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Former Planning Commissioner Among Four Appointees to City's Most Powerful Board

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By Jorge Casuso

June 26, 2019 -- Jim Ries -- considered a moderating force during the two terms he served on the Planning Commission -- will rejoin the board he left four years ago. Ries was among four applicants appointed to the powerful board by the City Council on Tuesday.

The City Council Tuesday night appointed Ries to replace Amy Anderson, who in April resigned from Santa Monica's most visible and powerful commission ("Seat to Open After Planning Commissioner Submits Resignation," May 7, 2019).

The Council also appointed land use attorney Elisa Paster and reappointed Commissioners Nina Fresco and Mario Fonda-Bonardi to second four-year terms.

Ries, who will complete Anderson's term that expires in June 2021, served on the seven-member Commission from 2007 to 2015 but failed to get the five votes needed to be reappointed for a third consecutive term.

The four-year haitus allowed him to be reappointed with four votes.

Four of the sitting Councilmembers -- Mayor Gleam Davis, Sue Himmelrich, Terry O'Day and Ted Winterer -- served with Ries on the Commission, which is widely viewed as a stepping stone to the Council.

Himmelrich and Council member Kevin McKeown both voted for Ellis Raskin, a member of the City's Urban Forest Task Force.

Ries served on the Commission during a critical juncture, when it provided key input on the City's Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) and a Zoning Ordinance update.

He served as chair and was viewed by fellow Commissioners as a moderating force who tried to build consensus among slow-growth members and those more favorable to development.

Ries was known to weigh both sides of a proposed project, taking into account the math as well as community concerns ("Planning Commission Disappointed with Hotel Plans for Downtown Santa Monica," December 20, 2011).

During a 2011 hearing that saw the Commission reject two proposed hotels Downtown unless the developers made major changes, Ries expressed his concerns.

“I think the hotel use makes sense from a revenue generation and a traffic generation use,” Ries said about the hotels near the proposed Downtown rail station.

But Ries qualified his support, noting that while hotels bring in some of the highest revenues for the city, they are also among the biggest energy consumers and pay some of the lowest wages in Santa Monica.

During one of his last hearings as a Commissioner, Ries cast the lone opposing vote on the proposed expansion of a child care facility to a full-day care center.

While Ries said he favored creating more child care opportunities for local parents, he worried that doubling the center’s size would "have an impact” on the surrounding community, which already has “a number of day care centers.”

“I think we need to disperse these centers throughout our community and not have one with 30 kids,” he said ("Neighbors Worry about Santa Monica Day Care Center Expansion," June 30, 2015).

Unlike Ries, Pastor has never served on a City Board or Commission, although she is past president of the Westside Urban Forum and a member of several planning associations.

Among the goals Pastor listed in her application were to "provide common sense zoning regulation" and "support projects that encourage good urbanism."

"Planning and housing decisions are very personal to many people," said Pastor, who worked in the City of Albuquerque's planning department before entering the private sector.

"And it's important to balance both the human side of these decisions along with the needs of the larger community and public policy goals," she said.

Pastor was appointed on a 5 to 2 vote. Himmelrich and McKeown voted for Raskin.

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