HAWTHORNE — A Planning Commission member who was asked to resign said he left voluntarily last week after concluding that city officials support development so strongly that there was no room on the commission for his views.
"I have a lot of personal views about the way builders are trying to do their particular thing," said Dr. Merritt Mead, a member of the commission since August, 1978. "I know that people in the city (government) are in accord with them and I am not. . . . It is best to resign."
City officials disputed Mead's contention, saying that his resignation was sought because Mead abstained too often.
After Mead's resignation, Planning Commission Chairman Barbara Workman predicted that she would be isolated in debates about intense development that has become the city's chief political issue.
"Generally speaking, Mead and I were the only moderate-growth types, concerned about the environment," she said. The resignation "negates any value my vote will have. We were 3-2, and once in a while we picked up another vote."
In the commission's most controversial vote recently, Mead and Workman voted together Nov. 20, along with two other members of the five-member commission to recommend that the City Council impose a moratorium on multi-unit residential building.
The recommendation, which was opposed by the city administration, provoked a rush among developers to take out building permits before a moratorium could be imposed.
Mead said he voted for the moratorium recommendation, which the City Council has not yet discussed, because "people have the right to have a breathing period to decide what to do before they are built out of their homes."
He added that by the time the commission completes ongoing studies about development, rapid construction will have rendered any recommendations irrelevant. Planning Director Jim Marquez said the studies could take three to six months.
The city officials who sought Mead's resignation denied that the moratorium vote had anything to do with it or that they were pushing him off the commission to make way for someone more supportive of development.
"The moratorium issue was not a factor at all," City Manager Kenneth Jue said.
"If he feels that way, I'm sorry he feels that way. . . .," Councilman Chuck Bookhammer said. "You have a council that I won't disagree with you is pro-development, but (it) is pro-development with the needs of the community. . . . There is nothing that we have indicated to him that we are permitting developers to have a free hand.
"My main and only concern was his lack of making a decision. . . . When you put a person into a position where they have to make decisions and they can't make decisions, they have to be replaced."
Wanted More Information
Bookhammer said Mead has long known that his abstentions have made city officials unhappy.
Mead conceded that he "abstains more than most." He said he did so when he felt he did not have enough information to make up his mind.
During 70 votes in a sample of 16 Planning Commission meetings in 1984 and 1985, Mead abstained six times. Only three abstentions were recorded for all other commissioners combined during the same period. None of Mead's abstentions resulted in a tie.
At the Nov. 25 council meeting where Mead's resignation was announced, Councilman Steve Andersen immediately moved to nominate developer Ray Sulser, a former member of the commission, to fill the vacancy.
The motion was seconded by Bookhammer, but a vote was postponed after City Clerk Patrick Keller informed the council that state law required posting of the vacancy for at least 10 working days. The posting period will be up Dec. 12.
Members of the Planning Commission, which meets twice a month, receive $25 per meeting and serve four-year terms. The commission hears requests for rezonings and zoning variances, conducts studies and makes recommendations on other land-use questions. Its actions can be appealed to the City Council.
Recall Power Proposed
With Mead in mind, Bookhammer said he has asked the city attorney to prepare an ordinance making planning commissioners subject to recall by the council.
"(Mead) was requested to consider his resignation," Bookhammer said. "If he had refused, I don't know what we would have done. . . . If the City Council is elected and we are responsible for what is going on and we appoint commissioners, then they should serve at the pleasure of the council."
Bookhammer said Sulser, who was on the commission 11 years with eight as chairman, "would probably bring to the commission some leadership they have been lacking recently."
Sulser said: "You have two hats on my head. I am a developer, yes. But sitting on the Planning Commission, you are sitting with a different hat. You are looking at what is best for the city of Hawthorne."
He said he supports a moratorium. "I do because we have some problems that have to be corrected."