Home Brentwood Update: Brentwood City Council Votes to Remove Planning Commissioner

Update: Brentwood City Council Votes to Remove Planning Commissioner

by ECT

UPDATE: On Tuesday, the Brentwood City Council voted to remove David Dolter from the planning commission in a 4-1 vote with Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriquez dissenting.

On Tuesday, the Brentwood City Council will consider the removal of Planning Commissioner David Dolter from the planning commission.

The move comes after a June 1 discussion brought forward by Councilmember Jovita Mendoza (see recap below). The discussion revolved around an April 2021 email sent by Dolter (see graphic below) which included the entire planning commission–he is being accused by two councilmembers of a Brown Act violation . The council also had concerns about his views regarding the City General Plan.

On June 1, Councilmembers Mendoza and Rarey said they believed the planning commission should be in line with the city council

In an email Friday, City Manager Tim Ogden said Dolter was counseled about avoiding mass mailing his opinions about a pending item before the Planning Commission, but no Brown Act Violation was committed as alleged.

According to the staff report, a member of the planning commission may be removed from office by a majority vote of the city council. It also says over the past 20-years, city staff could not recall a city council removing a planning commissioner from office.

The term of Commissioner David Dolter expires on December 31, 2022. If removed before then, a recruitment to fill the vacancy could be initiated in July, and the Council could interview applicants for consideration in August or September to fill the balance of the term through the end of the year.

Staff had already been planning to begin a recruitment in September for the three Commissioner terms set to expire on December 31, 2022. The deadline for that recruitment would be roughly mid-November, with interviews by the City Council following the certification of the 2022 City Council election results.

June 1 City Council Recap: 

Councilmember Jovita Mendoza called this a “big one” as she says she watches the planning commission every two weeks.

“I think there is something going on where there are certain commissioners that are really quick to push an agenda when they are on and that makes me uncomfortable,” said Mendoza. “I think that most of us have a certain opinion on land use… my understanding that a planning commissioner should kind of reflect the city council and where we want to go. I think we have all said local control, stick to the general plan those kind of things and I’ve heard things on the planning commission that don’t necessarily reflect that. We also had that email from Commissioner Dolter that he sent out to his entire peers regarding how he was going to vote unless something changed his mind.”

Mendoza called it “highly inappropriate” regardless if it was legal or not legal.

“I feel that is something I do not want to see on our city council, that would be like me emailing all of you telling you how I am going to vote unless you change my mind. That would be highly inappropriate,” explained Mendoza.  “I don’t think any of us would do that so I don’t think we should be okay with someone on planning commission doing that.”

She said she believed the planning commissioners needed training.

“Do we remove Mr. Dolter, do we not remove Mr. Dolter, how do we implement training so the planning commission is a reflection of city council,” asked Mendoza who accused the planning commission of “rubber stamping” items.  “I just don’t know how to stop the rubber stamping.”

She stated the rubber stamping turns into emails and calls to the council from residents not happy.

“We have got to put training in place. We have to figure out what to do. Does Mr. Dolter understand that what he did was highly inappropriate,” stated Mendoza.

During Public Comments, Rod Flohr spoke out against Dolter stating what he did was against the law.

“What Mr. Dolter did by sending an email to every other planning commissioner altogether was a blatant violation of the Brown Act,” said Flohr. “It’s a shame to the city council and to the city and the city manager that Mr. Dolter has not been removed.”

He also stated he was disappointed in the city council as a whole for not calling it for a vote and accused the city of protecting Dolter. He also explained with his resume, there was no way he could claim “ignorance”.

“It’s not right, its corrupt. What he did was corrupt,” said Flohr. “He broke the law and committed a misdemeanor and he did it to pursue an advantage either for himself or a friend.”

Flohr continued by calling Dolter a “lawbreaker” and he’s “corrupt” and needed to go and said he was tired of asking the council to take action and was going to go to the District Attorney.

