So last night’s Planning Commission meeting was both very exciting and also kind of sad.
The Happy Part
So the good news is that the Planning Commission did not support the Temporary Conditional Use Permits.
I’ll try to pull together a more thorough write up once I get the DVD and have a chance to rewatch and take notes. In the meantime, check out last night’s #oakmtg stream on Twitter for the play by play.
In short, three people came out to speak in support of the TCUPs, and thirteen spoke against. Let me give a huge thank you to all the people who gave up their time to sit in City Hall all night and make their case to the Planning Commission. I know how hard it is to find time for these things, and waiting around for hours for one’s item to be called totally sucks. A few people showed up and just couldn’t stay long enough to speak on the TCUPs, and I am deeply appreciate of their efforts as well. There were several really awesome anti-TCUP speeches, and when I get the DVD, I hope to put up video of some of them.
And for those who couldn’t come out, but sent e-mails: huge thanks to you too! Your efforts really made a difference, the Planning Commission got your message loud and clear. A number of people CCed me on their messages, and I have to say, from what I saw, you guys did a really great job. It always warms my heart to see people participating in local government. You guys rock!
The end result of the meeting was that the TCUPs are essentially continued indefinitely — well, until staff completes some study about the highest and best uses for vacant property. But the sentiment was clear from the Commission that they were not interested in supporting creating this whole new policy just to make it easier to add new parking lots, that they did not want the proposal forwarded to the City Council, and that requests for new parking lots should be dealt with on a case by case basis.
So to everyone who spoke or wrote on this, give yourself a big pat on the back — you did great work. It’s so nice when things turn out the right way, isn’t it?
The Sad Part
However, despite my delight over the outcome on the TCUP item, I left last night’s Planning Commission a little bit sad. You see, it was Commissioner Doug Boxer’s final meeting.
So. I will have been doing this for five years in April. In that time, I have sat through a tremendous number of meetings. I am pretty much constantly watching or listening to meetings. When I’m puttering around the house, or cooking, or working at my computer, there is basically always some meeting or another playing in the background. Of course there’s the big ones that I try to make a point of following regularly — City Council and all the City Council Committees, Planning Commission, Public Ethics Commission, AC Transit Board, BART Board, MTC, JPC, School Board, Port Board, and so on. But I try to get around as much as possible to the more minor Boards and Commissions, too.
I’ve attended at least one meeting of every major decision making body in the area, except for the East Bay Regional Parks District Board of Directors, because they meet way up by Knowland Park and there is no way for me to get there. (I realize this sounds hopelessly dorky, but my primary motivation to get my driver’s license this year is so that I can join Zipcar and drive to an EBRPD meeting.)
Anyway. My point is that I hear a lot of meetings. And so I have seen a lot of people sitting on daises and making decisions. Listening to that many people, you hear a lot of great arguments and insight and smart ideas and all that. (You hear a lot of really dumb stuff too, but that’s a subject for another post.) I think that a lot of times, people don’t realize how much work all these people are doing for basically no compensation, and how time consuming these positions are. So everyone who is willing to do that deserves to be commended for their service.
But out of all of the people serving on all of the different Boards I follow, I can say without any hesitation that Doug Boxer on the Planning Commission was hands-down the best, and should be a role model for anyone in public service. Nothing against the other Planning Commissioners, they are also good. (The Planning Commission is my favorite of all the bodies I watch.) But Doug Boxer just really stands out even among the highest class of elected and appointed officials I have seen in meetings.
His comments are always so well-considered and insightful. I tend to agree with him a lot, but even when I don’t, and even when I vehemently disagree with his position, his assessment always leaves me with something to think seriously about, which I find really helpful for honing my arguments, and sometimes even prompts me to reconsider my position. The consistency with which he brings a superlative quality of analysis and thoughtfulness to his comments and decisions is unmatched. When he disagrees with people who came to speak, he is always exceptionally respectful about the way he says so, and does an excellent job of making people feel like they’ve been heard. Most members of the City Council would do well to spend some time reviewing old Planning Commission DVDs and looking to him for pointers about how to treat the public.
Anyway, I won’t go on gushing any longer, but I did want to say that he’s been a really great presence on the Commission and I will genuinely miss having him there.
The silver lining
But let’s end on a happy note. New Mayor Jean Quan will be making her first appointments to the Planning Commission in a couple months. This represents a real opportunity to fill what I believe is a very serious hole on the Planning Commission. All the Commissioners have different backgrounds and areas of expertise, and this diversity of interest is really helpful, because everyone is bringing a unique perspective to the table.
But what I have long felt is missing from Planning Commission discussions is someone who really has a strong background and interest in transportation and bike/ped issues. Frequently, when speakers raise concerns, especially about bike/ped problems on projects, the Commission just completely glosses over them. I don’t think this is due to the Commissioners not caring about transportation or bike/ped. It’s just that nobody there has the appropriate background to know what the right questions to ask are, and how to fix those problems in proposals, or often times, really to even understand what the problems are. It would make an enormous impact to have a member of the Commission who is properly equipped to address those subjects.
By appointing a new Planning Commissioner with such a background, Jean Quan could do a tremendous good towards advancing Oakland as a livable city, a bicycle and pedestrian friendly city, and the “transit-first” city we claim to be.