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Olsen's Bid for Reappointment Fails

By Oliver Lukacs
Staff Writer

July 9 -- "O'Day. O'Day. Olsen. O'Day. Olsen. O'Day. Olsen." With those seven words following no debate, the City Council replaced Planning Commissioner Kelly Olsen shortly after midnight Tuesday, capping months of lobbying and speculation and removing a voice that has dominated the slow-growth board for four years.

In addition to Terry O'Day -- the owner of a Los Angeles-based electric vehicle rent-a-car company -- the council unanimously reappointed Barbara Brown and Darrel Clarke to the seven-member board that oversees land use issues in the city.

As expected, the deciding vote was cast by Councilman Michael Feinstein, who with one word may have handed a potential foe in the 2004 race for City Council a potent political weapon.

Shortly after the anticlimactic end of Olsen’s tenure on the City's most powerful commission, Feinstein, who was the key target of an unprecedented lobbying campaign, told The Lookout that his vote was cast for O'Day, not against the former City Councilman.

“I thought Mr. O’Day would make an excellent planning commissioner and do well for the community,” said Feisntein, who voted for O'Day with Council members Bob Holbrook, Pam O’Connor, and Herb Katz, who nominated O’Day for the four-year term.

While Feinstein kept his vote close to his chest, it was clear that Olsen's fate was in his hands, with Mayor Richard Bloom, Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown and Councilman Ken Genser all expected to vote for his reappointment.

Widely viewed as the commission's leading foe of business and development and a crusader for the rights of residents, Olsen reiterated his contention that his removal was a political beheading intended to silence the leading critic of a Planning Department he charges is mismanaged and corrupt.

“I think it sends a pretty clear message to the planning commission, the planning staff and to residents that corruption and gross mismanagement in the Planning Department will be tolerated by the City Council,” Olsen said after the vote.

“I think this is a message to other commissioners to sit down, shut up, don’t make waves, and don’t question our staff, and go with the program,” said Olsen, who canvassed the City with last-minute fliers urging neighbors to lobby council members on his behalf.

Olsen, who was spearheading a move by the commission to call for a management audit of the planning department, vowed to fight on.

“My removal will not change that there is corruption and mismanagement in the planning department,” said Olsen. “And if they think that making me go away will change that, they’re wrong.”

Feinstein said his vote had nothing to do with Olsen’s outspoken criticism of the planning department’s alleged corruption, or any particular issue in the department’s realm, and denied Olsen’s allegation that he was doing the bidding of City staff.

“Whether I believe that there is a culture (of corruption in the planning department) or not has nothing to do with my vote for O’Day," Feinsien said. "And it is in no way, shape or form my personal referendum on anybody’s opinion who say there is such a culture, nor is it a message to stop saying that there is such a culture.

“To the extent that some may perceive that to be the message here for my vote, I would say it is categorical ‘no,’ that is not the message," Feinstein added. "One of the misconceptions is that staff lobbies council members about board and commission appointments. I have never had a City staff member offer me their opinion in an unsolicited manner.”

But Planning Commissioner Jay P. Johnson, who watched the proceedings with Olsen and Architectural Review Board Vice Chair Joan Charles (Olsen’s wife), said that Feinstein’s vote was motivated by “a combination of personal, political” factors as well as “listening to staff.”

“I am very, very disappointed,” said Johnson. “It’s just a damn shame. Unfortunately it appears that those people who shake the tree the most are the first ones to be removed from appointed positions, only because they challenge the existing structure in too effective a manner.”

Johnson was also disappointed at Feinstein and the council majority’s “unwillingness to appreciate the dramatic depth of support that Kelly has had for this reappointment. I am not aware of a single commissioner in the last few years that has had such an outpouring of support.”

The vote early Wednesday morning could pave the way for a political showdown between Olsen and Feinstein in the 2004 race for four open council seats. In an unprecedented lobbying effort, Olsen supporters distributed neon-yellow fliers Monday and Tuesday that read like a political campaign platform.

“Since I have been the most vocal about enforcement of neighbor protection and critical of the City’s inaction, there are some people in City Hall that would rather I be removed and not reappointed,” reads the two page flier.

“In order for me to protect you I need your help. I need to remain on the Planning Commission so I can help shape the noise ordinance later this month and see to it that it is enforced once it is adopted by the City Council.”

The flier then provided lobbying tips, including what to say and phone numbers and email addresses for Holbrook, O'Connor and Feinstein: “If you only have time for one call, call Mike Feinstein,” it suggests.

Even before Feinstein's deciding vote, supporters were already urging him to run against Feinstein in the up-coming council election, Olsen said.

“I received numerous phone calls asking me to run against Mike, and I think between the investigation (into Feinstein’s alleged misappropriation of $30,000 in Green Party funds) and his removal of a planning commissioner who stood up for residents, I think he is going to have a very difficult time in his next campaign.”

Asked if he has decided to throw his hat in the ring, Olsen was already sounding like a politician.

“I am not going to say yes or no.”

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