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Citizen Participation in Design Review at Risk

On December 19, 2996, the City Council accepted a report from Planning Director Richard Mitchell, who presented a summary of potentially broad-based changes to the process of discretionary review of development projects.


Mitchell took his authority from the following statement: “During its approval of a budget allocation to develop citywide design standards, Council members requested that staff recommend revisions to the City’s design review ordinance that might clarify the process and bring it in line with other jurisdictions.”


While some of the proposals, which go way beyond developing design standards, would clearly improve the technical and professional quality of staff review, others are likely to be controversial, such as reducing the Design Review Board to three members or eliminating it entirely and assimilating Design Review into the Planning Commission.


Click here to view the document.


During the City Council discussion, Vice-Mayor Viramontes insisted that she clearly recalled the City Council had already voted to combine the Design Review Board with the Planning Commission and we should just get on with it. No one else seemed to have that recollection, and indeed, no one has been able to turn up any record of it. Perhaps she was having fond daydreams of the saga a couple of years ago when former Planning Director Barry Cromartie was trying his best to gut the development review process (See Expert Says Planning Retreat Violated Brown Act, February 5, 2005; Silence Will Give Consent on Proposed Planning Changes; January 28, 2005; Development Review Process Workshop Rescheduled, January 16, 2005; Changing the Development Review Process, January 2, 2005). Fortunately, Cromartie’s mission was sidetracked when he pulled up stakes for American Canyon.


The City Council did, via Ordinance 10-05 N.S., reduce the Planning Commission to seven members effective January 1, 2008, to parallel the City Council reduction to seven members. Mayor Anderson thought this was such a good idea, she jump started it three years early by only appointing seven members to the Planning Commission, leaving two vacancies until 2008.


The previously described discussion underscores a frequent theme of debate among City Council members about land use entitlements. One faction believes in maximum public input and influence in the development review process, while another faction wants to minimize public participation, and certainly public influence. As Mitchell’s study plays out, Richmond residents would be wise to stay involved, lest they suffer a substantial diminishment in participating in what Richmond will look like in the future.