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Planning Commission/Design Review Board Merger Vote Expected March 18, 2008

The long-awaited plan to consolidate the Design Review Board and the Planning Commission has been previewed in a staff report to City Councilmembers dated February 29, 2007.


It is scheduled to come before the City Council on March 18 and expected to be adopted by the second City Council meeting in April.


This has been a sore point with me ever since it was proposed by Councilmember Maria Viramontes and supported by the City Council majority for several reasons:


  1. There has never been any compelling evidence provided to show that the present system is fundamentally flawed or that the proposed merger will fix anything that is broken. If any of my colleagues wish to write their justification for the proposed merger, I will publish on the E-FORUM as soon as I receive it.
  2. There were supposed to be two important concomitant measures taken to make the proposed merger function successfully – design guidelines and a “city architect” to provide the specialized skills to provide “in-house review.” Neither of these is in place. Based on the staff report, the Design Guidelines are still in a draft form and for only one area of Richmond, the “Heritage Neighborhoods.” These draft guidelines have had some public exposure but no formal public review. There are no Guidelines even close to ready for the rest of Richmond. The Planning Department has hired no “city architect,” and as far as I can determine, there is no RFP out for the proposed “third party review” described in the staff report. The Main Street and Commercial Districts “Placed Based Zoning Code” is months away, at best.
  3. The City Council has resisted making any changes to the existing Design Review Board and Planning Commission members, many of whom are termed out. There are no architects, landscape architects, contractors, or other design and construction professionals on either body except Don Woodrow on the Planning Commission, who is a retired geotechnical engineer. The City Council majority has blocked all of the mayor’s proposed appointments to the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board for reasons that no one has made clear. Both bodies are down to the bare minimum membership required for a quorum. If even one member is sick or out of town, no meeting can take place, and applicants will be delayed for at least a month. How can anyone justify this situation? Click here for the city attorney’s legal opinion.


I have never understood either the technical or the political justification for this merger. My opposition has been cast by some of my colleagues as a personal attack on them. I want to assure them that it is not. While I disagree with the concept, I accept that it is politically inevitable. I just want to see it done right, and clearly, the foundation has not been laid to do that.