I’m not going to actually suggest that anyone watch all four hours-plus of the Planning Commission hearing last week on the highrise condo tower at 555 Washington. But if you’ve got the time, it’s a fascinating video.
And here’s what’s most interesting: A lot of the discussion revolved around what Commissioner Michael Antonini said was a need to continue the item to a later date. That’s because three of the commissioners -- the ones appointed by the Board of Supervisors -- were dubious about the project’s environmental impact report, so it would take all four of the mayoral appointees to let the project go forward. But Commissioner Gwyneth Borden couldn’t make the meeting. Antonini went ballistic at one point, and stormed out of the room, saying that it was disrespectful to Borden not to grant a continuance.
That struck Commission Vice-President Christina Olague as kind of odd. “I was taken aback by the accusations that we were somehow being insensitive,” she told me. “To my knowledge, Commissioner Borden never made any request for a continuance. There was nothing in writing and she never communicated it to me.”
But then the strangeness started to happen. Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya moved not to certify the environmental impact report on the project. That motion was defeated, 3-2, with Antonini off in a huff somewhere and Borden absent.
Now, normally, in these situations, the president looks for a substitute motion. In this case, a motion to approve the DEIR could have been made, and that, too, would have been defeated. Once the motion to approve went down, the DEIR would be scuttled and the developer would have to start again.
But instead, the commission secretary simply announced that the matter would be continued to March 18. And a week later, I’m still trying to figure out how that was possible.
After all, the commission had decided -- openly, in public -- NOT to accept a continuance. Then all of a sudden, without a vote of the body, Antonini got his way. The DEIR will be heard again, presumably with the mayor’s fourth vote present.
This is a major project, and I’m not going to argue that it’s fate should hang on an issue of procedure. But nobody has been able to explain to me how a matter gets continued without a vote to continue. The best I can figure is that without any motion on the floor, and no action pending, the secretary had no choice but to continue the matter.
“It all happened so fast,” Olague said. “I want to go back and review everything to see exactly what ocurred.”
Attorney Sue Hestor, who opposes the project, told me that after the lengthy list of serious flaws with the DEIR, which were presented in great detail at the hearing, it will be hard for the commissioners to certify the document. But the pressure from the Mayor’s Office is intense -- Michael Yarne, the mayor’s Economic and Workforce Development advisor, was at the meeting, cornering commissioners outside. And four of the members serve at the mayor’s pleasure.