Some of our advisory commissions, boards and committees, made up of appointed volunteers from our community, have seen their influence slowly wane over the past several years. The Traffic, Safety and Parking Committee, on which I served for 12 years, has seen the number of items brought before them drop dramatically, to the point where the December 2019 meeting had no actual items to discuss or vote upon. At the same time, citizens report that issues they reported three or more years ago have received no acknowledgement, let alone any action.
On the Planning Commission, where I serve today, our job is to represent the community to review and approve additions for homes, or proposals from businesses who want to open or to remodel their space, and I’m proud of the work we do in this regard. But for large projects, the Planning Commission is largely out of the loop. When the Mills Park project first came before our Commission, by standard process it first went before the Architectural Review Subcommittee (ARC), where we were able to influence design decisions like window placement, color and material choices, and the like, but not the overall size of the project. The ARC also cannot make recommendations regarding neighborhood impacts of potential projects like traffic congestion. When the project then came before the full Planning Commission, we were told specifically by the City Attorney that our only two options were to approve the project as-is, or kill the entire project permanently, with no opportunity to discuss reducing the scope of the project by even a small amount.
We must work with staff to improve our processes and ensure that our commissions, boards and committees are being utilized as they were intended when we formed them: as true advisory bodies to the City Council.