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Petaluma council reshapes planning commission

Published: Monday, June 24, 2013 at 7:22 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 24, 2013 at 7:22 a.m.

For the second time in four years, the Petaluma Planning Commission has undergone a wholesale makeover, this time at the hands of the business friendly City Council majority.

A previous council combined two city planning and architectural-review boards, resulting in a single Planning Commission that hears both zoning and design matters.

At the time, the council's environmentally friendly majority won a battle to replace the more business-oriented members of both boards with ones that more closely aligned with their views.

The move produced a Planning Commission that exercised tighter restrictions on growth and greater control over development proposals.

It also deepened a rift between political opponents, with Councilman Mike Healy calling the changes a “power grab” and current Mayor David Glass characterizing them as an “efficiency grab.”

Debate continues as to whether the combination board is more efficient, since controversial or large-scale projects still often must have multiple hearings.

But this year, the City Council majority has swung back to an ideology that is more accepting of development. Last week's appointments of four Planning Commissioners reflected their preferences.

Healy, Chris Albertson, Kathy Miller and Mike Harris voted for the same four candidates, while Gabe Kearney voted for three of those. Generally, those five are supported by business interests, while Glass and Teresa Barrett are supported by environmental and progressive groups.

Appointed to four-year seats on the commission were: Jennifer Pierre, the current chair of the commission; former Petaluma planner J.T. Wick; local business owner Richard Marzo and newcomer Jocelyn Yeh Lin, an attorney.

Pierre has been on the commission since 2009 and the chair since 2012. While she is perceived as part of the progressive crowd, she has impressed the council majority with perceptive questions and her deep understanding of planning issues.

She is a project manager in water resources with ICF International and has been a professional planner for more than 10 years.

Pierre characterized the city's general plan as just that — “general” — and said she feels comfortable rejecting projects that would be allowed under the city-adopted planning blueprint. She supports dense development in downtown and “increased pedestrian access to encourage reduction of growth elsewhere.”

Longtime resident Wick was a Petaluma planning commissioner from 1993 to 1996 and has also worked as a city planner in Marin and Calistoga in addition to the private sector.

He said he believes the general plan should be applied strictly to projects when its language says “shall” and more lenient when says “may.” A principal with Berg Holdings, a Sausalito-based property management team, Wick is also a board member of Friends of the Petaluma River.

Marzo is the owner of Lace House Linen in Petaluma and is on the board of Petaluma's Chamber of Commerce.

“As a local business owner, I believe in making Petaluma as economically sustainable as possible,” he said. “We need to continue our legacy of economic vitality and independence, while also recognizing that today's Petaluma must meet the needs of citizens who live here and work outside the city limits.”

He said the city should encourage new regional and national businesses and called local businesses the “soul of a community.”

Yeh Lin is a public finance lawyer with the law firm Spaulding, McCullough & Tansil in Santa Rosa. She has lived in Petaluma for two years.

She has a masters degree in urban and regional planning and said as a lawyer, she will be able to quickly gain expertise in complex environmental laws and planning guidelines.

She said short-term, the city needs to increase sales tax revenue through commercial development, attracting high-tech businesses downtown, and long-term to invest in infrastructure to encourage businesses to stay in Petaluma.

Pierre and the three new commissioners join Ray Johnson, Bill Wolpert and City Council liaison Miller.

Other applicants included former Councilwoman Tiffany Renée, former planner Terry Kosewic,

Houston Porter, Blake Hooper, Daryl Johnson, Roger Leventhal, Jasper Lewis-Gehring, Heather Mackin, Manuel Mendes, Sharel McVey, Robert Mohit, Eric Patterson and David Powers.

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)

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