The Planning Commission has sparked a flare-up with City Council members for denying the public an opportunity last week to weigh in on proposed zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses.
“That was just wrong of the Planning Commission,” Councilman Tom Gallagher said during yesterday’s council meeting.
“It’s about public process, and they need to understand that,” he said. “They may not like hearing the public’s comments, but to not afford them that opportunity was not copacetic, at least not with me.”
The chairman of the commission, Kevin Butcher, essentially told the public that he didn’t want to waste his time.
Mayor Lionel Rivera seemed surprised the commission didn’t allow public comment.
“That’s news to me,” he said. “I thought the Planning Commission’s session was a public hearing to basically tell your planning commissioners what you think. They did not allow public comment?”
City Attorney Patricia Kelly told the mayor and council that she would check into it. She said the commission “traditionally” allows public comment on pending ordinances.
“I definitely need more information,” Rivera told Kelly.
“I will get that for you,” Kelly responded.
I’ll save you the trouble, Ms. Kelly.
Here’s what happened:
After hearing the changes that had been made the initial proposal, Butcher, the commission chairman, asked his colleagues whether they had a “desire” to hear public testimony.
Commissioner Edward Gonzalez said the public should have a chance to comment specifically on the changes to the initial proposal.
“I’d like to give them the opportunity to present their ideas to the commission,” he said.
Commissioner Carla Hartsell agreed and seconded his motion.
But Commissioner Donald Magill made the case against taking public testimony.
He said the proposed changes, which imposed much stricter zoning regulations on the industry, were more “mechanical” and didn’t change the “substance” of the proposal.
“I think we’ve had an enormous amount of public input,” he said. “I just don’t believe that there’s a possibility that any new information can come forward that we haven’t already heard.”
Butcher sided with Magill, saying the public would have an opportunity to comment on the proposed land-use regulations when they went before the council next month.
Butcher also said he didn’t want to waste his time taking public testimony.
“I think it’s a better use of time for not only those of us up here but those in the audience,” he said. “You’ll have the ability to have your comments based on what we do today. I think that’s fair.”
People who attended the morning meeting expecting to comment were furious.
Some interpreted their refusal to allow public testimony as a sign that they had already made up their minds on the new, more strict zoning regulations.
To watch the planning commissioners debate whether to allow public testimony, click here and fast forward to about 1:19.