Oxnard May Replace Land Panel With Planning Commission


Lambasted by civic activists as a rubber-stamp committee for developers that reduced the public's role in the planning process, Oxnard's Land Use Advisors panel may cease to exist Tuesday if the City Council votes to abolish it.

The city will consider replacing the five-member panel with a five-member planning commission that would make decisions on development proposals and review environmental impact reports.

City officials say the move would change little more than the name of the panel, but foes heralded it as a victory for public participation. Residents had mounted an unsuccessful petition drive to reinstate the Planning Commission, which the council dismantled last January.

"There were so many people opposed to the [advisors panel], and they just barely missed the required signatures, forcing [the council] to bring it back," said Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez, the sole council member who stood up for the Planning Commission.

Criticized by developers for dragging out approval of projects, the commission was replaced by the advisors panel and a city official serving as a hearing officer.

The hearing officer has the power to single-handedly approve the environmental reports--key documents that once approved, allow development projects to move forward. Under the old system, the Planning Commission had to approve the reports.

Ethel Dale, a longtime Oxnard resident who helped lead the petition drive, welcomed the news that the city might dismantle the panel.

"The hearing officer had too much power," said Dale, who served as Oxnard's city clerk from 1944 to 1972. "They shouldn't have done away with the Planning Commission without getting any input on it."

Under the proposed ordinance creating a new planning commission, the five members would undergo special training to learn more about the review of environmental impact reports.

Assistant City Manager Prisilla Hernandez said the hearing officer would still remain under the proposal, but would perform only housekeeping duties.

Hernandez also said that the five Land Use Advisors would probably all become planning commissioners, but that the City Council would have to reappoint them.

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