Friends and supporters,
Because of your efforts last year, the City Council agreed to honor citizen-led democracy in Sonoma, and stop the runaway politicizing of the planning commission. Thanks to the leadership of City Council members Agrimonti, Cook and Edwards, the light of transparency now shines on the Planning Commission selection process.
Unfortunately, there still remains an open backdoor for continued politicizing of the Planning Commission: the fact that an appeal of a Planning Commission decision can be filed for only $400. That’s right – the City Planning staff can spend hundreds of hours analyzing a project, the Planning Commission can spend months or even years working on a project, the City attorney, the fire marshal, and City engineer can invest countless hours, and for $400 the entire effort can be undermined by a few loud voices, whether a vocal minority, NIMBYs, or puppets of a political power play. And make no mistake about it, us taxpayers are helping foot the bill for all the wasted City Staff time and legal costs.
This has happened time and again in the past with appeals filed that have no merit – they merely regurgitate issues that have already been considered by the planning commission and force City staff and the City Attorney to waste countless hours defending the Planning Commission’s decision.
Sonoma citizens made it very clear last year that they want to see the City Council respect the work of its Commissions and its City Staff.
On February 5th, the City Council faces its first litmus test to fulfill their promise to support the Planning Commission under the leadership of Mayor Agrimonti in 2018. At that meeting the council will be hearing the appeals, filed by a group of NIMBY neighbors, of 3 single-family home applications, that were approved by the Planning Commission in August and September, after two years of careful review.
When these projects came before the Planning Commission, City staff directed them to evaluate the projects using development standards, a number of design guidelines, and a number of non-quantified objectives. In the Findings of the Project Approval, the commission found that the developments are consistent with the general plan, comply with all applicable standards and regulations of the development code, that the project’s uses are compatible with the existing and future land uses in the vicinity, and that they will not impair the architectural integrity and character of the zoning district surrounding it. They even designated 23 conditions of approval to ensure that their findings are followed.
The appeals are frivolous and reek of NIMBY politics. They are a waste of City Staff’s time and taxpayers’ money. Please consider coming to the City Council meeting on February 5th at 6:00PM in the Community Meeting Room and say no to frivolous and political appeals.
The victim of this latest NIMBY assault, Bill Jasper, Sonoma resident, community leader, and philanthropist, did a very nice video asking friends to help support his thoughtful and beautiful project below. Please take a look.
Support the Planning Commission and good projects!
Friends and supporters,
Because of your efforts the City Council admitted the process is broken and are ‘disappointed with the secret City Hall behavior.’ We are making great progress on this important issue however, we still have much important work ahead of us. Please watch this video, share with your friends and neighbors and sign the petition!
Dear City Council Members,
As an eleven-year resident of our special little town there have been few occasions necessitating the writing of this kind of letter. I share with you the belief that participatory democracy means you get to have your say; you just don’t necessarily get your way. That is the reason we have a City Council. We look to you as our elected representatives to be good stewards of our government and to act in the best interests of our town and its citizens.
I’m gravely concerned our Mayor, the Honorable Rachel Hundley, is attempting to hijack the Planning Commission and the democratic process. I first became aware of Wellander’s sudden replacement last Thursday evening at a Planning Commission meeting, and quickly learned more the following morning when the Sonoma Index-Tribune exposed her latest move to recast Sonoma’s commissions to fit her bill. This unusual turn of events prompted me to investigate a little so I could better understand the situation. What I discovered, and what is at stake, made me uneasy enough to write to you today. Here are the facts as I understand them:
- Recently Mayor Hundley and Council member Harrington asked Commissioner Wellander inappropriately leading questions on how he would weigh in on upcoming votes. His balanced answers opposed their views. Commissioner Wellander was fired shortly after. This is the first time that a planning commissioner, who by all accounts has done a good job, has not been reappointed.
- Mayor Hundley defended the move by saying “We asked…because we were trying to find people who weren’t going on the record about projects that were coming up.”
