MORAGA -- A recent clash between the Town Council and the town's Planning Commission over plans for a bridge and pedestrian crosswalk left a councilman claiming "an act of outright insubordination" by commissioners.
This week, one planning commissioner said there was some confusion about what he and his cohorts were being asked by the council to do, but "no insubordination," surrounding an April 21 vote.
"They believe they were asking the commission to complete some element of policy, but there was confusion in my mind about what I was being asked to vote on," said Commissioner Frank Comprelli. As for the accusation, he said, "It's just a person who got excited and huffed and puffed about it."
In an interview and in a letter written and distributed at the May 14 town council meeting, Councilman Mike Metcalf said the planning commission had defied the council with that April 21 vote, when four commissioners voted not to alter two items regarding a bridge and pedestrian crosswalk, which were among the council-directed conditions of approval for the SummerHill Homes development on Camino Ricardo.
The bridge and pedestrian crosswalk changes had been an issue as early as Jan. 7, after the council and commissioners disagreed on whether a bridge is needed and a where a crosswalk would go.
Asked if he believed the commissioners were simply confused about their role, Metcalf said, "If they didn't know, they should have been asking."
In his letter, Metcalf said the planning commission's role in land use matters was advisory. But by voting 4-1-1 (commission chair Christine Kuckuk dissented, Commissioner Steve Woehleke abstained) to reject requested conformity adjustments on a staff report and returning the conditions for approval without the directed changes.
"They voted to obstruct it," Metcalf said last week. "That's just abuse."
Comprelli, who joined three fellow planning commissioners in voting not to make the changes directed by the Town Council, said in a phone interview that Metcalf's accusation was "a charge made by an individual based on his perception."
"We voted on the bridge, twice," said Comprelli, who served as Planning Commission chair last year, and was a commissioner in the 1980s as well. "The Town Council voted oppositely. We voted not to support that."
In a phone interview, Kuckuk said the bridge and pedestrian crossing were "ultimately in the development agreement and not a part of the project approval. It seemed straightforward to me. It's on the record: I was the dissenting vote."
Other planning commissioners couldn't be reached for this story.
Admitting that his military background may be a catalyst for sometimes using "strong words," Metcalf said, "If someone wants to take me to task ... let them come at me. We can't have anarchy. The last thing we need is for a developer to take the town to court for the town not treating them fairly."
Because a development agreement between the town council and the developer contained approval for the council-supported location of the bridge and crosswalk, Metcalf explained, the council directed the planning commission's agreement to conform. With the two documents containing conflicting language, the developer filed an appeal.
The Planning Commission, defined in the Moraga Municipal Code as an "advisory agency," is supposed to "exercise the powers and duties prescribed by statute and ordinance and as assigned by the town council."
Mayor Ken Chew said, "We made a policy decision. When that is made by the council, it is the job of the commission to carry out the policy."
In a phone interview this week, Comprelli said he would have supplied a supportive vote had he understood the vote the same way Metcalf and Chew did.
Kuckuk said she did understand.
"We made a recommendation to the Town Council. They rendered a final decision," Kuckuk added. "Their request was for conformity between the two agreements. The planning commission declined to do that."
Chew said the developer's appeal was ultimately upheld, and the $500 appeal fee was waived by the council. "It was an appeal due to an unjust situation," Chew explained.
Metcalf had previously said he "would be pleased" if commissioners unwilling to abide by the town's policies tendered their resignations, and he later reaffirmed that.
"My position is this -- if the planning commission doesn't understand what it's supposed to do, then (they) should find something else to do," he said. "If they want to run policy, then they can run and get elected."
Comprelli said he has no such plans. "No, I do not intend to resign; I feel this is a very worthwhile thing to do to give back to the community," he said.
Chew said no letters of resignation had been submitted, and Kuckuk was not aware of any commissioners intending to resign.
Metcalf suggested this dispute, a first for Moraga, highlighted an important fact. Paraphrasing his letter, he said "It's not for (planning commissioners) to reject policies of elected members of a town council. That's the voters' prerogative."