Commissioners attempt to appeal General Plan

By: Rachel Zirin, Senior Reporter
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The Folsom City Council spent more than an hour debating with two Folsom planning commissioners on whether or not the City of Folsom violated a Folsom Municipal Code (FMC) during the June 26 meeting.

Commissioners Aaron Ralls and Kevin Mallory spent $458 to speak before the council to appeal the Folsom planning commissions’ recommendation to approve the 2035 General Plan, but council unanimously denied the appeal. During this same meeting, the plan was on the agenda for adoption.

Before the item began, Councilman Roger Gaylord recused himself, as he took a personal position on the item via email exchanges before it came to the public forum.

Folsom City Attorney Steven Wang introduced the item to council, and gave a short presentation, stating various codes that would be relevant to the appeal discussion.

FMC 17.04.050 Master Plan states: The planning commission, shall, as soon as practicable, prepare and adopt a master or general plan, and precise plans in accordance with the conservation and planning law, and shall recommend to the council a comprehensive zoning ordinance in accordance with the general and precise plans. (Prior code § 3004)

Wang said this code was adopted more than 45 years ago when the city was incorporated, and since, state and federal law has changed, and the city is required to comply with the latest legal requirements:

Government Code 65354: Planning commission shall make a recommendation on the adoption or amendment of the general plan.

Government Code 65356: The legislative body shall adopt and amend a general plan by resolution. The legislative body may approve, modify or disapprove the recommendation of the planning commission, if any.

In simpler terms, by law, the planning commission’s role is to make recommendations and suggestions, and the council’s role is to adopt and make policy.

Wang also showed Folsom Charter Section 2.02 General Powers of the City Council: All powers of the city shall be vested in the City Council, except as otherwise provided by this Charter, the Council shall provide for the exercise thereof and for the performance of all duties and obligations imposed on the City by law.

In 2012, the council appointed Mintier Harnish, Sacramento-based planning consultants, to prepare a draft of the General Plan, and extended that contract in 2015 and 2017 to incorporate additional discussions, analysis, edits, changes and modifications to the plan.

Wang stated the planning commission reviewed the plan on three separate occasions –Feb.15, 2017; March 21, 2018; and June 6, 2018 – to provide input and feedback.

Mayor Steve Miklos opened the appeal, and Ralls and Mallory took the floor.

“During this General Plan update, we just started to see some things that were going on that we didn’t have direct input in, and we started researching that. That’s when we found the codes that Commissioner Mallory will be addressing here,” said Ralls, a 30-year resident. “Some of the items that Mr. Wang brought up were not made aware to me until just now, so we are going off the facts that we had prior to coming here tonight.”

Ralls followed saying by the time items come to council, the council doesn’t know what actually happened during the meeting, and they just have a vote.

Miklos informed Ralls that the council receives minutes from all commissions when an item comes to council. Councilwoman Kerri Howell mentioned she watches most meetings.

Mallory, a 5-year resident, said he and Ralls requested to speak to inform the council that they believe the process to draft a new master plan was carried out in violation of the FMC. He said Wang discussed the key phrase prepare and adopt, mostly focusing of the adopt portion, but he was focusing on the prepare portion. Mallory claimed that the word ‘prepare’ meant ‘to write.’

“Ignoring portions of our municipal code that seem old would set a dangerous precedence for circumventing Folsom’s existing laws,” Mallory said. “This opinion is also at odds with the published opinion of the League of California Cities responsible for training planning commissioners and advising city governments statewide.”

The League of California Cities’ policy of a commissioners’ role is to assist in writing the plan, and Mallory stated that the planning commission didn’t prepare or assist in writing any draft versions of the plan.

“To any who might wonder why this appeal is being submitted so late in the planning process, the final planning commission meeting to review the general plan draft on June 6 was the first recognition that the planning commission was to have no meaningful role in its preparation,” Mallory said.

Miklos informed Mallory that the City of Folsom is not legally bound by and doesn’t follow the League of California Cities policies, they are just a member.

”You put something in front of us that actually backs up what we have been saying all along…,” Miklos said.

Before Miklos finished his sentence, Mallory spoke loudly into the microphone over him saying, “It does not. You are focusing on the adopt portion. I am focusing on the prepare portion.”

Mallory also mentioned that they were not given any opportunity to redline or review the plan.

“You talk about preparation, and you want to have an opportunity to redline and comment. You had three workshops. What did you guys do in those three workshops?” Miklos said.

