Burlingame Planning Commissioners spoke out yesterday about City Council's likely decision not to reappoint its longest-standing commissioner, Jerry Deal, and voiced concern over his rumored replacement.
A rumor circulating around Burlingame -- that City Council wants to get rid of Deal and replace him with a local realtor -- has left several Commissioners with a bad taste in their mouth.
"I don't personally see how there could be any value in it," said Commissioner Martin Dreiling about Deal's rumored replacement.
"He's a Realtor. Realtors are concerned with having people move out of town so they can sell houses," Dreiling said.
"And it's dangerous to have a Realtor on the Planning Commission because a conflict-of-interest situation is more than likely."
According to Dreiling, it was only two weeks ago that the City Council touted the Planning Commission as being a great asset to the city of Burlingame, and said that the sudden decision to replace Deal appears suspect.
"It doesn't make sense," he said. "They say we're doing such a great job and then they start trying to replace people."
Dreiling added that a couple of weeks ago, he too was facing possible replacement after writing a letter to the City Council to express his disapproval over a decision it had made.
"Galligan took me aside and basically said how dare you air our dirty laundry in public, and that maybe I would be happier if I wasn't on the Planning Commission -- and I said 'No, I would be happier if I was,'" Dreiling added.
Commissioner Ann Keighran's seat has also been threatened by the City Council, according to Dreiling.
One reason for not reappointing Deal has been that the governing body is stacked with people of similar backgrounds. Mayor Joe Galligan said in a previous interview with the Daily Journal that he wants more diversity on the commission.
Another reason for not re-appointing Deal is that he has been on the Commission for 11 years, and now it is simply time for some new blood.
In a previous interview, Galligan expressed his hesitation to re-appoint Deal but did not say the decision was final, nor did he mention a possible replacement candidate.
According to Dreiling, commissioners who work as contractors, architects and designers have been questioned because of a perceived conflict -- including Deal -- and consequently the decision to replace Deal with a realtor reeks of hypocrisy.
"Jerry is very important to the Planning Commission," Dreiling said. "He's someone who has the expertise to do the job.
"Mr. Galligan has this idea that him being a contractor creates a conflict. But you need someone who is knowledgeable about these types of issues to make the right decisions. I've been around a lot of planning commissions that have all kinds of people on them, people without this expertise, and quite often they make horrible decisions because of it."
The commissioners were apparently taken by surprise last week when the rumor started circulating that Deal would not be reappointed. And this week, as rumors surfaced naming his likely replacement, that surprise transformed into disappointment.
"I was personally bothered by it," Dreiling said, adding that the Planning Commission has placed the issue on the discussion agenda for its next meeting.
Currently, there are seven members on the Planning Commission: Ann Keighran, a housewife and former nurse; Joseph Bojues, who's in advertising; Ralph Osterling, who's in land management; Dave Luzuriaga, a civil engineer; Stanley Vistica, an architect; Dreiling, also an architect; and Deal, who is a building designer.
Commissioners questioned yesterday expressed that they weren't necessarily buying the idea that Deal may not be reappointed for the sake of diversity.
"Anyone, if you know anything about Burlingame -- and you put politics and personal issues aside -- knowing his qualifications, how could you not want to reappoint him?" asked Commissioner Ann Keighran.
Deal said he has met with Galligan once in private to discuss the issue, and there was no final decision made at that time.
Deal said that if he is not reappointed to the Commission that he is not sure what role he will play in Burlingame in the future.
He also stated that everyone on the Planning Commission, to the best of his knowledge, is supporting him for reappointment.
"All of us on the Planning Commission are outspoken and we have a great working relationship," said Keighran, adding that she too believes that all the commissioners are behind Deal.
Last year Deal ran against Councilmember Mike Coffey for the position that Coffey now holds. Deal lost this election by nine votes.
During the course of the campaign, planning commissioners signed an endorsement letter for Deal and criticized Coffey. This action was later reviewed by the San Mateo County civil grand jury and was deemed to be a violation of the Brown Act -- California's open meeting law.
The grand jury's Brown Act Violation investigation was denied by District Attorney Jim Fox, who stated in a letter to the Burlingame City Council that no such violation occurred.
Yesterday Herman Christensen, foreman of the grand jury, stood behind the Brown Act Violation report. He also, however, disclosed that he and Coffey have been friends for years and that they are members of the same tennis club.
When asked whether he thought there was a conflict of interest involved in the grand jury's investigation of the Brown Act due to this friendship with Coffey, who stood to gain the most by an attack against the Planning Commission, Christensen responded that he did not think there was. But he also stated that he recused himself from the subcommittee that investigated the Planning Commission.
Christensen also disclosed that he gave $300 to Coffey's campaign for City Council.
Though Dreiling feels strongly about the possibility that Deal may not be re-appointed, he expressed yesterday that he did not think the decision to not reappoint was either political or personal.
"I think it's more an issue of a broader agenda," Dreiling said, adding that City Council tends to be pro-growth and that the Planning Commission tends to be more aligned with smart growth.
The City Council is expected to come to a decision about Deal's appointment some time next week.