The “out of city” seats on City of Sonoma commissions are intended to provide a way for valley residents to gain some influence in city decision-making. Historically, appointees to these seats have been residents of The Springs, or parts of the valley community adjacent to the city, such as Schelleville.
That’s why we’re confused and concerned about the recent appointment of Carol Jansen as the “out of city” member of the Planning Commission. As noted on her application, Jansen lives on Hatchery Lane, a new development on West Spain Street, smack inside the city limits of Sonoma. To make matters more confusing, her application notes she is a two-year resident, but is registered to vote in, of all places, Vermont.
When asked if her residency posed a problem, Sonoma’s City Attorney, Jeff Walter said it did not. This opinion mistakes the forest for the trees; the whole point of Municipal Code language saying a commissioner “may be a resident of Sonoma Valley” is to provide an out-of-city seat. We wonder, why did the City Clerk, knowing this application was for an “out of city” seat, not inform Ms. Jansen that a resident of Sonoma need not apply? And in approving Ms. Jansen, why on earth did City Council members Agrimonti, Edwards and Cook ignore the intent and history of such an appointment? This whole situation makes us think about the adage about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.
To make matters worse, the residence on Hatchery Lane rented by Ms. Jansen is owned by developer Ed Routhier, who recently had an application before the Planning Commission. Notably, in March of this year, Ms. Jansen spoke to the Planning Commission in support of Mr. Routhier’s now canceled hotel project on First Street East across from the ball field. Accordingly, it would appear Ms. Jansen will have to recuse herself from any projects under consideration submitted by Mr. Routhier; the prospect of pleasing (or displeasing) one’s developer-landlord makes a Planning Commission job nearly impossible.
Finally, the three applicants who live outside of city limits city have unfairly been denied their proper opportunity to serve. While the technical specifications of the rules governing Ms. Jansen’s appointment may satisfy the logic of the City Attorney, the spirit of the rules has been grossly violated. The City Attorney may be loath to admit mistakes get made, but between the actions of the City Clerk, the ruminations of the City Attorney, and the inattention of the City Council, a mistake HAS been made, and it should be rectified immediately.
Ms. Jansen, an experienced, retired city planner who currently provides entitlement and community outreach services to corporations, developers and non-profit organizations, should resign, properly record her residency on the voter rolls in Sonoma, and should she so desire, apply for an in-city position on the Planning Commission when it becomes available. Those who applied who actually live outside the City of Sonoma should be reconsidered, and/or new applications accepted. It’s not too late to set things right, and it should be done as soon as possible.
Sun Editorial Board