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San Joaquin County Planning Commission is sending the wrong message

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Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013 12:00 am

The recent vote by the Board of Supervisors overturning the Planning Commission's approval of a north Lodi winery's request to operate a restaurant on its premises was the correct decision based on the law.

The winery receives extremely beneficial tax status for participating in the Williamson Act, in exchange for which the act restricts non-agricultural uses of the property; the Planning Commission's approval ignored the law, and the supervisors fixed the commission's error.

The winery's owner, understandably upset, made some comments (as reported by the News-Sentinel) that should cause the Planning Commission to give serious consideration to the message that its actions send to the community. The owner said, "I'm probably going to do whatever the hell I want and ask for forgiveness" and "The right way ain't going to work."

On multiple occasions, typically involving wineries, the Planning Commission has approved permit applications despite the fact that the applicant has flagrantly ignored the law, and in some instances has blatantly ignored direct orders from the Community Development Department to cease unlawful activities. Those who want to "legitimize" their unlawful activities hire one of a handful of well-connected lawyers who go before the commission and plead mea culpa. The Planning Commission then almost invariably gives "special dispensation" in the form of forgiveness and a permit to carry on otherwise unlawful activities.

A permit applicant's failure to abide by the law should result in an automatic denial by the commission, and a prohibition on reapplying for the permit for several years. Instead, the commission encourages and rewards unlawfulness. This is the wrong message for a governmental body to send, and warrants serious review by the supervisors who appoint the planning commissioners, if not by the Grand Jury.

Dave Isola


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