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Merging Planning and Traffic Commissions Bad Idea, Members Say

A City Council proposal to consolidate the Planning Commission and the Traffic Commission into one body met stiff opposition; many say it's the communication that's the problem.

Summoned to a joint meeting to discuss a proposal to consolidate, the Planning Commission, Traffic Commission and Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee had one message for Los Altos Mayor Valorie Carpenter and City Council member Ron Packard.

Don't do it.

The City Council had appointed Carpenter and Packard to explore forming a single commission to handle the functions of the Planning Commission and the Traffic Commission. The Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) would continue, but report to the newly consolidated body.

Objections were quick and continuous. Planning Commission members were concerned about having to become knowledgeable about two new areas—traffic circulation and safety. The Traffic Commission members were concerned that only a small number of traffic-knowledgeable volunteers would be assigned to the single commission. BPAC advocated keeping the same structure and adding a liaison to the Planning Commission.

Meeting all together for the first time at the Neutra House, next to the Hillview Community Center, the groups used the opportunity to air frustrations, and identify problems.

Planning Commission members were surprised to find out that Traffic Commission members examine proposed projects and submit to the city reports with their recommendations.

"We write an awful lot of reports," said Traffic Commission member Mike Gallagher.

"And we never see them," exclaimed Kenneth Lorrell vice-chair of the Planning Commission. With the big projects that the Planning Commission is examining, "How is it there's an entire other group of people looking at this and thinking about this and we don't know?"

And where do the reports go, some asked? Because the Planning Commission could use them.

The council also proposed creating a Design Review Commission that would review the frequent two-story home and variance applications, and eliminating the board of Adjustments and the Architectural and Site Review committees. That was the one element that met support, from the Planning Commission whose members comprise those committees.

The meeting ended with Mayor Valorie Carpenter pledging to follow up on some issues raised, and given the response at the meeting she said she would likely return to the City Council for further direction.

While nearly everyone was against the consolidation proposal, Carpenter said she was encouraged. "There were a lot of good ideas."

What may change would be improvements in communication, she said. "It may be refinements to the process side rather than changing the structure."

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