Dutra opponents challenge commissioner's vote

Lawyers for the Petaluma River Council said Commissioner Don Bennett should have recused himself from the 3-2 vote last week because of his February column in the Petaluma Argus-Courier entitled, ?Hysteria over the asphalt plant,? expressing support for the project.

In a letter to the commission, the lawyers called the May 21 decision invalid and demanded a new hearing before an unbiased tribunal.

?Mr. Bennett clearly showed his bias before the vote,? said River Council founder and former Petaluma City Councilman David Keller. ?He should have recused himself.?

Bennett denied any impropriety, saying he wrote the column after the commission had initially voted in favor of the project as a whole, and that a review of the issue by county counsel had determined his subsequent vote last week was legally appropriate.

The Board of Supervisors sent the Dutra project back to the commission for consideration of a narrow aspect ? a general plan amendment involving noise from off-loading river barges, Bennett said.

Bennett said he didn?t know the commission would be considering the project again and he didn?t feel obligated to abstain from voting, in part because his views were already known.

?I thought we were done with this puppy,? said Bennett, a freelance columnist and Petaluma resident. ?I thought, I?ll put in my two bits worth. Then the supervisors kicked it back.?

The proposal has been a hot-button issue, pitting environmentalists against developers and others involved with road building.

Both sides have crowded into numerous public hearings. Supporters say the plant will provide a local source of construction materials while opponents say it it will spew odors and noise and pollute the nearby Petaluma River.

The project is to be discussed in a public forum today hosted by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

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