- Commissioner Wellander’s swift replacement is James Bohar who has gone on record multiple times against a key item currently before the commission, and is part of a vocal NIMBY group known as Protect Sonoma who is 100% opposed to upcoming projects. Could Mayor Hundley explain how appointing Mr. Bohar is consistent with her statement in 2?
Jim Bohar’s signature on Protect Sonoma – Stop FSE petition
“Jim Bohar, resident, First Street West, is disappointed with the mixed use designation and guidelines as applied to the neighborhood and felt this type of proposal might start a negative trend. In his view, the commercialization of this area is not appropriate and should be rejected.”
We now find ourselves in the unprecedented situation of one mayor being able to appoint four planning commission members in under a month’s time.
By refusing to re-nominate a sitting Commissioner, the Mayor has thwarted City Municipal Code section 2.40.030 which requires a three-fifths vote of the entire City Council to remove a commissioner. Citizens have the right to expect our public officials to follow and uphold the letter and the spirit of our laws.
Mayor Hundley appointed Mr. Bohar for the March 24th meeting of the Planning Commission. Mr. Bohar has taken a position against the FSE project which was the purpose for the Planning Commission meeting on the night of the 24th. I objected to Mr. Bohar’s presence that evening and suggested common sense dictates he should recuse himself. It didn’t happen.
I feel betrayed by the Mayor’s actions. I voted for her. I voted for her because she ran on a platform promising affordable housing and sustainable tourism. Mayor Hundley has made it clear she opposes the type of smart Sonoma development that she pledged to support when asking for our vote. She terminated a commissioner who chose to follow the rule of law over the Mayor’s political agenda.
The city council should refuse to ratify any new appointments from the mayor until Mr. Wellander is re-nominated by the Mayor. In addition, Mr. Bohar should be removed by a vote of 3/5 of the council since it is obvious that had the Mayor known about his public stance against the First Street East project, she would not have nominated him under her criteria for selection. Remember, per city code, while the mayor nominates, it takes a vote of 3/5 council members to ratify any nomination – it is not automatic.
I firmly believe significant measures should be taken to ensure the commission is not further politicized and I will be closely watching Commissioner Mike Coleman’s seat. I think we all agree we cannot afford to lose him while the planning commission attempts to stabilize itself after this recent turn of events.
On behalf of Sonoma’s concerned citizens, I’m asking for your help to guarantee there are adequate checks and balances in place to keep our Mayor on track to accomplish what she promised Sonoma: smart housing, smart tourism, smart water use. We urge you to closely review codes 2.40.100, 2.40.070 and 2.40.030* and push the fullest extent of your powers to provide the town of Sonoma with a sense that the rule of law will be protected.
Joseph M. Aaron
*For those of you who don’t typically speak in city code, here are definitions and my notes:
2.40.070 Term of office.
No commissioner shall serve for a total of more than eight years. A commissioner shall first be appointed for a two-year term; the council may reappoint a commissioner to a second term of four years and may also reappoint a commissioner to a third term of two years. All reappointments shall be made at the sole discretion of the city council utilizing the procedures contained in SMC 2.40.100. (Ord. 99-15 § 2, 2000; Ord. 87-8 § 1, 1987).
Except when filling a vacancy on a commission of a city elector position as described in SMC 2.40.110(D), appointments to city commissions shall be filled by nomination of the mayor and ratification by the city council. (Ord. 07-2015 § 2, 2015; Ord. 2003-03 § 1, 2003; Ord. 84-8 § 2, 1984. Formerly 2.40.110).
All commissioners serve at the pleasure of the council and may be removed from any commission by a three-fifths vote of the full council. (Ord. 84-8 § 2, 1984).
This tells me nominations must be ratified, which can only take place if the city council votes by majority vote to approve. If city council doesn’t approve of a nominee, they may ask for another nomination(s) until they are satisfied. Please note, anyone can be removed by 3/5 vote of the full council.