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Thread: The political process and planning

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    The political process and planning

    I wasn't sure what to call this thread because there are so many titles that would work. I just remembered this today, but here's my current planning story.

    Several years ago when I was promoted to senior planner for a California county. I negotiated it so that I would process the most controversial and complex project in process at the time, wrestling it away from a blonde airhead who it was assigned to (sorry, blonde airheads).

    Anyway, after two environmental impact reports (a story for another thread), and struggling to make the required findings, the project was scheduled for hearing at the planning commission. The proposal consisted of a 95 lot residential subdivision and conversion of timber production designated land to residential use. After two public hearings at the planning commission, they finally forwarded a recommendation for approval, on a split vote, to the board of supervisors.

    At a special night meeting before the board, I give a 30-35 minute presentation. Room is packed. About 90% of the public testifies against the project. Then the fun begins. Public hearing is closed. Question to staff; it's a bone and I knock it out of the park. I knew right away the fix was in. Questions only get easier. Break. The board member of the district in which the project is located asks the planning director and me into his office and asks us what other questions he should ask to make the project and staff look good. We supply him with a line of questioning and what our answers will be.

    Back to hearing. A few more questions and some discussion. Project approved on 4-1 vote. First time I understood that some things are simply out of my hands. Yet I've gained lots of political savvy since then.

    This is one of any number of stories I could tell. Anyone else have similar learning experiences?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    I was the lead planner on a 1-square mile addition to a PUD/DRI, second hearing, held at the county fairgrounds due to unusual interest. The BCC chairman pretended to drop the gavel, leaned over, made a motion, seconded, voted, and they were out the back door before the public knew what had happened. Thank god I had a good boss who stuck me off to the side and said to run if it got ugly.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Zoning Goddess
    ...[snip]...DRI...[snip] ...
    I have a NOPC for a DRI on Dec. 21 at our board. Not looking forward to it either (recommending denial). BTW, the DRI expires Dec. 31...coincidence? Maybe.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    I have a few actually (which is a lot considering I have not been in planning that long). I started to write them, but then decided not to.

    Nothing illegal, rather sorta along the same lines as your stories.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    You all know that I would have at least one story on this topic.

    1) The garage story - AKA White Trash Run Amok. Have a guy come in for a 125 sq m garage, by-law allows 70 sq m. Variance approval authority refuses it. Guy comes in next day, gets building permit for 70 sq m garage, builds 76 sq m garage plus to tall. We issue an order to comply. Go back to see if he has complied, has not. We issue another order. End up at appeal body, win appeal, he does nothing. To go to court we need approval of council. Here is were teh politics start. Turns out that this guy was the a "get out the vote / bag man" for one of the councillors when the councillor was in provincial politics. You can see where theis is going. Meetings drag on, finally get it to a vote of council to proceed, get the go ahead, just barely. Go to court, get jerked around there for 6 months, finally win. Take it back to council with an order to remove from a Judge. Local election happens, the councillor who "owes" this guy is now mayor, building is still up almost 2 years after a court order requiring its removal is issued.

    2) Big Box Hell. Everyone favourite retailer comes to town. Decides to locate on land owned by teh ex-premier's holding company. Goes down hill from there. Since teh gov't has changed parties and it will require provincial money as it is on a provincial road, does not go well. Combined with the politics of health care and a few local things.

    3) Big Box Part 2. After having location one refused, they come back with a proposal on lands owned by a large local contributor to the party in power, who also ends up winning the contract to build the roads to service the place after teh City and province endup expropriating lands and agreeing to build roads and infrastructure for them.

    4) The Local Planning Process. Fav line ever - "we did not put you there to do this to us". I was the 9th planner in 15 years to work on a plan for an area, when I left they restarted so they were up to the 10, 11 and 12th planners to work on it and it is still sitting on a desk in the capital to be approved.

    5) The Misinformed Council. Bring forward an amendment to a Plan that has not even been approved by the appeal authority. Review teh document as currently adopted and approved. The document says no. Take it to council, they think it is the best idea ever and tell me that the consultant who prepared teh document said that this was permitted, but eh plan does not say it. The fix was in that one because of the 4 - 8 jobs it would create. How is that for a depressed community?

    Want more? RJ at least your decision makers had some respect for you and did not try to blame you or treat you poorly.
    Last edited by donk; 10 Dec 2004 at 9:27 AM.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    Not as interesting a story as all of yours, but I once had to give a recommendation on a Master Plan to our county's Planning Commission. It was awful. It had about 35 maps, all of which were photocopies of other maps, such as the state road map. I didn't actually have any text in it, just references to the existing Master Plan. I wrote the biggest review I ever wrote in almost 4 years, completely shredding that thing.

    The director had called the PC chair that day and explained what was happening. Just as I stood up, before I could talk, he asked for a motion to recommend disapproval. It passed unanimously. I never said a word and no one read my report.

    Not that it mattered. The dumb township adopted the monstrosicity anyway.
    The cookies are worth the drive

  7. #7
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I was fortunate that as part of my undergrad, one of the planning professors was also chair of the planning board. It was pressed on us right away that planning is a process that deals with politics. It was also pressed that we should never go against our ethics, but we should also know how to play the political game.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian solarstar's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    I was fortunate that as part of my undergrad, one of the planning professors was also chair of the planning board. It was pressed on us right away that planning is a process that deals with politics. It was also pressed that we should never go against our ethics, but we should also know how to play the political game.
    The politics are, imo, a lot harder to keep up with than the planning stuff. I try to get a sense before heading to the guillotine, and usually get a heads up if a project will be slammed one way or the other. One of my first projects, as a nervous young planner, was an obvious, easy one that required no thought processes to approve (really - it was that easy). One of the commissioners voted against it and I was startled - later I learned that she was peeved at another commissioner and this was one way to jab him a bit. I'm not surprised as much anymore, but only because I work hard to keep up with the political situation. Some of my coworkers go in with blinders on and get nailed, even though they are very competent and professional in their reports and presentations. It's part of the job, I guess, but it's tough to enjoy it.

  9. #9
    I guess that is one of the benifits of working in a small town where everybody knows everybody. We very seldom get the politicle angle. However, when we deal with the county, that is a horse of another color, or at least part of the horse anyway. I have become somewhat adept at translating commisionerspeak. Mostly it is whatever you want to hear but nothing concrete.

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