Ortiz wrote a letter to Fernandez claiming that Council actions toward Commissioners leading to a manipulation of its decisions would deny CEDC its due process rights.At the March 2 meeting Fernandez said he wanted to make his own comment before other remarks.Fernandez read that he would make the motion to pull from the agenda the item related to Planning Commission members, “like every other city board and committee” made up of “community volunteers.”Every Commissioner “takes an enormous amount of time to research and review planning applications” it then considers, sacrificing family time and the pursuit of personal interests “in order to help improve our community.”Noting that the Council had “recently asked” that the Commission hold off on decision-making until a new member is appointed, Fernandez noted the “Commission, in its wisdom, declined to take that action and proceeded with a public hearing regarding a pending project.”Asking that the Council’s request be reconsidered “since it is vital that the Planning Commission consider projects with full membership,” Fernandez noted it is the Commission’s “right and duty to act independently from the City Council” and although “...this may annoy me,” he respects the Commissioners’ desire to “do the right thing...Fernandez said he recognized that each Commissioner, “whether I agree with their position or not, is acting in good conscience. The crux of our democracy is for all of our citizens to act in good faith for the betterment of our community,” and he believes that each current Commissioner is “fulfilling that objective.”During public comment Erin Brenner said he had attended the Commission’s Feb. 24 meeting and was “very proud of both sides” as the split Commissioners weighed whether or not to follow Council direction.
It is not right, he added, to appoint Commissioners on “the way they lean...”Jesse Ornelas, who was removed from the Commission by the Council in early February, said Commissioners “did nothing wrong,” but rather stuck to their duties.After making remarks about the proposed Plaza Amistad development, Ornelas urged the Council to “Let (Commissioners) do their job without fear of reprisal...anything less,” is discriminatory and sends a troubling message to the community.Larry Sagely disagreed and said the action taken by the Council to remove Ornelas was a “right decision,” as Ornelas’ conflict of interest was “glaring...”The Council also made the right decision to ask the Commission to hold off on decision-making until they have a full panel. Commissioners’ acted irresponsibly and the Council should start with a “clean slate.” Present Commissioners, noted Sagely, could then reapply.Ventura Planning Commissioner Dan Long said he supported the Commission and noted the Council does not always have to agree with the panel’s decisions but retains the right to overturn same.Puppet commissions, said Peter Wright, must be avoided.Andrew Castaneda asked the Council to remove the “defiant members” of the Commission who exhibited “insubordinate behavior” that warranted a complete sweep.Commissioners could reapply and Castaneda said the Council could just reappoint those that agree with them: “Please take the bull by the horns, do not wobble” on the issue.“I expected over the last week to be addressing the Council for the last time tonight after 34 years of public service,” said Planning Commission Chairman Paul Skeels, who served as the city’s Fire Chief and interim city manager.“I want to say two things before I sit down...I and the other Commissioners including Jesse (Ornelas) in my opinion did their very best and do their very best” and intend to continue to do so.The Council does have the right to appoint Commissioners, but “it is my firm belief that once appointed the Planning Commission works for” the city and community and not for the Council.“You have a very difficult job to do,” said Skeels, “so do we...”The Planning Commission meets again March 10.

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