Council names new planning commissioner

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Council to look at language of Municipal Code that appears to allow a non-resident to serve on Avalon commission

The Avalon City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 15, selected Bruce Fertig to serve the last six months of a vacated seat on the Planning Commission.

Four individuals applied to serve on the commission. Three were Avalon residents. The fourth applicant (the publisher of the Islander) was not a resident, citing language in the city code that appears to allow a non-resident to serve on the commission.

In related news, the council is expected to take another look at that part of the Municipal code in the near future. That was the recommendation of Denise Radde, who recently retired from the city manager’s position.

The vote

Mayor Anni Marshall, who had interviewed the applicants recommended Fertig based on his experience as a planner and his knowledge.

The vote was 4 to 1, with Councilmember Yesenia De La Rosa casting the sole “no” vote. City Attorney Scott Campbell said she was not required to explain the reason for her vote. However, De La Rosa voluntarily cited her support for applicant Mary Schickling as the reason for her “no” vote.

The discussion

Councilmember Cinde MacGugan-Cassidy asked if you had to be a resident or a business owner. (The code as written says a resident or an owner or a manger of a business. See below for details.)

Radde said she thought there was a need to clean up the code, because a planner should be someone in the community. She told the council that the way the code is worded, it could be a resident or someone who has a business. City Manager David Maistros said, “On this appointment, it [the code] does have that specific language.”

Councilmember Lisa Lavelle said, “I was under the impression that you had to be here a certain number of months to qualify on that board.”

City Attorney Scott Campbell confirmed for the council that as worded in the ordinance, to qualify for a commission seat, you had to have lived in Avalon for so many months when you apply or be an owner or manager of an Avalon based business.

“After you consider this item, if it is the council’s pleasure, we can bring back an amendment to the code to clean up the code and actually require that you be an Avalon resident, if that’s what you want,” Campbell said.

“I think we need to clean it up,” Cassidy said.

“I think it is a question to be clarified,” Marshall said.

The Avalon Municipal Code

Late Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 9, Steven Remery emailed an application for the position to the city on the basis that he the publisher of the Catalina Islander newspaper, an Avalon-based business. (Editor’s note: The Islander is not owned by the Catalina Island Company.)

According to a previous email from Radde, the intent of the city code is to have a full-time resident serve on the commission.

The city attorney told the Islander that it’s up to the council.

However, the language of the code appears to open the door for a non-resident to serve on the Avalon Planning Commission.

“Avalon Municipal Code 9-1.01 states: Only those persons who are physically present in the City of Avalon or within two miles of the city limits at least nine (9) months of each calendar year (excluding special circumstances such as extended personal or family illness, temporary absences necessitated by the proposed appointee’s employment, military service, and similar situations) or who owns or serves in a management position with an Avalon-based business may be a member of the Planning Commission,” according to the public notice published in the Jan. 7 Islander.

On Jan. 4, Remery emailed Administrative Analyst Devin Elise Hart to ask:

“Did you confirm the Avalon MC on the line where it states business operator in Avalon may be on the planning commission?” [Sic.]

Then-City Manager Denise Radde replied that same day. “Thank you for your interest and pointing out a section of our code that will need clarification. The intent of the below code is for a sitting Planning Commissioner to live and reside in Avalon and allowing a business owner or manager who lives on the Island to qualify also. If you would like to discuss further please let me know,” Radde wrote.

On Jan. 5, an Islander editor asked the city attorney about the language of the Municipal Code.

“As I read the Avalon Municipal Code, it appears to say that a resident who lives in Avalon or the owner/manager of an Avalon-based business—such as the Island Company or, say, the publisher of the Catalina Islander—could serve on the Avalon Planning Commission. Is that your understanding of the city code?”

City Attorney Campbell replied about 40 minutes later: “That is what the code says. The City Council still has to approve the Commissioner.”

In response to a follow-up question, Campbell wrote on Jan. 6: “The municipal code provides the requirements for eligibility for serving but the city council has ultimate authority to approve members based upon what they feel is best for the community.”

On Jan. 7, the Islander asked: “Do you recall if a non-resident who owns or manages an Avalon business ever applied for a seat on the Planning Commission prior to 2022? Say, oh, for a hypothetical example, someone with the Island Company, the Conservancy?”

Campbell wrote back: “Don’t know the history of the ordinance or the thought process, that was way before my time and I don’t recall a non-resident who sat on the planning commission.”

Also on Jan. 7, Radde wrote: “I am not aware of any Commissioner in the past not being a resident. It is important that they reside in our community, know the community and can make a decision on a project, CUP, variance etc. and what the impact would be. The intent of the code is to be a full time resident.”

During the Feb. 7 phone interview, the Islander asked Campbell if the owner or operator of a transient rental property would qualify for the commission.

Campbell pointed out the distinction between a license to do business and a separate license for a new transient rental property. He did not know if the council would accept that. The Islander requested copies of all applications for the position. The applications were made available to the public in the agenda package for the meeting, which was available online.

The applicants

Bruce Fertig, retired, has been an Avalon resident since 1971, according to what turned out to be his successful application.

“With SCE again issuing water permits there will likely be a number of new projects to be considered,” Fertig wrote.

On his application, Fertig cited 30 to 40 years as a Planning Commission member and 20 years as chairman as the personal strengths he would bring to the job.

Applicant Julie Gilbert became a resident in June 2020, according to her application.

“I am an environmental planner by trade and am very interested in serving in my community,” she wrote.

“I have more than 30 years in public and private sector environmental permitting, project management and public affairs,” she wrote.

Gilbert is currently president of Compass Consulting Enterprises, Inc., and was a San Bernardino County planner for 10 years.

Applicant Mary Schickling has been an Avalon resident since 1994.

According to her application, she would only be available for daytime meetings only on Monday. “I have been an active member of this community for 28 years and have a passion for preserving the charm and integrity of this town, while recognizing the need for grown and affordable housing,” Schickling wrote.

“I’m very logical minded, organized, smart [and] have great people skills,” she wrote. “I can separate myself from personal beliefs for the benefit of the greater good.”

She has worked for Southern California Edison since 2007.

Applicant Remery has never lived on Catalina Island, though he is a frequent visitor. He has been group publisher of the Orange County Neighborhood Newspapers (which includes the LA County-located Catalina Islander) since 2015.

“As a businessman, I am experienced in strategic planning, therefore, my interest in the planning commission is very serious,” he wrote. “I am the publisher of the Catalina Islander, therefore, Avalon’s social and economic prospects are closely aligned with the future of our business.”

Council names new planning commissioner