Planning Commission installs new members

Newly appointed Malibu Planning Commissioner John Mazza blasted out of the gate at his inaugural meeting June 3, challenging city planner Stephanie Danner’s reports on coastal development permits with pointed questions about allowable setbacks and calculations of permissible square footage.

True to the reputation he built over the past several years as a critic of the Planning Commission’s processes and decisions, Mazza, who was nominated to the commission by newly elected City Councilmember Jefferson Wagner, grilled Danner on code definitions and architectural computations of floor space within projects. But, in the end, Mazza did vote along the lines of his peers, approving three permit applications for development projects.

In his remarks after being installed as a planning commissioner, Mazza said he would be “looking carefully at projects like those that have been approved, then went to the Coastal Commission and those decisions were reversed. I won’t assume the staff reports are always correct in every case.”

New commissioner Jeff Jennings, who just completed two four-year terms on the City Council in April, took his seat on the commission as an appointee of Councilmember John Sibert. He expressed his gratitude to the old commission, saying, “Many times I sat on the City Council and was convinced that the Planning Commission got it right and we had gotten it wrong.”

The Planning Commission is considered to be secondary only to the City Council in governmental power, and is charged with assessing local permit applications and making recommendations to the council on major development projects.

Ed Gillespie was also sworn in as a commission appointee of Councilmember Sharon Barovsky. Regan Schaar was installed for her second term as the appointee of Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich, although the mayor has said she might select a new commissioner soon.

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Former Mayor Joan House, an appointee on the commission of Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern since 2006, was named commission chair. Gillespie was named commission vice chair.

Prior to the installation of the new commissioners, the outgoing commissioners made their final comments.

Carol Randall took issue with reported statements from council member Wagner that the commission “stretched” zoning laws to allow people to get too much in their permit applications.

“I don’t agree with Jefferson that we stretched anything,” she said.

Outgoing commissioner Les Moss agreed, saying, “We have a great city staff and they don’t get the recognition they deserve.”

Moss specifically addressed criticism that has been directed at the Planning Commission for perceived lack of development oversight in the city.

“I don’t have a problem with genuine criticism,” he said, “but I take issue with complaints from people who don’t know how the process goes. We don’t just rubber stamp all proposals.”

Moss said that, while the commission did end up approving a great deal of projects during his years of service, it was only because those permit applications had gone through months of scrutiny from legal, environmental, Coastal Commission and Fire Department regulatory and other necessary agency review.

“And they all met the codes,” he said. “The law is that if the projects meet all requirements, they must be approved if they are legal and compliant. Our job is not to impose personal philosophy on the Planning Commission. That’s up to the City Council.”

To back up his claims, Moss pointed out that out of 450 project items that came before the commission since January 2004, less than 10 percent were appealed, and the City Council upheld only one appeal to the commission’s findings.

In closing, Moss said he had brought a gift for incoming commissioner Mazza.

“It’s your very own rubber stamp,” Moss said to general laughter, pulling an industrial-sized stamp from an Office Depot bag. “On one side it says ‘Approved’ and on the other, it says, ‘Changes Required.’ This should keep you busy, John.”

When told of Moss’ gift to his appointee Mazza, Wagner laughed.

“It’s good to see that Les has such a great sense of humor,” Wagner said. “I hope John uses that stamp judiciously.”

With regard to critical Randall’s comments, Wagner said, “Well, that’s Carol’s appraisal. We’ll see what the future brings. I hope we can move on with humor and compassion, and eliminate some of the cantankerous nature of the past.”

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