Councilmember Karen Rarey stated she was the only one who voted against Dolter when he came onto the planning commission.

“I agree, he had a great resume, but during the interview he basically said he is going to decide whatever he is going to decide and doesn’t care about our general plan,” explained Rarey. “I tried to bring that up, nobody listened to me and it was voted 4-1 that he was approved as a commissioner. I have serious concerns about him.”

Rarey accused Dolter of not following the general plan and doing whatever he wants to do.

“We follow our general plan and we at the council set standards of how we want to direct our city to go. I think the planning commission should be looking at it because we will be pulling things up,” said Rarey.

Councilmember Susannah Meyer said she believed that this “didn’t need to be an I told you so moment.”

Meyer stated when she spoke with him prior to being on the council, he stated he would protect the quality of life of residents and the city.

“I’ve not agreed with every vote that he has made, but I’ve watched just about every planning commission meeting we have had… I don’t think he votes the way I would vote all the time, if that’s something that we are considering here. I am not sure about an actual removal, because it sets a precedent, but I do think there needs to be some sort of action taken,” explained Meyer. “I think its something we should have taken up immediately… I would like to ask if we have done this before and under what grounds, what are the policies in place for removal. I don’t know if there is other options here as I don’t think removal is the first line of defense”

Meyer called his action “highly inappropriate” and hasn’t happened since while noting society has moved from trying to “fix things” to just “getting people gone” or “recall”.

Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriquez wanted to know if the email incident had occurred a second time. He also wanted to know from legal if it was considered “severe” and if they could look at training.

Mayor Joel Bryant stated previous councils have had clear expectations for planning commissioners and those expectations have changed over time as community, as a council and the training they are getting at a state level are asking them to operate differently than they have in the past.

“I think it would be very beneficial for us as a council and as a city and for planning commission to be very clear of the expectations of what planning commissioners are, how we want them to use the filters within the limitations of being a planning commissioner,” said Bryant noting that all of the commissioners need to be held to the same high standards of the law and city council exhibits. “We need to make sure there is clear lines of expectations and repercussions.”

Mendoza stated her concern was that he didn’t care about the general plan.

“I voted for him and I was wrong. Karen, I was wrong,” said Mendoza. “I’ll take that one, I was wrong.”

She also accused Dolter of not holding the general plan to as high of standard as the city council and stated if she voted now on removal of Dolter, she would vote “yes, and he can go.”

“It’s not because of cancel culture, its because time and time again has proven that he doesn’t respect the general plan. Its not one thing he said,” explained Mendoza. “It’s not one email. The email was the public thing they saw, but if people watch the meetings you would see there is more to that. I think we need training, because we are way more detailed than I think our planning commission is used to. I don’t want to have to pull items, add it to our workload when it shouldn’t be part of our workload. We entrusted them with a job and there are certain commissioners who have failed us.”

Mendoza told the council with appointments coming back in November, they needed to set the tone for the fall.

Meyer suggested it was a bigger discussion because there is another commissioner who doesn’t question anything and doesn’t show up half the time or raise a voice at all.

“I think the training is a bigger part of this. Clearly our expectation is different and it should be aligned,” said Meyer. “We need to be a lot more clear. As far as the Dolter thing, I am till on the fence.”

Rodriquez called training important but thought it was good that there are people that are just not going to agree all the time—like the council who has different perspectives and see things differently calling it “healthy”.

“I think its healthy that we see things differently because it brings a deeper conversation and perspective,” said Rodriquez.

Mendoza shot back.

“Its not about seeing things differently, its about disrespecting the general plan,” said Mendoza. “When the general plan says X and you are like its not important, its that kind of stuff… I don’t think he respects our general plan.”

She also accused him of choosing the “applicant” over the “residents” in some cases which is not a “training thing, but a persona thing”.

Rarey noted that this was not the first time Dolter was a planning commissioner as he was one in Danville and he wasn’t new to the job and has had the Brown Act training behind him.

