Petaluma council reshapes planning commission

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.

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