DOWNEY – Despite resulting in the approval of plans to bring a new hotel into Downey, last Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting raised several eyebrows due to its multiple hour duration.
The commission spent over three hours on the agenda item, eventually passing the plans unanimously with little to nothing changed from the report and plans as they were presented. The meeting in total spanned close to five hours.
Commission Chairman Jim Rodriguez said that some agenda items take longer to work through due to their size and scope, but admitted that Wednesday’s meeting was a bit of an anomaly.
“The process when you include the staff report, when you include the applicant’s statements - that was probably the longest part right there,” said Rodriguez. “Then what happens is you get to what is considered the Commissioner’s deliberation. We didn’t spend too much time on the deliberation. I mean, still probably a decent amount of time – maybe an hour – but yeah, the first part of that was a long process. There were a lot of things we had to consider.”
While the commission’s main concerns during the project’s deliberation seemed to be traffic impact and parking spaces, the commission also discussed a myriad of minute details that some think shouldn’t be of concern to them.
The commission wasn’t alone in the City Hall chambers while they discussed topics ranging from parking spaces to plants; they were joined by a few attending community members, two police officers, and - perhaps even more substantial – an increasingly frustrated Mayor Fernando Vasquez.
Vasquez, who is a former planning commissioner himself, said he’s never seen anything like what he saw on Wednesday.
“I’ve never seen anything be as exhaustive as what I witnessed,” said Vasquez.
In an interview that took place a day after the meeting, Vasquez explained the role of the planning commission.
“Planning Commission’s role is to make solely land use decisions,” said Vasquez. “What’s really concerning is asking applicants for additional requirements that are being brought up at the eleventh hour….trying to change the requirements at the eleventh hour, that’s what’s really difficult to understand what the thought process is behind that.”
Rodriguez says that he want to do his job well, and that a commissioner’s role is not just a formality.
“Some people might think that their commissioner’s job is to say ‘Oh well, you guys [city staff] looked at it already and so why don’t you guys just approve it,’” said Rodriguez. “Some commissions may just be, I guess you might want to call it a rubber stamp or a passive body, that just accepts information and doesn’t maybe [give] the thoughtful consideration that commissioners are to do."
According to Vasquez, the Planning Commission could rub businesses the wrong way by being so nitpicky.
“It took us so long to clear our reputation, to clean up our reputation of being anti-business. And now we’ve gone [on] to be pro-business; very supportive of business,” said Vasquez. “My concern is what this message is sending to the business community.”
Vasquez added that many of the added requirements that the Commission considered adding to the hotel project would have cost the applicant more time and resources.
It wasn’t just the applicant’s resources being spent on Wednesday, however.
Adding to the mayor’s frustration was the presence of the two police offers, who according to information provided from Vasquez via email, were there at the request of Community Development Director Aldo Schindler on behalf of commission members.
The officers sat through the entire hotel presentation and deliberation, only to speak for approximately one minute when their turn finally arrived. During this time, they accumulated a total of over $875 in overtime pay.
Rodriguez said that he was not sure who requested the officers or why they were present. In hindsight, he said he would have moved the officers up in the calendar.
“To have them sit there for five or six hours, oh my goodness gracious,” said Rodriguez. “I would think that was a complete waste of money and I would be the last person that would want that to occur. That seems completely unreasonable.”