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September 01, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Menlo Park: New face for Planning Commission Menlo Park: New face for Planning Commission (September 01, 2004)

** Three new members chosen; incumbents Patti Fry and Stuart Soffer fail to win reappointment.

By Rebecca Wallace
Almanac Staff Writer

Besides needing staff reports and cups of water, Menlo Park's Planning Commission now has an extra requirement: several new name plates.

As expected, the city's most prominent commission got an overhaul August 24, with members of the City Council appointing three new members: product marketing consultant Lou Deziel, attorney Kirsten Keith and Matt Henry, who is retired.

The council also reappointed technology consultant Harry Bims, who was appointed by the current council last year to fill out an unexpired term.

All three members of what is widely viewed as a council majority -- Mayor Lee Duboc, Mickie Winkler and Nicholas Jellins -- cast their votes for the four, who will serve four-year terms.

Councilman Paul Collacchi also voted for Mr. Henry and Mr. Bims, along with incumbent Patti Fry, who was seeking reappointment. Councilman Chuck Kinney supported incumbent Stuart Soffer.

Ms. Fry and Mr. Soffer, appointed to the Planning Commission by the previous council, have disagreed with the majority on several issues, including new home-building rules that the council approved but then later repealed in the face of a referendum petition.

Ms. Duboc says it's important for the commission to mirror the views of the council, and last year had proposed that all commissioners resign and reapply for their seats. That never came to pass.

After the vote, Ms. Fry said she was disappointed.

"I thought I was critical in a constructive way. ... I have every single time offered to help work through the issues," she said. "Better decisions come when there are a variety of perspectives."

At the meeting, though, Ms. Winkler said she was happy with the new face of the commission, which had been dominated by residents critical of the council majority.

"I think we have a really balanced Planning Commission now," she said after the vote. "We have four incumbents and three new commissioners."

The commission grants permits needed for various types of construction and renovation and makes recommendations on zoning issues.

Two other residents also applied for seats: city environmental quality commissioner Richard Stevens and consultant Vincent Bressler.

Issues and plans

After his reappointment, Mr. Bims, a resident of the Belle Haven neighborhood, said he was looking forward to continuing work on several key issues, including encouraging business projects that can bring in more sales-tax revenue for the city.

He also voiced interest in streamlining the permit process, "not to allow the process to get so ambiguous and complex so that it's difficult to get projects approved."

When asked how three new members would change things, he replied: "The commission is probably going to be more open-minded to change with respect to the general plan and the residential zoning ordinance (home-building rules). So I think that there probably will be a less contentious Planning Commission."

The three new appointees are also looking ahead to the issues they will face and what sort of role they could play.

Mr. Deziel, who lives in the Vintage Oaks area, is also interested in boosting the city's sales-tax revenues by helping downtown thrive. In addition, he's been closely eying how Menlo Park could be affected by a plan to improve safety and traffic access at the city's four railroad crossings by raising the tracks and lowering the roads there.

Ms. Keith, a Willows resident who will resign her seat on the city's Housing Commission, said she's interested in having more affordable housing in Menlo Park.

And Mr. Henry, who lives in Belle Haven and has been a longtime council watcher, said he's looking forward to seeing issues from the other side.

"Every person who comes before me is going to get 100 percent of my attention," he said. "Every person who comes before the commission, it's the most important thing in the world to them. I have to look at it the same way."

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