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October 16th, 2008
Residents to vote on charter amendment 22

Residents will soon vote on a series of charter amendments, one of which, if passed, may emphasize the requirement that residents must be property owners to serve on the Planning and Zoning Commission. If passed, Amendment No. 22 will update the City of San Marcos Charter to mirror the ordinance requiring Planning and Zoning Commission members to maintain property ownership.The ordinance specifying Planning and Zoning Commission membership qualifications states, “To be eligible for appointment and continued service on the commission, all of the commission members except one will reside and own real property in the city, and the remaining member will reside and own real property in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.”

The City Charter specifies the additional requirement that all Planning and Zoning Commission members must have resided and owned property in the city for three years before their appointments.

Sherwood Bishop, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said he disagrees with the Charter provision requiring that people reside and own property in the city for at least three years before being eligible to serve on the commission.

“I particularly disagree with the part that says that they should be required to own property for three years before they’re appointed,” Bishop said “It’s more strict than the requirements for any other board or commission, much less an elected position. I personally think that it’s something that was originally put there to make it difficult for students to be appointed the planning commission. And that I think really that the history of those kinds of things goes back to old Jim Crow laws that were originally designed to make it hard for minorities to be able to vote or to serve on commissions like that…”

Bishop said he was not opposed to a more general property ownership requirement for Planning and Zoning Commission members.

Allen Shy, Zoning Commission member, said he supported current city law regarding eligibility.

“I think it’s fair and reasonable,” Shy said.

At the city council’s meeting special meeting on August 14, members considered possible propositions for the November 4 ballot. When the possible charter amendment regarding Planning and Zoning Commission qualifications came up, Council Member Kim Porterfield proposed doing away with the property ownership requirement.

“I lived here for twenty-some-odd years before I was able to afford to purchase a home, and I don’t think just signing my life away on a banknote made me any more qualified to be on Planning and Zoning.”

After Council Member Chris Jones quickly seconded Porterfield’s concerns, a brief silence descended on the council, until Mayor Susan Narvaiz asked, “Anyone else?”

The council members looked at one another for a few more moments.

“No?” Narvaiz said. “I guess not,” she said, but a brief discussion followed.

Council Member Daniel Guerrero broached the possibility of easing the property requirement for one of the nine seats on the Planning and Zoning Commission. He said eliminating the property requirement for one seat might be reasonable because another prerequisite – that all members must be residents – had been lifted for one seat on the commission. One of the commission members must be an extraterritorial jurisdiction resident – someone from the three and a half mile area around San Marcos in which the city has some regulatory authority.

Jones and Porterfield supported making a charter amendment to allow the council to regulate the Planning and Zoning member requirements by city ordinance.
Both proposals died in session.

“It’s not targeted just at students,” said Chris Jones a few days ago. “Look at the percentage of our city residents that do not own property, but live here, pay rent. From my understanding, almost 70 percent of our residents in San Marcos don’t actually own property, they pay rent. So I think it’s larger than just students, I think it also speaks to some of the lower income folks in our community, some of the people who maybe drive back and forth, or just don’t have enough money to purchase a home.”

According to the last U.S. Census Bureau census, 28.5 percent of San Marcos residents lived below the poverty line in 1999. 18.1 percent of families with children younger than 18 were living in poverty.
Council Member Gaylord Bose said “a lot of good men” who were otherwise qualified to serve on the Planning and Zoning Commission were disqualified because of the three-year residency requirement.

“I think that some good rules are set up, because…when you have a vested interest in (the city), you have a different attitude toward the people and the problems that they have, and you have a different interest in seeing that the quality of life stays up, and that the growth is in a controlled way that benefits all the people,” Bose said.

Bill DeSoto, Planning and Zoning Commission member, said the property requirement for membership often means younger people are excluded, and said most of the current members are in their thirties or forties.

“On the other hand, some of the folks in neighborhood groups – the Council of Neighborhoods might say that you can preserve neighborhood integrity and have those types of values better protected if people have to meet the requirement,” DeSoto said. “I kind of avoid taking a strong position at the moment. If I were asked had to vote on it, I would probably vote to leave that in, but I can see some strong arguments against it.”

by: Sean Batura

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