“He knows better,” said Rarey.

Rarey said the council should bring forward examples regarding Dolter and then make a decision on removal. She urged them to move forward with training and more formal discussion on removal of commissioner Dolter.

City Attorney Damian Brown responded to several questions from city council members:

  • Removal Process – municipal code does permit this by a vote of a majority vote of the City Council.
  • Historical – Brown did not recall a planning commissioner being removed.
  • Has Mr. Dolter sent similar emails – Brown says “no” and called it a “one-time email”.
  • Clarified that they could not remove Dolter tonight, but could at a future meeting.
  • Training – council expectations on what the council wants from its commissioners. The other training would be more ethics training.

Mendoza said she wanted a training on expectations of planning commissioners but wanted a future meeting specifically on Dolter. Rarey seconded.  Mendoza clarified stated she was requesting the expectations and believed they know what is ethically require and what is not and some chose not to follow it.

The City Attorney suggested that the Council first needed to have a meeting to discuss what their expectations would be.

Mendoza suggested they all send emails to the City Attorney and he create expectations off their emails in which Brown stated he didn’t want to do that because that was getting close to a Brown Act violation—he also didn’t want to make assumptions on what the council was thinking.  Rarey said she wanted them to follow the general plan which lays out expectations.

In a roll call vote, the motion carried 5-0 to bring back the item to remove Dolter from the planning commission and to discuss training.

To watch the meeting, click here

Dolter Responds

June 9, 2022

Honorable Mayor and City Councilmembers:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond regarding your recent discussion regarding my potential removal from the Planning Commission.

To begin, I fully support and understand that I serve at the pleasure of the Council and that I can be removed from the Planning Commission at any time for any reason, or no reason. Additionally, I offer my humble apologies for an email transgression that occurred approximately 15 months ago. It was bad judgement on my part, it hasn’t occurred since and won’t happen again. Training in this area for all commissioners, and the Council, is highly recommended to avoid conflict with open meeting laws but more importantly, to keep faith with the public. To this point, mention was made of my prior service as a planning commissioner (Town of Moraga) and that somehow, I should have known better. This prior service was several decades ago, and the open meeting laws have changed during this time as have their judicial interpretations… again underscoring the need for continuing education.

However, statements made by certain Councilmembers require a response and I have some observations that might be helpful going forward.

First, I resent the unfounded, unsubstantiated, false, and malicious personal attacks on my character and integrity. It was remarkably unprofessional conduct, particularly during a public meeting. Apparently, some council members are content to repeat the slanderous statements of a fractious few who are mistakenly believed to represent the public at large.

I’m blessed to have many “friends” in and outside of the community, including fellow seniors, veterans, elected and appointed public officials, trade unions, contractors, real estate developers, builders, fire fighters and police officers, among others. The city is in a sad place if the litmus test for a commission seat is whether you are, or have been associated with, any of these. Inuendo and cancel culture have no place in the discussion of competence to serve on city advisory boards.

Secondly, unlike the Ten Commandments, the general plan is not cast in stone. Like the Bible, the Quran and the Constitution, it’s subject to interpretation. This is accomplished in a democratic process, often the result of a land use application. Following public comments and discussion, a vote is taken, usually, but not always, unanimous. An analysis of the Commission’s voting pattern will show I have been on the losing side several times.

In conclusion, I’d like to commend the commission and planning staff. My colleagues are prepared, diligent and thorough. In my view our planning staff is superb – excellent and detailed, providing guidance and alternatives, with fine support from the city attorney’s office.

It will be a relief to many that, if not removed beforehand, it’s my intention to not seek reappointment. I will stay involved in the community since I regard civic duty an honor as well as a responsibility.

On hopefully a humorous endnote: don’t provide my successors with so many business cards… they may not be around long enough to hand them all out!

s/ David Dolter, Brentwood California

cc: Planning Commission

Brentwood City Council Meeting

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