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Viramontes Responds on PC/DRB Merger

I promised to share any response by other council members to my E-FORUM: “Planning Commission/Design Review Board Merger Vote Expected March 18, 2008,” and here is Maria Viramontes’ response:


Dear Tom:


Once again you leave out half the truth of things...but I am used to it.  Truly, I do not have time to keep talking about an issue the council already voted and gave direction on but in brief:


1. I wrote a white paper on the need for this change, but anyone who has had the opportunity to read and study the independent Zucker Report that audited the Planning and Building Dept would see the structural conflicts and overlap on planning responsibilities and design and review and how it impacts small applications from the average person in Richmond...


2.  For nearly a decade you have supported and finally even carried the legislation to create the Design and Review Board as it is today, without might I add establishing city wide Design and review guidelines. On the other hand if you read the review on other cities with Planning and Design and Review issues you will find out that many cities like Berkeley do not even do design and review like Richmond does for housing, Concord only applies it as in connects to the Hillside ordinance for housing, those cities have focused on business applications for design and review. None of that was suggested in Richmond.


Cities that tried to create separate functions years ago between Design and Review and Planning like Richmond have re considered putting design and review back with planning after the experience.  Hercules combines a sub committee of Design and Review and that sub committee also services on Planning Commission, essentially this is Oakland's structure as well.


There is NO HOLY GRAIL on how design and review is governed but local application can make it success or not.  What is important is to have quality design and review with guidelines that reflect the community.


I believe that is what the council did when they voted to support Design and Review by funding the full cost of design guidelines city wide and also for special neighborhood considerations like historic issues.  The fact that those guidelines completed thus far are being circulated into the neighborhood councils and others is a good thing not a bad thing.


They will be completed because that is what the council voted on and the city manager will be held accountable for the completion of city wide design and review guidelines.


There is no question that Design and Review will be strengthened by the vote of the super majority of the council. 


You talked about design and review guidelines and wanted it for more than a decade but it took others on this council to get it!


3.  When the council voted to coordinate the Design and Review functions with Planning it was understood that we would respect the terms of the members of both commissions as much as possible.  We have waited nearly 3 years to make this change frankly and most of the members of both commissions have been able to serve their terms.  I have never challenged the right of any Mayor to make appointments. 





Maria T


In the spirit of civil debate, I offer the following:


  1. We agree that the Planning and Building review process is broken, but there is nothing in the Zucker Report that recommends merger of the Design Review Board and Planning Commission. There were 127 recommendations in the Zucker report (see Planning and Building Department Audit, March 1, 2007) that, hopefully, are being addressed. The Planning and Design review merger as a remedy for Planning and Building deficiencies is purely a product of City Council perception for how to fix a broken City function.
  2. We also agree that it is “important is to have quality design and review with guidelines that reflect the community.” But we do not have them yet, nor do we have evidence that such quality resides in the staff, which will be immediately replacing the Design Review Board for a large number of projects that will go to administrative review under the new plan rather than to the merged Planning Commission/Design Review Board.
  3. Finally, I might note that while Maria says she has “never challenged the right of any Mayor to make appointments,” she has voted against all three of the mayor’s proposed appointments to the Planning Commission and Design Review Board. What’s the difference between challenging the “right to make appointments” and simply challenging all the appointments? The result is the same.


At the end of the day, I really don’t have a problem with a merger if all the pieces are in place to make it work, but they are not. That is the basis for the long-running battle I have had with Maria. She and I met last year for several hours to discuss this, and I confess that I told her I believed it could be accomplished successfully. Until the pieces are in place, however, I believe that the City’s best opportunity to get good design is public hearings before a full Design Review Board with persons appointed in the various professional disciplines specified by the current ordinance.