October 4, 2023 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

S.M.a.r.t Column: The Battle for the Planning Commission: A Circus of Political Maneuvers

Ah, the wonderful world of city politics! Ladies and gentlemen hold on to your hats as we delve into the wild and wacky world of the Planning Commission. In recent days, the City Council filled three positions on this esteemed commission, and let me tell you, the excitement was palpable! It’s like a game of musical chairs, except the chairs are seats of power, and the music is the relentless buzz of political gossip echoing through the county.

You may be wondering how one becomes a candidate for the Planning Commission. It’s simple, really. Interested individuals fill out a form, which then gets buried in the dusty archives of City Hall until the day openings magically appear. And voila! The announcements are published, calling for candidates to step forward. The Council members, with their pencil-sharp eagle eyes, review these candidate statements and make their nominations. And then, friends, the Council votes. And votes. And votes again. It’s like American Idol but with less singing and more paperwork.

But hold your horses! It’s not just individuals who are vying for a spot on the Planning Commission. Oh no, political groups have their paws in this game too. As soon as the commission openings are announced (and usually even before), these organizations kick into high gear behind the scenes. They’re like frenzied paparazzi, desperately seeking a Commissioner who will represent their interests. People are approached left and right, like talent scouts on the prowl. Suitable candidates’ names are passed around like hot potatoes to gather responses from the faithful. It’s a mad, mad world of influence and leverage, where politically connected candidates rub shoulders with unaffiliated freelancers.

You see, dear readers, these political groups have grand plans beyond the Planning Commission. They see it as a stepping-stone to the City Council itself. Placing a Commissioner becomes the first move in their master plan to develop a future City Council candidate who will represent their views. It’s like a strategic board game where every move counts and the prize is control over city policy. Talk about playing politics on a whole new level!

Now, let’s take a moment to remember the true purpose of the Planning Commission. Picture a Santa Monica where, as the Commission’s mission statement suggests, well-being, sustainability, and equity dance hand in hand through the streets like a synchronized flash mob of urban harmony. The Commission, like a wise conductor, endeavors to strike the perfect balance between the myriad needs and priorities within our vibrant community. They navigate this delicate dance, guided by the sacred texts of the City’s General Plan and Specific Plans—blueprints for a utopian Santa Monica.

Or they should. But alas, in the chaotic world of Santa Monica politics, these noble goals often take a backseat. The Commission often morphs into a battleground for proxy wars between different City Council factions. It’s like a never-ending soap opera where everyone’s fighting for the spotlight, and the residents are left scratching their heads, wondering where their needs went.

But fear not, friends, for this is not a new phenomenon. The politicization of the Planning Commission is as old as Santa Monica’s love for palm trees. Throughout the ages, politicized Planning Commissions have graced this city with their presence. They are as traditional as apple pie on the Fourth of July. Some say it provides a battleground for ground-level skirmishes, a window into the priorities of important constituencies, and a venue for enacting Council policies. But in our dear Santa Monica, divided as it is among political camps, a new approach beckons.

What’s the remedy, you ask? Well, we need to make the Planning Commission less of a City Council redux and more of a strong government body that actually looks out for the everyday residents. One suggestion is to impose a two-year waiting period for Commissioners whose terms expire before they can run for City Council. Let’s create a healthy separation between their duties as Commissioners and the political circus of campaigning. We need fresh faces, representatives from diverse backgrounds, and–most of all–individuals who have a genuine commitment to the needs of this community. And let’s not forget the fate of these poor planning commissioners who do make it in, juggling an overwhelming amount of work. They need some support, friends. The City should provide independent researchers, untainted by the dynamics between the City Manager, City Council, lobbyists, and organizations. These knowledgeable folks will lighten the load on our Commissioners’ shoulders and ensure they can fulfill their critical role without being crushed under the weight of political pressure and expediency.

Ladies and gentlemen, the battle for the Planning Commission is, without a doubt, a grand spectacle of political maneuvering. But let us not lose sight of the commission’s true purpose and the well-being of the residents. It’s time to bring some sanity back to the process, separating the commissioners from the madness of City Council campaigns. Let’s attract a diverse group of qualified individuals who genuinely care about this community and its specific issues. Together, we can transform the Planning Commission into a force to be reckoned with, working tirelessly for the betterment of Santa Monica. And who knows, maybe we’ll even add some circus acts to the mix to keep things interesting.

Daniel Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission.

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow: Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Dan Jansenson, Architect & Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect & Planning Commissioner, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA & Planning Commissioner, Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE.

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