The Olympia Planning Commission’s New and Improved Wheel

Monday’s are my most difficult day of the week so unfortunately once again, I didn’t post the agenda to the June 4, 2012 meeting until it was a couple days late and at least a few dollars short. Enjoy.

The two agenda items that I thought noteworthy both concerned the comprehensive plan and more particularly, its public process component.

OPC’s Public Process for the “July Draft”

As you can see from the staff report on public participation throughout the comprehensive plan update process, there are four options moving forward, three of which city staff conceived (and urged the OPC to adopt) and a fourth that Commissioner Ingman offered. After a long discussion (which extended into Wednesday June 6, 2012 through a mechanism known as “keeping the meeting open”), the commission was unable to decide between the options, so it resolved to take a hybrid approach between Commissioner Ingman’s option that you can find here and Option 1 which I have clipped from the report:

Public Hearing + 2nd Optional Public Hearing for Focus Topics

  • Two or three nights of public hearing (likely the week of July 23) • Encourage or invite interest groups to provide comment in panels.
  • Include an option for back-and-forth dialogue with Commissioners
  • Location options: Washington Center, Olympia Center, City Hall, School, etc.
  • Host an hour-long “open house” with staff available to answer questions prior to the open-comment period each evening
  • Choose to re-open the record for a second public hearing mid-way through deliberations, with a focus on areas needing more input
  • CPU is empowered to coordinate with staff on the details of implementation, such as determining location, testimony time limits, a registration process (if desired), special public notice or invites, etc.

The chair of the CPU subcommittee, Commissioner Richards was also vested with the authority to work with staff to resolve inconsistencies between the two approach should they surface during implementation. I don’t understand what Commissioner Ingman’s proposal means practically. It appears to me to be a set of admittedly noble aspirations, without much in the way of implementable action items which may or may not conflict at all with the staff Option 1.

Remember, this will apply to the next version of the Comprehensive Draft, the so-called “July Draft”. From the staff report:

“Comments received on the April Draft will be incorporated by staff into a second draft scheduled to be released in early July (“July Draft”). The July Draft is the draft on which the Planning Commission (Commission) will hear from the public prior to making a recommendation to City Council.”

The current “April Draft” is available for comment until June 12, 2012. You have less than a week to comment.

Wheel Planning

The OPC is doing all of this in order to comply with the public participation requirements of the Growth Management Act. Those requirements are found in WAC 365-196-600. I encourage you to read the entire regulation, but I’ll just include some excerpts which give an outline of what is necessary. Feel free to skip to the next section if you’re already familiar with the requirements.

(l) Requirements. (a) Each county and city planning under the act must establish procedures for early and continuous public participation in the development and amendment of comprehensive plans and development regulations. The procedures are not required to be reestablished for each set of amendments. (b) The procedures must provide for broad dissemination of proposals and alternatives, opportunity for written comments, public meetings after effective notice, provision for open discussion, communication programs, information services, and consideration of and response to public comments.
(c) Errors in exact compliance with the established procedures do not render the comprehensive plan or development regulations invalid if the spirit of the procedures is observed.

(2) Record of process.(a) Whenever a provision of the comprehensive plan or development regulation is based on factual data, a clear reference to its source should be made part of the adoption record. (b) The record should show how the public participation requirement was met.(c) All public hearings should be recorded.

3) Recommendations for meeting public participation requirements. These recommendations are a list of suggestions for meeting the public participation requirement. (a) Designing the public participation program. (iv) To avoid duplication of effort, counties and cities should integrate public involvement required by the State Environmental Policy Act, chapter 43.21C RCW, and rules adopted thereunder, into the overall public participation plan.

(4) Each county or city should try to involve a broad cross-section of the community, so groups not previously involved in planning become involved.

(5) Counties and cities should take a broad view of public participation. The act contains no requirements or qualifications that an individual must meet in order to participate in the public process. If an individual or organization chooses to participate, it is an interested party for purposes of public participation.

(6) Providing adequate notice. (a) Counties and cities are encouraged to consider a variety of opportunities to adequately communicate with the public. These methods of notification may include, but are not limited to, traditional forms of mailed notices, published announcements, electronic mail, and internet web sites to distribute informational brochures, meeting times, project timelines, and design and map proposals to provide an opportunity for the public to participate.

(7) Receiving public comment. (a) Public meetings on draft comprehensive plans. Once a comprehensive plan amendment or other proposal is completed in draft form, or as parts of it are drafted, the county or city may consider holding a series of public meetings or workshops at various locations throughout the jurisdiction to obtain public comments and suggestions.

(8) Continuous public involvement. (a) Consideration of and response to public comments. All public comments should be reviewed. Adequate time should be provided between the public hearing and the date of adoption for all or any part of the comprehensive plan to evaluate and respond to public comments. The county or city should provide a written summary of all public comments with a specific response and explanation for any subsequent action taken based on the public comments. This written summary should be included in the record of adoption for the plan.

(9) Considering changes to an amendment after the opportunity for public review has closed. (a) If the county or city legislative body considers a change to an amendment, and the opportunity for public review and comment has already closed, then the county or city must provide an opportunity for the public to review and comment on the proposed change before the legislative body takes action.

Spinning Wheels

One of my major frustrations with the OPC centered on its inability to do this kind of process planning so I am happy to see that additional time has been invested into it at the onset of the Comprehensive Plan Process. (It was completely disregarded with the SMP.) On the other hand, I never thought and to this day still believe that the consultants, staff, and in particular the commissioners themselves do not have the competency to undertake and implement any sort of process design. I saw gant chart after gant chart in my days with the OPC where what seemed like thousands of sheets of paper were wasted simply to move the relevant dates down a few weeks later. This latest OPC discussion on process seems to support my belief that real project managers should be used if there is a real commitment to real project management.

Worse, trying however successfully to conduct project management, takes commissioners away from what I wish they did more of which is the formulation and recommendation of planning policy. I don’t really want my planning commissioners thinking about project management, I want them thinking about form based codes, sustainable urbanism, and similar connections between actions now and results in the future.

This is a tight-rope act as well because the intent behind these machinations is completely proper, but the ultimate realization of these goals doesn’t seem reasonably likely to proceed from the former. This is another way of saying that process doesn’t ensure a better city.  Closer to the point at hand, a flawed process isn’t necessarily more or less likely to lead to a better city—the city we want. It won’t perfect the imperfections and certainly won’t make everyone happy. This is a means to an end, and a legal process, if you ask me or Daniel Kemmis doth not community make.

I commend the OPC for attempting to draw people into the process and spending time on this beforehand, although most of the rest of me wishes they would just start producing the great ideas that put them there in the first place because no one shows up to planning commission meetings anyway.  Wow that sounded cynical.

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This entry was posted in Comprehensive Plan, Olympia Planning Commission, Public Hearings, Public Participation. Bookmark the permalink.

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