The Elk Grove City Council on Nov. 13 told city staff that they were not in favor of creating terms for members of the Elk Grove Planning Commission.
During the same meeting, the council also expressed their desire to have a more diverse commission.
The planning commission reviews proposed developments and land use changes, and they also submit their recommendations to the council to either approve or reject projects. Commissioners are nominated by the mayor for the council to then appoint to the planning commission.
Prior to deliberating on proposed terms for commissioners, the council heard comments from two members of the Planning Commission.
Commissioner George Murphey told the council that he recognizes the value of “institutional history” that is gained through longtime service. He requested that in the event that terms were created, he would prefer that commissioners would be allowed to serve a minimum of two consecutive four-year terms.
Murphey added that this amount of service time would allow a commissioner sufficient time to “learn the ropes” before giving up their seat to a new commissioner.
It was also recommended by Murphey that commissioners represent different districts.
“We all, like you, can’t live in every district, we can’t live in every neighborhood,” he said. “Each individual commissioner brings certain knowledge from their district to the commission.
“I depend on every (commissioner) that lives in different districts, as they depend on me sometimes. It’s very important.”
Commission Chair Mackenzie Wieser said that she supports the idea of terms, but said that she is also personally aware of the importance of “institutional knowledge.”
“I’m telling you, I’m just now starting to get my feet under me,” she said. “So, to say that we’re going to learn this (position) in a two-year or four-year term limit, it’s actually doing a disservice, because planning just doesn’t work that way.
“Projects take sometimes seven to 10 years to actually break ground, as you well know. So, you’re going to lose a lot by adding term limits.”
Wieser added that she is supportive of diversifying the commission.
“I do think we need some diversification in the Planning Commission, and I think that can be done through vetting and potential two, four-year term limits.”
Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly asked Wieser how she would propose diversifying the commission.
“We’ve reached a population now, as you saw in your report, that we could potentially expand to seven members,” she said. “I think we should potentially look at expanding our council to seven members.
“It wouldn’t hurt to have more representation in a city this size.”
Elk Grove resident Randy Bekker told the council that although he supports a diversified Planning Commission, he believes that there should, foremost, always be a focus on an applicant’s qualifications.
“It would be nice to have diversity, however, qualifications to me (are) more important,” he said.
Council Member Steve Detrick supported Bekker’s comment.
“To me, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man, woman, your color of your skin, those things are irrelevant,” he said. “It’s the quality of the person, and that’s the number one thing I look for when I’m looking at an applicant.
“And not everyone wants to be an appointed person, so sometimes (with) your pool of applicants, you’re limited.”
As for the current lack of terms for the commissioners, Detrick said there have been three new commissioners within the past five years. He added that within an eight-year period, most commission seats become available and the council appoints new commissioners.
Detrick concluded that the current Planning Commission system works well.
“I would just as soon rather than reinvent the wheel, I think it works well,” he said.
Council Member Stephanie Nguyen said that she agreed with Detrick’s desire to maintain the current system for the commission.
She stressed her interest in having district representation and diversity in the Planning Commission.
“I hope that moving forward, knowing that we want to diversify, but also make sure that we have districts that are representative, that any other appointments that we have to make on this Planning Commission, that we take a look at that,” Nguyen said.
Ly said that he is “uncomfortable” with the commissioners’ current system.
“Each council member is vetted every four years, the mayor is vetted every two years, but yet we have a commission that in order to remove somebody, you have to actually bring them in or impeach them and say, ‘X, Y and Z,’ they’re not doing a very good job, they’re not showing up,” he said.
“My suggestion is attaching it to a term, and I’m not necessarily in support of a term limit, but assigning it to a term, where we can actually vet the members on the commission on a regular basis.”
As for increasing the number of commissioners to seven, Ly noted that it would not necessarily increase the commission’s diversity.
“There’s no solution here that addresses the initial problem, which is there’s a lack of diversity,” he said.
Both Council Member Darren Suen and Vice Mayor Pat Hume agreed that with the recent change in the council’s election system, they are currently fine with not making another major change to the city’s government.
“We’ve got a pretty significant change in government that’s about to happen (next year),” Hume said. “So, let that play out.”