Norm Grossman will end 26 nearly consecutive years on the Planning Commission, when his current term expires June 30 after the City Council rejected his reappointment Tuesday.
Council members appointed Susan Whitin to fill a seat vacated recently by Linda Dietrich and Roger McErlane to fill the post held by the ousted Grossman.
Since Dietrich, whose term would have expired June 30, resigned effective April 1 due to her move out of town, Whitin will immediately fill the post on the five-member panel. McErlane’s term will begin July 1, and both he and Whitin will serve two-year terms ending June 20, 2017.
Asked for insight into his failure to be reappointed after serving for so many years, Grossman said, “There’s a large political aspect to the Planning Commission appointments.” He declined to expand on that notion but admitted he was not surprised by Tuesday’s outcome.
Grossman and Dietrich were both incumbents seeking and receiving, reappointment on May 21, 2013. They were both selected in the first round of voting. At the time, then Council member Bob Whalen made the comment that given all the commission was dealing with it made sense to keep the incumbents in their seats. But he encouraged the other applicants to keep trying, noting prophetically that incumbents would not always be reappointed. He also said that he was probably the swing vote in those appointments, although the individual votes of each Council member were not revealed at that meeting.
The Planning Commission advises the City Council on development and land use issues, reviews and implements the city’s General Plan, and oversees administration of various specific plans, such as the Downtown Specific Plan that dictates the zoning, remodeling and development rules in the downtown area. A typical meeting might range from weighing in on the signage or paint color of a business to approving development permits for large projects, such as Louis Longi’s artists work/live facility and Mark Christy’s Ranch renovation.
Given Dietrich’s departure, Grossman was the only incumbent in a pool of eight candidates vying for the two seats on the commission. Admittedly, all spoke well and were armed with impressive resumes, leaving the Council with a difficult decision.
Indeed, it took them three rounds of voting to come up with two appointees. Grossman secured two votes in each round, but never the necessary three.
Whitin was in after the first round with votes from Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen and Council members Rob Zur Schmiede and Kelly Boyd.
With two votes each, Grossman, McErlane and Becky Jones faced off in the second round where Council member Toni Iseman and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow championed Grossman, Whalen and Boyd championed McErlane, and Zur Schmiede championed Jones. That led to the final round between Grossman and McErlane, and Zur Schmiede broke the tie with a vote for McErlane.
A landscape architect and urban designer, Whitin most recently served on the View Equity Committee responsible for drafting the city’s recently adopted view ordinance. Her resume includes concept design for the landscape architecture of the Montage resort and developing urban design guidelines for downtown Anaheim.
McErlane, a landscape architect and urban planning consultant, currently sits on the city’s Design Review Board. Previously, he worked for the Irvine Company as director of community planning and design.
Grossman said that what he will miss most when he steps down is the opportunity to be a problem solver, to “really exercise your brain” to help people to work together to find solutions where they previously only saw roadblocks. The most important thing is listening to people and making it understood that everyone is heard, he said. Even when you can’t reach a perfect consensus, you can usually reach a point where the parties accept the decision, and the people who disagree at least feel they’ve been heard and understand the outcome, he said.
Going forward Grossman, a retired university administrator, plans to keep his finger on the pulse of ongoing city projects. He currently also sits on the Laguna Greenbelt board and the Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee.