Peninsula Planning Board Meetings Are Always Entertaining

by on April 23, 2018 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Geoff Page

There was not much on the Action Item agenda for the Peninsula Community Planning Board at its regular meeting April 19 held at the Point Loma Library, but PCPB meetings always have some entertainment value.

There was good news, a vacancy was filled and a new chair was elected.  A former board member was elected by the board vote to fill the vacancy and was then elected the new chair, something that is clearly a much welcomed improvement.  The downside is that the PCPB will very probably cease to be as entertaining a side show it has been for some time.

The former chair, Jon Linney, put together the meeting agenda and the agenda was clearly his own agenda. To begin with, a section of the PCPB by-laws was printed at the very top in red, italic font, just to make sure everyone got the point. This has never been done on an agenda and it reflected the former chair’s self-perception that he was IN CHARGE.  That it was insulting apparently did not occur to Linney. It read:

*Article VI, Section 2, (a) (xiii)

“DISORDERLY CONDUCT – In the event that any planning board meeting is willfully interrupted by a person or board of persons, so as to make the orderly conduct of the meeting infeasible, the planning board may first cause removal of the individual or individuals. If that is unsuccessful then the planning board may order the meeting room cleared and continue in session on scheduled agenda items without an audience, except that representatives of the media shall be allowed to remain. The planning board may also readmit an individual or individuals who were not responsible for the disruption.”

It felt a little trumpian

Point Loma High School, 1925

Sitting New Board Members Out of Order

Linney’s first agenda item was to seat the new board members. This was out of order because there was an active challenge to the PCPB elections filed by this reporter, as one candidate, and former board member Julia Quinn, another candidate.  The challenge was two thirds of the way down the agenda slated for much later in the evening. Few could argue that an election challenge probably should be discussed first before seating the new members who were elected in the challenged election.  How the election challenge was badly handled will be covered a bit later.

Filling a Vacancy Becomes an Ordeal

The next order of business was to fill the vacancy.  Board member Laura Miller resigned her seat on March 1, the day the PCPB Candidate Forum for the March election was held.  For personal reasons, Miller found herself spending more and more time on the East coast and felt she had to resign.  Rather than fill the seat with the person who garnered the sixth highest vote total in the March election held on March 15, the PCPB decided it had to fill the vacancy by board election.  The opening was advertised and the PCPB received four applicants to fill the remaining one year of Miller’s term.

Two of the four candidates were two of the incumbent board members that were defeated in the March election, James Hare and Robert Goldyn both of whom were actively lobbied against during the election by Linney, Margaret Virissimo, and Don Sevrens.  A third candidate was a woman who admitted she just moved to Point Loma in January of this year. The fourth person was unable to attend.  Linney read a statement from her at the meeting, which was odd, having a friend or relation read it would have been much more appropriate.

James Hare withdrew his application before the meeting leaving just three candidates.  The candidates were asked to speak a moment about themselves after which board members and the audience asked questions.  It quickly became apparent that there was a coordinated attack on Robert Goldyn in an attempt to torpedo his chances of winning.

New board member Scott Deschenes asked Goldyn how he could assure everyone that he would not be pushing his client’s interests as an architect and how he could assure everyone there would be no conflict of interest.  The questions reflected how unfamiliar Deschenes was with the board he was just elected to.  Goldyn had just finished a three-year term on the board and there had never been any concerns of this nature with how he conducted himself.  And, there are two other architects on the board now.  When questioned by this reporter if he knew there were two architects on the board now, one that was just re-elected to the board, he responded with clear irritation “Yea, but he’s running for a seat.”

The next person to get up and speak against Goldyn had no business saying anything. Her comments on the highly divisive short term vacation rentals issue, claiming that Goldyn favored these vacation rentals, was clearly meant to damage Goldyn.  The speaker was Andrea Schlageter, vice chair of the Ocean Beach Planning Board and serving as liaison from OB to the PCPB.  Goldyn denied that he was in favor of STVRs but Ms. Schlageter persisted in her comments arguing that she did not agree that he was being truthful about his position. Ms. Schlageter did not explain why she felt that she had a right to attempt to influence the PCPB elections, but she will be asked this question at the next Ocean Beach Planning Board meeting.

But, by far the sorriest moment and most blatant attack on Goldyn came from board Margaret Virissimo, the person named most prominently in the election challenge.  Virissimo read an angry message that Goldyn had written right after he had discovered the email that Virissimo sent out before the election to the public telling people not to vote for Goldyn.  Virissimo’s email, signed as Secretary of the Peninsula Community Planning Board, accused Goldyn and three other candidates in the election of being in favor of keeping the Stumps recycling center.  Goldyn had never expressed a position on the recycling center nor had the other three people mentioned.  He was most angry about Virissimo’s email because it copied chair Linney whom Goldyn had considered a friend.

A member of the audience asked what Virissimo was reading and she explained that it was all over social media but provided nothing to substantiate that.  What Virissimo had read out loud was in fact a private text message Goldyn had sent only to Linney.  This was a private message that Linney had no right to share with anyone without Goldyn’s permission, text messages are considered private conversation.

Virissimo added to the violation of Goldyn’s privacy by reading this message in a public meeting with the clear intent of damaging Goldyn’s chances of winning the seat.  To his credit, Goldyn admitted writing the message in a moment of anger right after seeing Virisimmo’s email but cooled down soon after. The ultimate irony was that Goldyn wrote his text to Linney because of Virissimo’s improper, unprofessional attempt to sway the election by lying about Goldyn’s position on the Prince Recycling Center. It apparently wasn’t enough that her actions may have contributed to Goldyn’s defeat in the March election, she wanted to make sure he wasn’t elected to the vacancy and chose this deplorable way to attack him.

But, to their ultimate credit, the board elected Goldyn to the vacancy.  Several board members praised Goldyn’s contributions and leadership qualities; Goldyn clearly had more fans than detractors.  This was a very welcome moment seeing the board wisely elect someone with credentials and experience to fill out their ranks instead of electing another inexperienced member as were three of the new members who had been ushered in by the tainted election. But, the drama was not over.

Robert Goldyn Elected as New Chair

The next order of business was to elect a chair.  Linney had been chair the previous year.  At the board meeting in February, he announced he would not be running for chair again but apparently changed his mind.  This despite the fact that he had announced over widespread social media in the previous weeks that he was taking a position with the Phoenix Police Department.  It appeared that Linney intended to remain on the board and be the chair while working in Phoenix.

An audience member brought up Linney’s new position in Phoenix and he denied it publicly.  He stated that he was living here and offered to show his rental agreement for the year in an attempt to justify his eligibility.  He later said that both his Facebook page and his LinkedIn site had been hacked.  Once again to their great credit, the board sensibly elected Goldyn chair.  Linney left the meeting shortly after this even though the meeting was just beginning.  He later put in a request for a four month “leave of absence” explaining that another board member had told him that a leave of absence for “educational purposes” was allowed under the PCPB by-laws. This was just another indication, among many, that Linney never read the by-laws.  Friday morning Linney resigned from the board.

Had Linney resigned earlier, the Point Loma community as a whole would have had a chance to vote for who would fill the two vacancies.  The PCPB by-laws state that a special election must be held if there are two or more vacancies.  By holding off his resignation, he guaranteed the first vacant position and the second vacancy would have to be filled by a board election only freezing out the community.  This maneuver has been used in the past to fill a vacancy as a certain group on the PCPB wanted to fill it.  It didn’t work this time as the person they wanted elected lost.

The only thing the PCPB ever represented for the former chair, an aspiring politician, was a bully pulpit, something Linney exercised with great abandon.  He was not there to do the work the PCPB does, he didn’t even do the work as chair.  Goldyn, as vice-chair and who had been a friend, did most of the chair work behind the scenes, including compiling the monthly agendas.  Board member David Dick made this point during the chair selection discussion showing this was widely known.  Without the star power of being chair, it appeared that Linney no longer had any use for the PCPB, his desire to stay a member from Phoenix evaporated.