The way Mallory responded made Miklos feel patronized and Miklos didn’t hide his feelings.

“I thoroughly appreciate you kicking the tires on this issue. Due diligence is important,” Mallory said.

Miklos asked to not be patronized and to just answer the question to continue the flow of their conversation. Mallory spoke back and said he wasn’t.

“You don’t need the commentary to thank me for that so just go right to it. It’s OK, Kevin, we know each other,” Miklos said.

After much back and forth discussion trying to understand what was done during the three workshops, Ralls said the two of them have never been able to get city staff to meet with or acknowledge them. Miklos and Howell were shocked by this statement.

While the back and forth continued, Mallory mentioned that anyone who doesn’t live in Folsom is not qualified to write or work on the plan. Howell was shocked by this statement.

“For someone to suggest that someone who doesn’t live in a jurisdiction that is extremely qualified is not qualified because they don’t live in that city is preposterous,” she said.

Ralls then said that was not what Mallory meant and that residents should have more of an involvement. Ralls also mentioned another issue during commission meetings is he, Mallory and Commission Jennifer Lane are always being outvoted on issues. Miklos empathized with them, as when he was first on a commission he was treated the same. Miklos also said that with this information, he is not hearing that they were precluded from participating; there are just different opinions on the commission and they were outvoted.

Mallory brought the conversation back to the commission’s role of writing the plan, and Miklos asked to put up the PowerPoint slide showing Charter Section 2.02 again.

Miklos asked if the two commissioners had read the charter from 1990 as it’s clear what their role is.

Ralls then agreed that writing the plan would be outside the scope of what they can handle.

Miklos mentioned the definition of ‘prepare’ was in the staff report for everyone to read, but Mallory insisted that definition was not correct.

After more back and forth, Mallory asked Miklos to read the definition out loud.

“The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines prepare as to work out details of and to put into written form,” Miklos said.

Mallory replied, “We did not do that.”

“Was it not in front of you three times?” Miklos asked.

Mallory replied, “We did not work out the details and written form. We reviewed the written form. It is my understanding that you are using City Charter 2.02 to claim the right to ignore the municipal code. Would you say that is accurate?”

Miklos said no, they are following state and federal law, but Mallory replied saying he didn’t feel they were.

Miklos then asked to put up the PowerPoint slide showing the government codes again.

Ralls brought up the definition of ‘preparation’ on his phone, read it, and then said, “I looked up several other definitions, but didn’t see any that spoke to writing.”

Still, Mallory was not budging even thought the facts were stated multiple times.

Vice Mayor Ernie Sheldon, who remained quiet throughout the meeting, asked to give his two cents.

“You’re asking to take a bite out of something that you can’t handle. I’m not going to fight with you on a dictionary or opinions,” Sheldon said. “When you come on a commission, unless you come on with an expertise say, like planning, which neither one of you did…”

Mallory interrupted Sheldon and said, “Do you know my background?”

Sheldon replied, “No. I don’t know everything. You don’t know everything, and you have to accept that. You input on policy. You don’t make policy. For you to think that you can sit down and write a General Plan on your own…”

Mallory interrupted again, “I did not say that.”

“What are we talking about then? Can someone in the audience tell me? What the hell are we talking about?” Sheldon said. Sheldon also said that Mallory was holding his argument off of one municipal code, which in fact, was overridden by state and federal law.

There were five speakers from the floor, one of which was Folsom Arts and Cultural Commissioner Barbara Leary, who said the city offered multiple public workshops at the Folsom Public Library to give input and suggestions. She said two-thirds of her suggestions were accepted and in the back of the plan, there is a list of all who contributed. She mentioned she was one of few who participated.

“It’s a little bit of an overstatement that the planning commission didn’t have enough input into the General Plan,” Leary said. “All of the residents of Folsom had an opportunity for input. I didn’t feel like I didn’t have the opportunity to do that.”

Former Folsom Mayor Bob Holderness spoke from the floor about how disappointed he was after this discussion.

“I’m frankly disappointed to see that two of our planning commissioners don’t have a good understanding of what their role is in city government. I applaud Councilmember Sheldon for pointing out that it is the City Council that sets policy, that gives direction, and the planning commission, in this instance, certainly is an advisory body and is asked to make a recommendation and nothing more,” he said. “I do not feel their appeal has merit.”

Howell moved to deny the appeal and Sheldon second. As Councilman Andy Morin was not present, the three unanimously voted to deny.