Still determined to fight proposed changes that would weaken their authority, two members of the Cosumnes Community Advisory Council (CCPAC) attended a Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting to consider a package of proposals to streamline the operations of all 14 Community Planning Advisory Councils (CPACs). The proposed changes are part of larger goal to speed county approval of housing developments, which also is being affected by a new state law trying to address the housing crisis.
CCPAC member John Merchant said the situation wasn’t looking good when the board discussion began.
“It was a minor victory that we didn’t get shut down,” Merchant said. “In the beginning it was really looking like we would be relegated to a back seat.”
Surprisingly, the help came from Supervisor Phil Serna who made a motion that effectively gave the CPACs more time for lobbying although only two of the CPACs, Cosumnes and Delta sent members to speak at the supervisorial meeting and at an Oct. 28 County Planning Commission meeting. Serna’s motion directed staff to take a look for efficiencies in other planning operations in addition to the CPACs.
Supervisor Don Nottoli backed several CPACs objections to the planning department proposal that would effectively reduce their authority. He also seemed angry at one provision that would limit his own authority to put topics on CPAC meeting agendas.
Supervisor Sue Frost supported the proposed changes although she suggested some minor accommodations for the Delta and Cosumnes CPACs.
The county has 14 CPACs that hold hearings on proposed development projects early in the planning process. At the end of their hearings, council members vote to recommend approval or disapproval of projects. They also may provide comments and request conditional use requirements. CPACs have been around since the 1970s and are intended to encourage citizen participation in the planning process. The authority for the CPACs is in the county code and zoning code.
Senior Planner Chris Pahule put together the CPAC package after a board directive last February.
“Although there was not consensus on specific changes, a majority expressed a desire to amend provisions of the County Code and Zoning Code to ensure timely review of planning items, address the advisory nature of CPAC recommendations, provide consistent administration and oversight of CPACs, and provide training for CPAC members,” Pahule said in his report.
After preparing an initial proposal, planning staff met with stakeholders including one meeting each with all 14 CPACs and multiple meetings with the Building Industry Association (BIA) that represents 500 development companies.
Pahule told the board there were a number of “spirited exchanges” at the CPAC meetings. He said the councils supported some proposed changes to achieve administrative consistency. But a majority was not supportive of several proposed amendments. They wanted to continue voting on projects and not limit themselves to comments. They also wanted to retain the ability to have their denial of a project automatically elevated from the Zoning Administrator to the Planning Commission. However, the CPACs did not want to lose the option of free community interest appeals. Based on their feedback, Pahule decided not to eliminate the community appeals.
Pahule also proposes to eliminate continuances except when requested by the applicants. The Planning Commission recommended keeping one continuance for the CPACs, but Pahule told the board he did not include it in the proposal before them.
Pahule said planners originally thought CPACs should consider a project only once early in the process, as soon as the application is completed. But they later revised that section to allow a complicated project with an environmental impact report to come back to a CPAC after the draft EIR was completed.
Speaking at the planning commission meeting, Merchant pointed out that CCPAC also objected to the new agenda setting process that wouldn’t allow the inclusion of non-planning items such the Southwest Connector to come before the local councils.
Pahule said BIA had several underlying objectives for the CPACs including “the improved training and education of members; emphasizing the advisory function of the CPACs such as by having them provide qualitative comments rather than voting; and efficiency improvements such as limiting reviews to one meeting,” his report said.
The Dec. 10 board meeting was intended as a workshop to get supervisor comments on the package with any suggestions incorporated into the proposal that would be put to a vote on Jan. 14, 2020.
Saying the CPACs were the community sounding boards that have been an integral part of the planning process for 40 years, Nottoli backed some CPAC objections to the proposal. That included the formal vote and the automatic bump to the Planning Commission with a recommendation to deny a project. Taking that away would be cutting the CPACs off at the legs, Nottoli said. He also supported allowing a continuance.
Nottoli was especially adamant about the proposed change for setting CPAC meeting agendas, which he called a “real reversal and a retreat.”
Nottoli has previously referred non-planning issues such as transportation and landfill issues to CPACs in his district. He also said important issues have been worked out at the CPAC level, including a new provision that aggregate quarries provide some benefits to the local communities, which was negotiated by the Cosumnes Council.
