|Koning Explains Resignation from Planning Commission
By Ann K. Williams
October 19, 2011 -- Yet another Planning Commissioner has stepped down this year because of a change in city policy.
Last Wednesday, Commissioner Hank Koning announced his retirement from the commission before his term is up because of an interpretation of a state law the City Attorney says forbids board and commission members from submitting proposals for city projects.
“It makes it difficult to be an architect in this city with that restriction,” Koning told The Lookout Tuesday. In fact, his firm recently had to withdraw a proposal because of it, he said.
Koning waited until last week to resign, until the position left open when another Planning Commissioner, Gwynne Pugh, who stepped down for the same reason in May, had been filled.
“I held off until the seat was filled so the Planning Commission could have a quorum,” Koning said.
He announced he was stepping down at the first meeting attended by new Commissioner Richard McKinnon, who was appointed by the City Council earlier this month to fill the vacancy left by Pugh's resignation.
Koning said he was pleased by McKinnon's appointment, by the new commissioner's evident enthusiasm for the job and his particular interest in plans to make Santa Monica a more bike-friendly city.
When asked what advice he'd give to his successor, Koning said “Number one is to listen.”
“Listen, and then base your decision on what's in the best interests of the city as a whole,” he said.
Being a good planning commissioner means balancing the interests of “the neighborhood [a project] is in, the city as a whole, even the region,” said Koning.
There will be a lot of big building projects in Santa Monica in the next few years, and one of the Planning Commission's most important jobs will be to work out “what are appropriate community benefits for Tier 2 and Tier 3 developments,” he said.
Looking back on his tenure since his appointment in 2005, Koning said he saw the commission's work on the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) as their most significant accomplishment.
“It was why I put my name down” to apply for a seat on the commission, he said, adding that he was proud of the commission and City Council's unanimous approval of the LUCE, and the ground-breaking policy document's many awards.
A native of Australia, Koning has lived in Santa Monica for some 30 years, building everything from commercial to residential properties, both locally and regionally.
His firm, Koning Eizenberg Architects, has won numerous awards, including the 2011 AIA National Housing Award for the Hancock Lofts in West Hollywood and the 2007 L.A. Business Council Architectural Award for the Virginia Avenue Park Expansion in Santa Monica. Koning was principal architect for the Virginia Avenue Library project.
Koning's resignation is the second since the city clarified it's interpretation of the rules governing service on boards and commissions.
Pugh stepped down in May after the city manager's office told him his application to be on the city's list of “on call” consultants couldn't be considered as long as he was on the Planning Commission.
“They gave me the choice of one or the other,” Pugh told The Lookout after he resigned.
Pugh said he was surprised by the finding, noting that “historically” there have been numerous commissioners and councilmembers whose professional lives have intersected with City business.
“Some of the most qualified people to serve on these boards and commissions [in Santa Monica]……may be excluded,” Pugh told The Lookout in May, adding that it would be interesting to see how the new policy plays out.
In June, City Council called for a strict ban prohibiting board and commission members from entering into business contracts with the City.
The policy clampdown came at the request of City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, who cited a state conflict-of-interest law – Government Code Section 1090 – that imposes criminal sanctions on violators, regardless of their intent.
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