Riverside City Councilman Steve Adams is demanding the removal of Planning Commission Chairman Maartin Rossouw after Rossouw refused to vote for a ban on most marijuana uses.
Adams strongly supports the city’s ban on marijuana uses — including outdoor grows and dispensaries — that the City Council approved July 10. Its vote overruled the Planning Commission and came after months of workshops and discussions, as well as a trip to Denver by Adams and other city officials.
But no one from the commission, which reviews land-use decisions, was invited to those sessions.
So when the City Council asked the commission in May to sign off on the proposed ban, Rossouw and others said they didn’t have enough information to justify a vote making permanent the city’s ban on dispensaries, outdoor marijuana growing and other marijuana uses. Usually, the panel first studies an issue and makes a recommendation to the council, but in this case it was the reverse.
On 2-5 vote, with one panelist abstaining, the commission voted against the ban.
Adams criticized that vote during the July 10 council meeting, saying commissioners hadn’t done their job and could have watched video of previous council meetings.
In two private meetings since, he’s demanded that Rossouw resign or face a public meeting at which Adams would say why Rossouw should be removed from the unpaid position. Rossouw, who declined to comment, has refused to step down.
Adams declined to specify exactly what Rossouw had done, but said in an interview that the complaint was “basically” Rossouw’s conduct at the May 31 Planning Commission meeting.
“After hearing what happened and what he had to say, I felt it was impossible for me to trust him to continue serving,” Adams said. “Therefore, I don’t believe the citizens of Ward 7 should be saddled with someone who is not (trustworthy).”
The city charter requires commissions to have at least one member from each ward. Traditionally, each ward’s council member nominates someone, who is then approved by the full council. Rossouw is the commissioner for Ward 7, which Adams represents.
Rossouw didn’t directly criticize Adams during the meeting. His comments were muted compared to those of other commissioners, who expressed frustration at being left out of the decision-making process.
“A very basic, fundamental reason (I’m voting no) is we are being treated today like a rubber stamp,” Commissioner Omar M. Zaki said during the meeting. “There is a level of respect that should be given to this body and to this group, and I don’t believe it’s been given today. I don’t believe we’ve been given the information we need to make a legitimate decision.”
Zaki did not return phone calls or an email.
City officials said during the meeting that the commission had to vote May 31 to keep on a schedule that would allow a permanent ban to be in place by September, when a moratorium was set to expire.
If Rossouw won’t leave the panel, Adams said, he will explain at a public meeting why he thinks the commissioner should be removed.
“I’m trying to protect this guy,” he said. “If he forces it, I’ll have to expose him. It’s completely in his hands.”
The city’s charter states that Planning Commission members can be removed if at least five of the city’s eight elected officials — the seven City Council members and the mayor — vote to do so. The charter doesn’t specify what actions would justify removing a commissioner.
It would have to be a pattern of bad behavior, in the opinion of Councilman Mike Soubirous, who said he couldn’t remember anyone who regularly attended meetings being removed.
Soubirous said that as a councilman he had unanswered questions about marijuana — which is why he voted for a new moratorium instead of a permanent ban.
At least once, Soubirous said, the planning commissioner who represents his ward has voted differently than Soubirous, which Soubirous sees as an important part of the representative process and part of the reason the charter created commissions.
If Adams argues that Rossouw should be removed because of a single vote, that would be troubling, Soubirous said.
“It sets a precedent of ‘You vote my way or the highway,’” Soubirous said. “I don’t see that as a good governmental policy.”
Councilman Chuck Conder, who as mayor pro tem can call special meetings, scheduled and then canceled a joint meeting of the City Council and the Planning Commission regarding the “role of the Planning Commission.”
Conder said he thought a smaller meeting of only some council members and commissioners — still subject to the state’s open-meeting law — would be more productive.
He plans to schedule one soon to hear commissioners’ concerns and Adams’ viewpoint.
“If we just sit down eyeball-to-eyeball (and ask), ‘What are your concerns’ and make sure we understand the issues, I think we can work this out,” Conder said.
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