Nottoli said that under the proposal, all board members must agree to put a non-planning item on a CPAC agenda. Nottoli asked Pahule the genesis of that idea since he didn’t recall the board talking about it.
“To require the approval of the entire board is ridiculous,” Nottoli said.
Frost supported the proposed changes although she suggested some minor accommodations for the Delta and Cosumnes CPACs and suggested she might be okay adding a continuance. Also, in her view, CPAC meeting agendas should focus on planning matters. She also suggested a change in the draft referral form saying the results of the advisory vote should be moved from the sixth to the third item on the page.
Later in the meeting, Frost proposed a substitute motion so the board could vote on the package as originally slated in January rather than Serna’s motion to look at other planning department operations beside the CPACs that would take longer. She later withdrew her motion.
In public comments, Merchant said the Cosumnes Council considers two kinds of issues – approving garages and quality of life. He said if there is a front-end logjam, it wasn’t coming from Cosumnes, which doesn’t continue meetings for lack quorums. Nor did he appreciate CPACs getting one meeting on one night while the BIA had multiple meetings. He said he didn’t have enough time in three minutes to discuss the Cosumnes concerns and would send a letter.
Hegge, the Cosumnes chairman, pointed out that developers are contributing to the lack of low incoming house by buying off that element in their projects. After the meeting, Merchant said an example happened in Rancho Murieta when the original developers of the never-completed Residences subdivision behind Guadalupe Drive paid into a low-income housing bank rather than build the units.
Hegge added that kicking a member off the council following four absences in a year was “pretty silly” given how tough it was to find volunteers for CCPAC.
“It can’t just be us old guys,” Hegge said.
Gil Labrie, chairman of the Delta CPAC said his council has never had a problem with continuances or quorums.
“I am puzzled why the solution is the diminishment of the CPAC role in general instead of dealing with councils of concern and amending their bylaws,” Labrie said.
Labrie also told the board that the rural councils in District 5 (Nottoli’s district) should be treated differently from the urbanized councils.
He concluded by saying: “If these proposals aren’t changed the Delta Council believes our role has become superfluous.”
The BIA representative and a couple housing advocates urged the board to approve the proposed CPAC changes in January.
After public comment, Serna said rather than adopting the CPAC changes next month, he would like to take more time to look at how best to expedite the approval process.
“I think we could be more surgical about those CPACs that have a different history from those here today,” Serna said.
Per his comments and others, the Natomas CPAC periodically fails to meet because of a lack of a quorum, which has delayed high-density projects.
Serna said staff also could look at other parts of the planning process such as building permits and inspections to see how they could become more efficient and could lower costs, perhaps reporting back in March or April.
Nottoli seconded Serna’s motion. He said the proposed CPAC package would weaken the ability of the councils to voice countywide concerns. “This is a solution looking for a problem,” Nottoli said. “I can’t support this package. You need to spend more time with the community commissions and to come back in the spring to apply efficiencies and to not mute the voices of communities at large.”
Susan Peters said she wanted to move forward quickly on the proposal. She also said the legislature continues to take more away from local authorities related to housing development because locals can’t get to yes.
Chairman Patrick Kennedy said he disagreed with Nottoli over continuances because they could derail good projects. On the other hand, he saw merit in talking longer to protect the CPACs with unique characteristics although he was supportive of most of the proposed changes.
Serna later clarified with County Executive Nav Gill that he wasn’t expecting a three-inch tome from the planners about other possible changes. Gill said staff would interview the supervisors individually.
“We need to get a dialogue of what is on your mind,” Gill said.
“Some of us have spoken our mind,” Nottoli said.
Serna repeated his motion to continue the CPAC matter to early 2020. The voice vote was 4-0, with Kennedy abstaining.
The CPAC proposal also includes changes to improve consistency so the councils would have identical bylaws and the same membership, training, attendance and quorum requirements.
The Galt and Herald areas are in the South County CPAC (SCCPAC). Usually status quo at its meetings, SCCPAC board members recently faced a room full of Galt residents opposing a proposed cell tower just south of the city limits on the west side. Another recent decision that took months to come to fruition was the squirrel monkey habitat now built on North Valensin Road in Herald.