The Coastal Post - November 1999

Park And Recreation Deleted From Fairfax Plan Open Letter To The Fairfax Town Council

By Therese F. Alvillar

This week I discovered that the entire Park and Recreation element of Fairfax's existing General Plan had been deleted from the Draft Technical Update (DTU), the document which has been reviewed by the Public Advisory Committee (PAC) for the Planning Commission, and which is now being reviewed at Planning Commission hearings as a General Plan Amendment. This fact was confirmed to me yesterday by Planning Director, Elizabeth Patterson, who stated that this was "an inadvertent omission by the consultant," Design, Community & Environment. A copy of the Park and Recreation element is enclosed.

The planning commission has been considering the general plan update for about two years now. It has been discussed in four PAC meetings and one planning commission hearing. PAC members were never given copies of the existing general plan, but were told that the DTU included all of the existing plan. This should have been ample time for the Planning Director and Planning Commissioners to discover any omissions. On September 2, 1999, the following planning commissioners voted to approve the DTU, minus the Park and Recreation element: Jack Judkins, Laine Sprague, David Weinsoff, Michael Pettit and Linda Bolt.

I am a member of the PAC. On May 6, I posed the following written questions to the Planning Director and to the Planning Commission:

11. DTU, p. 30, 5. and p. 32, Table 5: Parks & Park Adequacy in the Upper Ross Valley.

a) Public parks in the Upper Ross Valley are shown on the Table to have 82.80 acres with a surplus of 10.21 acres. Where is this acreage and how much of it is in Fairfax?

b) On what basis is the draft's conclusion that no neighborhoods in Fairfax are deprived of adequate parks?

c) Also, have you done or do you propose to do a neighborhood survey posing this question?

d) If there is no Parks and Recreation Plan, including policies and standards for parks, Fairfax cannot invoke The Quimby Act (S.66477) which authorizes cities and counties to require the dedication of parks and recreation land, or the payment of in-lieu fees, as a condition of tentative subdivision map approval (CSGPG, p. 173).

Regarding question (d), I made the comment during the PAC meeting that if Measure C had passed and litigation had ensued over the portion of the Marin Town & Country Club property which was to have been dedicated for public park use, on what basis could the Town prevail if it had no Parks and Recreation Plan? Planning Director Patterson responded that some could reach that conclusion, but others hold an opposite view. Despite this obvious reminder and reference to a Parks and Recreation plan, neither the Planning Director nor any Planning Commissioner was able to recall that our existing plan already included one.

Omitting the element would make any potential use of the Marin Town & Country Club property as a park impossible, since all land use approvals must be consistent with the general plan.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from Planning Director Patterson regarding Fairfax's Park and Recreation Element: "Please note that the 7.0 goals will be changed to policies and the policies will be changed to programs." My response was that since there has been no public notice or public review on this portion of the General Plan, the goals and policies should be included verbatim in the General Plan Amendment. Any changes could be made later, during the Comprehensive Update. Policies indicate a commitment of the Town Council to a particular course of action; therefore, these existing policies should not be altered without first being considered by the PAC and by review during a complete Planning Commission hearing process. State law requires that the entire general plan amendment be considered during these hearings.

I suggest that statutory public notices regarding the general plan amendment should be reissued, since the one appearing in the September 30 issue of the Marin Independent Journal falsely stated that "no new policies have been added, no relevant policies deleted."

The Negative Declaration was prepared based on the DTU deleting the Park and Recreation element. Therefore, a significant, negative social impact should have been noted in the CEQA document but it was not.

This situation raises a serious question. Fairfax's general plan is its "constitution for all future development." It is the legal basis for all subordinate land use action including zoning ordinances, tentative maps and development agreements. In whose hands have we placed Fairfax's constitution and are they qualified to direct the amendment procedure?

Design, Community & Environment has demonstrated inexcusable incompetence by "inadvertently" omitting an entire element from the general plan, a mistake which had to be discovered by a lay person. Consulting cost estimates for the DTU were $9,000-$18,000. The next phase is estimated to cost $95,000-$225,000. Not only should Design, Community & Environment's contract performance be challenged on the basis of gross negligence, but the firm should not be awarded any more contracts by the Town.

The greater question, however, is how competent are Planning Director Elizabeth Patterson and the current planning commissioners? I can see absolutely no excuse for such a blunder. Either these persons are simply not qualified for their positions to oversee Fairfax's future physical development, or they have participated in a deliberate act to delete the Park and Recreation Element from the plan. Regardless of the consultant's "inadvertent error," it is the Planning Director's responsibility to exercise her professional capabilities to protect the Town's interests by carefully reviewing the consultant's work product.

On the basis of the foregoing, I request that the Town Council conduct a thorough investigation of these matters and, if necessary, slow down the amendment process to guarantee that the final result is legally adequate and consistent with community goals.
Therese F. Alvillar

Faifax Says It Goofed

By Terri Alvillar

"Arrogance and duplicity must end!" was the theme suggested by one Fairfax resident to describe the 11/18/99 planning commission meeting. After being publicly exposed for leaving out the entire Park & Recreation Element of the proposed General Plan Amendment, Planning Director, Elizabeth Patterson and consultant, David Early, of Design, Community & Environment (DCE), have attempted to shift blame for this significant error onto everyone in sight, as well as onto the general plan document itself.

In a 11/16/99 memo to the Fairfax Town Council, Patterson claims that each lay member of the Public Advisory Committee (PAC) was equally responsible for discovering the "omission" as the professional planning consultant, herself and the planning commissioners. Early stated in his 11/16/99 letter to Director Patterson: "I think that it is understandable that my staff and I inadvertently omitted the park and recreation goals and policies from the Draft Technical Update, since they are contained on just a few pages at the back of the existing General Plan." Then he arrogantly states: "I want to apologize for this error and to assure you that my firm will correct our mistake at no cost to the Town." The fact is, the Park/Rec Element is #4 among 7 elements of the existing general plan which contain goals and policies, right in the middle. It contains more policies than the Noise, Scenic Highway and Open Space elements and comprises 11% of the general plan's total number of policies. In spite of its prominent position in the existing plan (copies of which were not distributed to the PAC), Patterson states it was "inadvertently omitted...not purposely deleted." There is only one reference to this element in the April 1999 version of the amendment, the phrase "VII. Parks and Recreation," with a line through it made by the consultant.

To justify the consultant's error, Patterson says that "the Town has invested much less in the general plan updating process than other jurisdictions." Regarding her own competency, she stated: "I would welcome a peer review and audit to determine my qualifications to continue serving in my capacity as planning director." As an employee of the Town, her review should come from her employer not from her peers.

Director Patterson's final attempt to avoid responsibility is to actually blame the general plan itself for the error! "I would ask whether the Town's welfare is enhanced or thwarted by continuing to rely on an out of date general plan whose very structure leads to mistakes by professionals who in every other capacity are regarded most highly?"

After all the explaining away of this problem what did Patterson do? She deliberately altered the document by changing all the policies (the most important parts of the plan) to programs. This is no "inadvertent omission." Skipping one line in a 200-page document is an inadvertent omission; separating an entire building block from the General Plan and surgically removing its vital organs isn't.

In what has come to be a pattern of contempt and exclusion, the planning commission dismissed a resolution from the Fairfax Parks and Recreation Commission (which had been approved the night before) to review the element and to be represented on the Public Advisory Committee. The Fairfax planning commission did not have a single criticism of any of these issues and voted unanimously to approve the amendment. The proposed general plan amendment will next be heard by the Town Council - check with Town Hall for dates (453-1584).

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