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Publication Date: Friday, December 07, 2001

Why midnight? Why midnight? (December 07, 2001)

by Jeb Bing

I ncoming Planning Commission chairwoman Trish Maas has her work cut out for her - and that's to make this key city commission more user-friendly while also reining in commissioners whose personal views sometimes obscure General Plan guidelines. Last week, for example, planners went well past midnight to discuss the merits of a proposed new Downtown Specific Plan. It was the second discussion meeting on the issue, which had to be continued again because of the late hour. Even so, planners went on to another agenda item, the city's proposed and important Historic Preservation Ordinance. An outside (read: taxpayer-paid) consultant who was there all evening started his presentation, but planners said they were tired and went home, postponing that discussion, too, to another day.

Midnight meetings used to be a concern of the City Council and school board, but those two groups have cut back on late night meetings in favor of more frequent sessions and better scheduling. It's time for the Planning Commission to do the same. It's both embarrassing to Pleasanton and costly for city government and petitioners to assemble staff and experts for meetings that either run past midnight or are continued - or both. What business would call its planning and marketing departments together at 11 p.m. to consider a new product launch or expanded facility?

Two months ago, I joined executives and design experts from Applied Biosystems in front of a TV set to watch the World Series. We weren't there to see the game, but rather waiting the company's turn to make its scheduled presentation to the Planning Commission, which had overbooked its agenda. By the time the company was called, it was 10:30 p.m., and the discussion on the company's bid to build a multi-million-dollar manufacturing and laboratory facility at Sunol and I-680 went well past midnight. It wasn't the only late night meeting for Applied Biosystems, either. Twice in November, company executives appeared before the Planning Commission to review their proposal, including one meeting that lasted until after 1 a.m.

Fortunately for Pleasanton, the City Council last Tuesday took much less time in giving the company the approvals it needs. It can now start work on a project that will bring millions of dollars and thousands of construction and full-time company jobs to our local economy that can use the boost.

Besides improving meeting times, incoming Chairwoman Maas will also have her hands full keeping Planning Commissioners on track to consider applications based on the city's General Plan and other municipal zoning and building regulations. Considerable time has been spent in recent meetings by commissioners who share their own personal city-growth theories or design interests. One developer made repeated trips back to the commission as members evaluated changes he made on building colors. Another commissioner asked about toilet flush rates on a new home project, saying his own toilet didn't flush properly.

With major issues going to the Planning Commission next year, such as the West Las Positas interchange and an extension of Stoneridge Drive to El Charro, Chairwoman Maas will have to be concerned more than ever with workable agendas and more disciplined discussions. Hopefully, Mayor Tom Pico and City Manager Deborah Acosta McKeehan - both proven experts on how to run effective meetings - will lend her a hand.

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