The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

June 3, 2011
Is Sacramento's planning commission representative enough?

It's definitely a curiosity: Of the 11 members on the city of Sacramento's Planning Commission, six live in District 4 and another three in District 3. That's nine members from just two districts, while four districts -- 2, 5, 6 and 7 --- aren't represented at all.

But it's not clear whether the imbalance makes much difference in the commission's decision-making.

The concentration was worsened this week with the latest appointment: Darrell Fong, the new councilman in District 7, nominated William Wong, a close political ally who lives in District 4.

UPDATE: Wong responded by saying that while he doesn't live in the district, he has strong ties to residents there and has "already reached out to make sure that I have regular meetings to discuss District 7 concerns."

In an email, he also pointed out that he has lived in Sacramento since 1991 and has 20 years of public policy experience, including serving as a consultant to the Senate Housing and Community Development Committee, working at an advocacy group on rent control and affordable housing and serving on the Sacramento Human Rights/Fair Housing Commission.

For many years, planning commissioners were all chosen citywide. In late 2009, the City Council expanded the panel from nine to 11 members - two chosen at large and one picked by each of the eight council members and mayor. But there's no requirement that council members nominate someone from their district.

The over-representation is partly a product of many planning types living in Districts 3 and 4, which include east Sacramento, midtown, Land Park, etc.

The current commission is seen as diligent, doing its homework wherever a particular project happens to be. Still, it wouldn't hurt to have someone who lives in the district to weigh in.

Some of the highest-profile planning cases lately were in districts not directly represented on the commission: the poultry plant-SPCA kerfuffle earlier this year was in District 6, while the much-debated Curtis Park Village project last year was in District 5 and the Iceland skating rink issue last year was in District 2.

While the commission is one of the city's more powerful appointed boards, major and controversial projects are invariably appealed to the council, which does have district representation.

Any correction to the imbalance will take a while, barring any resignations. Commission members serve four-year terms and the next openings - three of them - don't happen until January. And two of those seats, in Districts 1 and 3, are already filled by people who reside in those districts.

Expertise is certainly important. But so is representation.

Council members ought to at least think about it.

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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