Open letter to the Molalla City Council:
You have opened discussion at Molalla City Council meetings about whether participation on the Molalla Planning Commission should be limited to people who are residents inside the City limits or if participation should be open to an area as large as the 97038 zip code.
Sadly, as usual, the “open to wider area” is a false reaction to the City’s failure to recruit, train, honor and retain an INDEPENDENT Planning Commission. Other local Cities have fully staffed PC’s and Molalla seldom, if ever, has a full board.
The vital question should not be how large an area the PC members are drawn from but why the City of Molalla is a constant failure at Goal One, Citizen Involvement in Planning.
“Goal 1 calls for “the opportunity for citizens to be involved in all phases of the planning process.” It requires each city and county to have a citizen involvement program that addresses:
- Opportunities for widespread public involvement
Effective two-way communication with the public
- The ability for the public to be involved in all phases of the planning process
- Making technical information easy to understand
- Feedback mechanisms for policy-makers to respond to public input, and
Adequate financial support for public involvement efforts
The goal also calls for local governments to have a committee for citizen involvement (CCI) to monitor and encourage public participation in planning.”
The Molalla PC is legally tasked, via the Comprehensive Plan, as Molalla’s official Goal One Citizen Involvement committee. Yet in my more than a decade of participating in Molalla’s so-called “planning” I have never seen any outreach by the PC members, either at meetings or in the paper, to ask citizens to participate. The PC members I have seen over the years – a fast changing group – have been ill prepared to make independent decisions and, in my opinion, have been often bullied by City Staff to make rushed decisions that benefit developers. The PC often fails to fully understand agency input or ignores that input entirely; leading to legal challenges and delays.
Further, in my more than a decade of attempting to “participate in planning” in Molalla, I’ve seen over and over how City Mangers and their hand-picked PC routinely demean anyone who has views opposing the City Mangers and favored developers. A PC member recorded the current Molalla City Manager spewing disparaging remarks about a person and group not present at a PC meeting – a blatant attempt to keep the PC from considering comments! What better example of how the City Managers pull the strings?
The elephant in the room that the City Council fails to address is WHY don’t people wish to serve on Molalla’s Planning Commission – and why, once they become PC members to they in most cases serve only briefly? The City Council has been eager to dismiss PC members but never explores why PC members fail to attend meetings or why a PC member was dismissed for asking questions and having a dissenting view.
The former Mayor told Rachel Cain before she was dismissed from the Planning Commission that the Mayor and City Manager carefully curated the PC so that it had a majority of members who would dependably vote as the City wished. That’s not what PCs are supposed to do – they are supposed to be an independent body capable of making independent decisions, not a puppet show led by the nose by the City Manager or the Mayor!
Here is comment from a 2016 PC member after she resigned that is valid today:
“Torsen said she resigned because she didn’t feel she was being effective.
“We would vote something down, and then it would go to the city council, and they would push it through,” she said. “I just felt very inadequate. I’d come home angry every week from the meetings. We were told to keep everything hush-hush, and I wanted things to be above-board. I felt we were just going along with what the city administration wanted. So I got disgusted. I am just so disgusted with our city government right now.”
What person seeking to have an independent voice on a PC would ever want to serve in Molalla, given the very public witch hunt that ousted Rachel Cain? https://pamplinmedia.com/mop/157-news/358505-238507-molalla-mayor-threatens-to-oust-planning-commissioner-
The City Council failed to ask the two PC members it recently ousted why they stopped showing up for meetings. Why didn’t the City Council take the time to interview those two PC members to learn about why PC members stop participating?
And, City Council, how about questioning the ethics – or lack of ethics! – of allowing in the past the partner of a Molalla Mayor to serve on the PC or the current PC member who is also on the Molalla School Board. In the case of the Mayor’s partner (and business partner), she had to be challenged to recluse herself from making decisions about an apartment development she and the then Mayor stood to profit from via a carpet/flooring contract with the developer! As to the questionable ethics of the School Board member serving on the PC, the School District is often at odds with the City of Molalla over population growth the School District claims it can’t keep up with; is Molalla so desperate for PC members that it must allow an elected Board Member from the District to also serve on the PC? How much more ingrown can the City get (especially since said School Board/PC member was recently also on the City Council and had to resign when she moved out of the City limits – imagine her potential for insider trading/ influence peddling!). The point of Goal One is diverse participation, not Molalla’s ever smaller circles of recycled participants.
Molalla’s ongoing rush to honor developers continues with the so-called Cascade project next to Stoneplace. Molalla’s Interim Planner sent out a notice about comments being due by April 26 when there has been not posting of the project on the City website, no feedback until today from ODOT, no notice about the wetlands to Division of State Lands, no notice to DEQ about the project and its relation to sewage capacity issues, no hearing date provided and no Staff Report. Molalla again clearly wants to jam through a project before the public – and the PC? – has been provided with the technical information demanded by Goal One! By talking to ODOT on the phone today, it is clear that ODOT has many unanswered questions about the project – competent planning would have made certain all agencies had fully approved of plans BEFORE citizens were asked to comment.
In conclusion, until the City of Molalla accepts that a Planning Commission needs to be stable, well-trained, allowed to debate and delay in decisions until all questions about proposals are answered, entitled to reach an independent decision guided by a competent planner (free of high pressure tactics from City Managers!), it won’t matter what physical boundaries are allowed. Molalla has thrown away chances for good quality development because it sold out to the greed of developers and failed to assemble and train a PC capable of advocating for the highest standards of development.
Why would any person with an independent mind, an interest in quality of life and high standards want to serve as a PC member when the PC consistently acts as nothing but puppet for City management and developers and are subject to pubic dismissal at the whim of the Mayor?