Council upholds appeal fee decision

The Huntington Beach City Council voted Monday to allow planning commissioners to appeal projects without paying an administrative fee.

The vote flew in the face of Councilman Joe Carchio, who appealed the Planning Commission's 7-0 vote in favor of waiving the fee in February.

"The planning commissioners should not be the policy makers, because we're the policy makers," he said, adding that commissioners who wish to appeal a project should go to the council members who appointed them — or their "boss," as he put it — and come up with good reasons for why the project should be appealed.

Councilman Matthew Harper voted along with Carchio, but the appeal failed 4 to 2. Councilman Keith Bohr was absent.

Councilwoman Connie Boardman said she would appeal any item for the commissioners if the council voted to require them to pay the fee before appealing.

Boardman's position led Mayor Don Hansen to change to vote against the appeal, saying that voting to require commissioners to pay before appealing would have no effect because Boardman would be willing to appeal items for them.

Commissioner Mark Bixby, who spoke during the council meeting, said there is no evidence that commissioners have abused the process. He added that when considering the numbers for who is likely to appeal projects, the City Council members come out on top.

Fellow Commissioner Barbara Delgleize also defended her group's vote.

"The amendment would limit public participation through planning commissioners appeals," she said. "It would be inconsistent with neighboring communities appeal fee waivers, and not have any impact on streamlining the development review process. Planning commissioners' appeal rights are consistent with all our neighboring cities such as Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Westminster, Anaheim and Seal Beach."

The City Council in August directed staff to draft an ordinance that would require commissioners to pay the fee, much like developers or residents, if they wish to appeal a project or a decision.

The council argued it would streamline the process and cut down the time it takes to complete the applications. The appeal adds about two months to the entitlement process, and eliminating it would be consistent with the city's goal of being "the No. 1 city to do business with," according to a city staff report.

The Planning Commission then held a public hearing on the issue in February and voted unanimously against changing the protocol for them. The commissioners argued their ability to appeal projects will not cut down the process and commissioners have not abused it.

Carchio then appealed the commission's decision.

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