Yates wants new Planning Commission

Morro Bay Mayor Bill Yates is calling for the replacement of all of the city’s planning commissioners.In a strongly worded report to the City Council, Yates said the commission has overstepped its authority and has been disrespectful to staff and project applicants. Newly elected as mayor, Yates ran on a platform of making the city more business- and citizen-friendly.

“In recent years, the commission has repeatedly nitpicked projects, attempted to act as a design review board and generally been non-supportive and combative with staff’s decisions,” he wrote in the report.

The council will take up the matter when it meets today. The meeting starts at 6 p.m., and the Planning Commission item is last on the agenda.

The council would normally have an opportunity to replace three of the five commissioners because one was elected to the council and the terms of two others are expiring. However, Yates wants them all replaced.

Councilman Noah Smukler doesn’t like the idea. He said he has been impressed with the work ethic of the commission and the diversity of opinion of its members, which include an architect, builder, engineer and county administrator.

“I’m afraid that, if we follow through with this recommendation, we won’t have the diversity we are looking for,” Smukler said. “With a slanted Planning Commission, we’d have a situation in which projects are more likely to be appealed.”

Until her election to the council in November, Nancy Johnson was the commission’s chairwoman.

Commissioners whose terms are expiring are Michael Lucas, an architecture instructor at Cal Poly, and Gerald Luhr, a building contractor. The other two commissioners are Jamie Irons, an engineer at the Morro Bay power plant, and John Diodati, administrator of the county Public Works Department.

In his report, Yates cited five instances in which he said the commission acted inappropriately. Most of them deal with the way the commission handled its review of the city’s new sewer plant.

For example, the commission ignored advice from City Attorney Rob Schultz. They also voted to send a letter to the state Coastal Commission about the sewer project, something Yates said the commission does not have the authority to do.

He also rejects the idea from other City Council members that the three new commissioners would “keep the other two in check.”

The deadline for applying for the Planning Commission and other city advisory bodies is Jan. 19. Applicants will be interviewed Jan. 24.