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City Council to Consider Enabling Diminished Design Review Board

The City Council tried to address the Design Review Board quorum issue (see Design Review Board Dispute Stops Richmond Development Dead in It's Tracks, July 1, 2008) as an emergency item, but the city attorney admonished them citing the Brown Act, which defines an emergency as a situation previously unknown to the City. Said Assistant City Attorney Scott Dickey, “City staff has known about this problem for months, so it’s no surprise.”

What is disappointing is that Mr. Dickey was not motivated to initiate any action to address the problem.

See West County Times story below:

Quorum shortage creates obstacle, delays in Richmond

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Article Launched: 07/02/2008 04:38:20 PM PDT

The lack of a quorum on one of Richmond's decision-making bodies has forced officials to cancel meetings and is delaying review of development projects.

The city's Design Review Board once carried seven members, but its numbers have dwindled to four. All four members must be present at meetings to comply with the open meetings law. Meetings are canceled if at least one member is sick, on vacation or otherwise absent.

It's a numbers game that sometimes creates a hurdle in moving development applications forward. The city had to cancel the June 25 meeting for lack of a quorum, and agenda items, including review of the proposed 125-room Hampton Inn Hotel on Meeker Avenue, will be moved to the next meeting where there's a quorum, but it's unclear when that will be.

The July meetings also might be canceled for lack of a quorum, officials said.

"If the city cannot do its business, if it cannot process development applications, essentially development has stopped in its tracks in Richmond until we can find a quorum on this board," City Councilman Tom Butt said.

The council plans to solve the problem by adopting an ordinance Tuesday that reduces the legal quorum to three members.

The Design Review Board looks primarily at building heights, lighting, landscaping and other issues that have to do with the appearance of new developments or changes to existing ones. Some recommendations are forwarded to the Planning Commission to be included in the formal approval.

This isn't the first time the city has reduced the legal quorum for a board. Officials last year dropped the required number of planning commissioners for a meeting to three, because too many meetings were being canceled.

The Design Review Board and the Planning Commission will merge into a single, nine-member decision-making body, a decision that some residents fear will shortchange the review process and create too hefty a workload for one commission.

An ordinance to repeal the creation of the Design Review Board and transfer its duties to the Planning Commission is expected to reach the City Council for consideration as early as September, said Planning Director Richard Mitchell.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.