This was all a huge improvement for the PCPB and removes a decisive presence that was seriously affecting the board.  Goldyn, on the other hand, has put a good deal of work into the PCPB, heading up the Long Range Planning subcommittee that is very active and he has filled in well as chair on several occasions.  The feeling was a universal one of relief and optimism that the PCPB will begin operating as a planning board should.

The Information Item section of the agenda had four Items on it, the last of which was the election challenge.  The first three will be described after describing the election challenge.

Election Challenge

The election challenge was filed two days after the March 15 election by this reporter and Julia Quinn as mentioned earlier.  It was based on behavior by Virissimo, Don Sevrens, and Linney as they lobbied, not just for a slate of candidates, but actively against specific candidates including three incumbents.  Linney was the chair.  Virissimo was on the election subcommittee. The head of the election subcommittee was board member Fred Kosmo, the second vice chair.  The by-laws state that the first vice chair head up the election subcommittee but because Goldyn was the first vice chair and a candidate, the responsibility fell to Kosmo.

The by-laws stated that the challenge had to go to Kosmo as head of the elections subcommittee.  There were two other subcommittee members, one of which was Virissimo.  The board decided that Virissimo should not be involved in reviewing or responding to the challenge as she figured prominently in it. This left board members Brad Herrin and Kosmo to review and respond to the challenge.

Kosmo gave a brief explanation of the challenge at the meeting and the decision to deny it that was woefully short of specifics.  He explained that he had written a report and submitted it to the chair, Linney, and the city.  Linney agreed the challenge should be denied but because he was also named in the challenge, he should also have been excluded from the process.  Linney then refused to release the report to anyone, including Ms. Quinn or this reporter.  There was nothing in the by-laws that gave Linney this power but sadly, people with a great deal more maturity and wisdom on this board failed to challenge Linney’s actions.

When the election challenge was sent to Kosmo, he responded immediately that he received it and that he was out of town attending a family funeral. Not wanting to bother Kosmo with this matter immediately upon his return, this reporter waited until March 28, ten days later to inquire about the report.  Repeated emails from March 28 to the April 19 board meeting asking for the report were ignored.  Kosmo sent the report on Friday, April 20, the day after the meeting.  It was then learned that Kosmo wrote his response to the challenge and delivered it to Linney on March 19, two days after the challenge was submitted and never advised Ms. Quinn or this reporter that the report was done.  The “report” was biased, to put it mildly.

At the meeting, it did not appear that any of the board members had seen Kosmo’s answer to the election challenge.  The two people who filed the challenge walked into the meeting with no idea of what Kosmo’s report said.  The report was not circulated at the meeting.  A few questions were asked, there some discussion and the board moved on, without any review of the challenge report, there was not much to say.  What should have happened – a ratification vote –  did not happen.

The planning boards are governed by several documents, one of which is “Administrative Guidelines’ for “Council Policy 600-24.”  Article V “Elections,” Section 4 “Finalizing Election Results” states:

“A ratification vote of the Elections Subcommittee’s findings should be placed on the April agenda for a majority vote of the voting members of the planning group. If there is substance to the challenge, the Elections Subcommittee should identify, with input from the planning group’s officers, the appropriate resolution. The resolution should be placed on the April agenda for a majority vote of the voting members of the planning group. City staff may be consulted if there is any question or assistance needed.”

Because Linney did not put the election challenge on the agenda as an Action Item, it could not be voted on.  In effect, the challenge went to two members to review, who sent it to the clearly biased chair.  Beyond that, it did not appear that anyone else had seen the report.  This was hardly a fair vetting of an election challenge nor a respectful way to treat two volunteers who have both given a great deal of time to the PCPB over many years.

3328/3440 Harbor View Drive Appeal

There were three other information items on the agenda.  One was a report on a failed appeal by the PCPB of a city decision.  The appeal had to do with a project at 3328/3440 Harbor View Drive.  The PCPB appealed the city’s decision that the project was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act or Ceqa, and lost the appeal.  As the process moves forward, the PCPB plans to continue its appeals to the project principally because the PCPB put language in the original motion on the project to do an automatic appeal if the city decided against the PCPB’s decision to deny the project.

