by Lon Brusselback
Newport’s Vacation Rental Dwelling (VRD) issue appears to be drawing to a close and the “how” is just as important as the “what.” When I look at the VRD matter as a whole, I am drawn first to the subject of process.
The idea of the Community Development Director (CDD) offering his own Staff Recommendation in parallel with that of the Planning Commission recommendation for the Council’s assessment, got my attention. As a prior Planning Commissioner and City Councilor, I don’t recall witnessing the like. At the very least, this offering of an alternative will unnecessarily confuse an already complex subject and at worst, the Staff alternative will demonstrate a conspicuous undermining of the Planning Commission, a body whose relationship to the Planning Department is paramount.
One could argue that Staff Recommendations are routinely presented to Council and that this is no different, but this is different. In the proper context, Staff Recommendations are appropriate, but not in this context. Being presented here is an alternative recommendation to that of the Planning Commission, but in the guise of a routine Staff Recommendation. (If there is a question of legality or excessive cost, the City Manager or City Attorney should step in, but neither is the case here.)
This situation is problematic for several reasons:
* It potentially drives a wedge between the Planning Commission and the Staff now and for the future. For perspective, keep in mind the length and breadth of this VRD review. The Ad Hoc Committee deliberated for eight months with 15 meetings and 2 Open Houses and the Planning Commission for 3 months with nearly 200 public testimonials. Weighing all of those results, the Planning Commission then produced Draft Ordinance No. 2144 only to be countered by the Staff’s own “Staff Recommendation”. It’s easy to see how the whole process loses traction and loses face. One can only imagine recruiting volunteers in the future.
* It demonstrates a serious overreach on the part of the CDD whose job, as it relates to the Planning Commission, is to “perform administrative functions.” and who has no right to vote. (Newport Municipal Code 2.05.005(B)(F). The CDD is a Staff person yet appears to presume the same authority as the Planning Commission in presenting his minority alternative to Council. This is not only not his job, it is counter to his job!
* With Staff’s alternative we can surmise a significant disagreement exists within the ranks of Staff and Planning Commission. If Staff was unable to convince the Planning Commission of its position over all that time, then Staff effectively lost the argument. The CCD attempting an end run because he is unhappy with results is definitely out of the question.
It is for these reasons that I recommend Council not entertain the CDD’s alternative recommendation. This trampling of time-honored process is difficult to consider as anything less than a subtle subterfuge, an embarrassment for the Planning Commission and numerous Ad Hoc Committee members, and a dangerous precedent portending even more overreach.