Pismo Beach City Council to create an alternate position

One of Pismo Beach’s planning commissioners has missed roughly a third of the board’s meetings this year, resulting in a stalled project bumped to a later meeting for lack of a quorum.

Planning Commissioner Chuck Crockett isn’t breaking city laws; commissioners can be removed from office if they miss more than three meetings in a row without notifying the chairperson.

But the unusual situation has prompted the Pismo Beach City Council to create an alternate position on the commission for the first time. An alternate member will be appointed Oct. 18 to fill in when one of the five members is absent or can’t vote because of a conflict.

Since February, when new commissioners’ two-year terms officially started, the planning commission has held 16 regular meetings. Only one commissioner, David Jewell, had perfect attendance.

Crockett has missed six meetings, more than the four other planning commissioners combined. He and Commissioner Eric Woodhouse missed a March meeting to attend a conference for planning commissioners in Pasadena.

His five other absences included three consecutive meetings while traveling around the U.S. in April and early May, one in June because his son was visiting from Rwanda, and a fourth on Sept. 13 to attend a rally for recreational vehicle enthusiasts in Washington state.

“When I signed on I told them I’m retired and I’ll be traveling,” Crockett said Thursday, adding that he does not plan to miss any more meetings this year. The cross-country trip was an unusual, once-in-a-lifetime venture, he said, and he only expects to miss two to three meetings a year.

“It is important to me to be part of the city,” said Crockett, who served a two-year term on the Paso Robles Planning Commission from 1990-91. “I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t think I could bring something different to the table.”

The other commissioners who missed meetings this year did so for various reasons: Chair DJ White had a family emergency. Commissioner Mark Burnes missed two meetings for family reasons, and a third to attend a friend’s memorial service.

When reached for comment, Burnes and White declined to comment specifically on Crockett’s absences. But they stressed that having as many members present as possible results in better decisions and is fairer to developers and opponents of projects.

“This is a very important position and the citizens deserve dedicated members who will be in proper attendance,” Burnes said.

Planning commissioners are volunteers who earn $25 a meeting and take their roles — and their attendance records — very seriously. The city has several advisory bodies, but the planning commission is its highest-profile board and sometimes viewed as a stepping stone to the City Council.

Pismo Beach isn’t the only city where attendance issues have prompted a larger discussion. In April, the Morro Bay City Council voted to enforce a strict attendance policy for planning commissioners, who face being dismissed if they have more than three absences in a single year without formal consent of the commission.

The issue of an alternate member was raised in Pismo Beach after a May meeting where commission members were tentatively scheduled to consider a proposal to build 23 homes along a narrow stretch of Price Canyon Road.

The discussion had to be rescheduled because Burnes and White had a conflict of interest and could not discuss the project, and Crockett was on vacation.

The situation was unusual and unlikely to happen again, said several commissioners and city planners — but it was still frustrating for the project’s developer.

“It cost us a lot of time,” said developer Mike Hodge, whose Price Canyon Villas project was approved by the City Council in August.

Hodge said his project was ready to be heard by planning commissioners on March 8, but two commissioners were away at the planning conference.

The following meeting was a workshop, and Crockett was absent the next three meetings. The project went before planning commissioners May 24 and again June 14 before it moved on to the council.

“We’re entitled to get to a hearing and for a commissioner to be gone that long in a row I’ve never seen that before,” Hodge said.

Get involved

The city is accepting applications through Friday from Pismo Beach residents interested in serving as an alternate member of the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission meets the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers.

The city is also accepting applications for a member to serve a four-year term through February 2016 on its Parks, Recreation and Beautification Commission. The commission meets the first Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. in council chambers.

The City Council will fill both vacancies at a special meeting Oct. 18 at 2 p.m. For more information, go to www.pismobeach.org.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.