Catalina Blvd Work

A second information item was an update on the underground work along Catalina Blvd. and involving the Voltaire intersection.  The only real newsworthy item, other than for people who live in the area of the work who will experience water outages, was that the project should finish in June, one month later than originally planned.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park “Update”

The third information item was listed as on the agenda with the description: “Update on hillside improvement phase (trails smoothing and invasive vegetative removal) and preview of coming drainage and erosion control measures.”  What actually happened was that Gene Berger, President of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Committee read a letter from someone in the committee that sounded like a public relations piece.

The letter talked about how wonderful the park will be and criticized the public’s reaction to what has happened in the park recently.  In fairness to the SCNPC, the plan for the park has been in the works for years and there was opportunity for public input all along the way.  But, there was not much public interest so the park plan was left to be crafted by a small group of committed people. As their plan was being implemented, the public woke up too late.

The problem boils down into two opposing camps, not just about the park, but throughout human history. One man loves to sees an untouched expanse of land with only animal trails and everything in wild and natural confusion.  Another man sees a place to organize, put in a parking lot, ballfields, restricted pathways, decorative signage describing each natural weed along the way and benches of course. This is what has happened in the Sunset Cliffs park.

After the letter reading, this reporter asked if the current plan included work to make the canyon north of the old ballfield safe.  The gash in the ground was created by runoff from the Nazarene University that empties just above the old ball field.  To protect the ballfield years ago, the storm drain above the field was diverted north and ran around the ballfield but some distance away.  That canyon is deep and has sheer walls going straight up for 15 to 20 feet or more. Young people party in the canyon oblivious to the danger.  Cal OSHA would not allow a construction worker to work below walls of earth like that.

Initially, the response to the question was that they were going to lay back the canyon walls 15%.  Laying back the canyon walls would be a welcome solution and would make it a much safer situation so this was good news.  Berger was there with another woman who quickly said “in the next phase.”  Further questioning confirmed there was no plan to fix the canyon during the current project.  This reporter expressed dismay and pointed out that they had the equipment on the job now to fix the canyon walls and that if they didn’t and someone was killed by a cave-in, the city would be liable for millions.  The comment was met with, well, not much.  The next phase is in its “conceptual phase” meaning, it will be some time coming to any fruition.

Pump Bike Track

The Famosa off road “pump” bicycle track issue came up briefly in non agenda comment at the beginning of the meeting. The woman who spoke said the advocates for the bike track would be seeking support from the PCPB for the bike track.  The board appeared receptive to putting the item on the May meeting agenda.

There has been some controversy on the PCPB’s position regarding the real estate involved in the bike track.  The land is open space on the south side of Famosa on the east side of Nimitz.  Some years ago, a group came to the PCPB requesting support for this bike track and the effort to get the land, that belongs to the San Diego Housing Commission, transferred to Parks and Rec.  The PCPB supported that effort.  It apparently failed because the SDHC did not want to give up the land.

In a separate, and probably unrelated action in June 2017, the PCPB wrote a letter to the city in support of affordable housing and pointed to this piece of property as a possible location.  There was no reason to believe this action was at all related to the bike track effort.  It appeared that the bike track may be discussed at the May PCPB meeting, however, check the agenda at www.pcpb.net 72 hours before the meeting for the agenda. The agenda will also be posted on the doors of the Point Loma Library.

 

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar kh April 23, 2018 at 5:24 pm

I’m curious why the author didn’t apply for one of the vacant seats.

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Avatar Geoff Page April 24, 2018 at 9:02 am

kh,

I decided not to apply for the open seat because I wanted one of the incumbents who ran in the election, and were unfairly targeted by the opposition, to have that spot. Jim Hare and Robert Goldyn both would have been good additions and I was very happy with the outcome. Julia Quinn would also have been a great choice but she did not enter this one because she is dealing with an aging father. I, on the other had, am a bit controversial and if I had entered. I would have riled up the opposition and it was time to calm things down. I still plan to stay involved and help where I can.

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