Protect the Planning Commission, they say



People in San Luis Obispo County really like their Planning Commission. That was the sentiment Aug. 12 when the Board of Supervisors was asked to shift some regulatory powers from the commission to non-appointed planning staff, and the public turned out in force.

The idea was proposed as a way to streamline planning and building applications, which have been criticized for taking as long as six months just to reach the Planning Commission. County supervisors voted unanimously not to move forward with the idea, but the proposal managed to evoke some heartfelt pleas from the public.

“In the name of efficiency and speed, we have not only ignored the voices around us, we have silenced the voices within,” Liana Forest said, clasping her hands in front of her chest as she spoke.

If the plan had gone through, it would have shifted the final say over tract maps, some land use permits, time extensions for tract maps, and road abandonments to the Subdivision Review Board and Administrative Hearing Officer. Warren Hoag, Planning Department division manager, admitted that the shift would shave off about 10 percent of the Planning Commission’s workload. But in doing so, it would redirect authority to two agencies that are comprised of staff members and not appointed members of the public like the Planning Commission.

“I find there is an inherent conflict in their roles,” Istar Holliday said of planning staff approving projects.

About two dozen people approached the podium with similar concerns. They spoke of the Planning Commission as a channel for public input into government, an effect not achievable through the Subdivision Review Board or Administrative Hearing Officer.

“I don’t want staff policing itself,” Robin Chapman said. “I think there needs to be another layer, and that’s what the Planning Commission is for, and that’s what public input is for.”

Although county supervisors decided not to go forward with the workload shifts as proposed, there was a consensus that it takes too long to get a project through the system. The board agreed that there should be some streamlining, but advocated other methods, such as an additional Planning Commission meeting each month. Supervisor Harry Ovitt also suggested that the county consider reorganizing the Subdivision Review Board to include some appointed members rather than just county staff.

Meanwhile, the board voted to create a committee that will draft proposals to make the planning and building departments more efficient. The committee will report back by Oct. 14.

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