Our View: Commissioners need to take vote seriously

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Auburn’s planning commission may be able to say it unanimously approved recommending a controversial housing development entrance but how unanimous was it really? Last week the commission said Herdal Drive was the better main entrance to the proposed 790-home Baltimore Ravine development. It was a 2-0 vote, with three commissioners on the sidelines. Whatever their reasons for absence, the lack of commissioners present to vote — especially on an issue important to the community — makes the planning group seem less important and almost an exercise in futility to residents. The issue of how the South Auburn development’s future residents will get in and out has been argued over by residents in the area. Nearby homeowners care deeply and are extremely passionate. Their home values, safety and way of life are at stake. Dozens of homeowners packed city hall for several meetings, including one that lasted almost six hours before the City Council sent the decision back to the planning commission. The proposed housing and commercial project sits with the Union Pacific railroad track to its south, Auburn-Folsom Road to the east and Interstate 80 to the north and northwest. Those against the Herdal Drive entrance say Pacific Street is better equipped — and safer — to handle more traffic. Pacific Street residents, including a longtime Auburn family, don’t want to give up their property and say they’ll go to court if necessary. Despite the importance of the recommendation, last week only two planning commissioners attended to render their verdict, which is now subject to approval by the City Council. Commissioner Fred Vitas recused himself and commissioners Lisa Worthington and Alan Young were absent, which left just Commissioner Matt Spokely and Chairman Bob Snyder to vote on the hot-button issue. What do we need them for if they don’t even bother to attend or vote? The presence of only two also makes it appear, whether true or not, that the access issue was a done deal before the meeting. Are commissioners merely puppets of the City Council members who appointed them? If so, why do we need a commission? If not, then they should be present to speak their minds on decisions that directly impact them and the residents they represent. Recently Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery was pulled off a Tahoe planning board because she didn’t vote the way the rest of the supervisors wanted on a development issue. The decision to revoke her spot on the board sparked the question of just what are these committees for? Councilwoman Bridget Powers also removed commissioner Mark Smith when he challenged the status quo. The multiple committees our elected and appointed leaders sit on should be for residents and the board to openly discuss the decisions at hand on a very local level. Whether it be talking about how an entrance to a development will change a once-residential street into a major thoroughfare or if your neighbors should be allowed to raise chickens, residents should be able to speak their mind and have their concerns taken seriously. Having only two voting commissioners present doesn’t give the impression that Auburn homeowners were listened to, or that their thoughts mattered.