Brentwood Planning Commissioner John Fink tendered his resignation from the commission last week in the aftermath of a city council meeting regarding the expansion of the city’s urban limit line (ULL).
Fink, who had been on the planning commission for nearly 10 years, said in his resignation letter addressed to Planning Manager Erik Nolthenius that was in conflict with the council regarding development, and he derided the city council for failing to provide strong leadership on the ULL issue.
“When you have strong leaders, the wants and desires of those they serve are paramount and clearly expressed,” wrote Fink. “If not, it sends the wrong message to those they serve, especially when it gets to the point where the council has to justify to its electorate they have ‘no choice in the matter.’ Therefore, I feel that my position is in conflict with the council and I am obligated to step down.”
The proposal to extend the ULL stems from an initiative spearheaded by Blackhawk Nunn Partners, a group of local developers that includes Brentwood resident Ron Nunn. It would move the border at which urban development must stop and clear the way for a proposed 815-acre development – known as the Vineyards at Deer Creek – on the western edge of the city. Developers collected the number of signatures needed to put the decision in the hands of voters by way of a ballot initiative. During the June 25 city council meeting, the council was faced with determining if the initiative would be decided in a special election later this year or be part of the general election in Nov. 2020. The council took a third option by requesting an impact study from an independent firm be completed no later than July 25, at which point the council will decide when the initiative will go to a vote.
“I’ve been kind of at odds with the council regarding development now for a while,” said Fink in an interview with The Press. “We’ve kind of been at odds on development because the council is not looking at the bigger picture.”
Fink contends that the council could have put a stop to the Blackhawk Nunn Partners project when it was first presented to the city.
“We could have told Blackhawk Nunn months ago the citizens of Brentwood don’t want more development,” said Fink. “We do not have the fire resources to take care of this. We don’t have the ability to meet the needs of 2,400 homes. That was not what happened. Instead what happened was the developer was allowed to petition people, get signatures and bring it all the way to the council. At that point in time, the council’s hands are tied because it’s gone so far down the process that they can’t do anything.”
However, Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina contradicted Fink’s perspective on the process and the city’s latitude to suppress initiatives.
“Our government processes are deliberately set up to allow for due process, and that is exactly what this project has done,” said Vina. “It has gone through the appropriate process to now have it presented to the citizens for them to weigh in. And when you stop to think about it, there is no higher level of participation by our citizens than to get to directly vote on an initiative. We should not be afraid of the opportunity for citizens to make the ultimate decision.”
Fink mounted unsuccessful campaigns for a seat on the city council in 2016 and 2018, and controlled development was a cornerstone of each campaign. In 2017, the city council bypassed Fink when they opted to fill a position on the council vacated by Steve Barr by an application process rather than giving the position to Fink. Fink had received the third highest number of votes in the 2016 election for two available seats. Councilmember Karen Rarey suggested at the time that Fink should get the seat, but no other member of the council supported her in that position. Rarey again cast her support of Fink by voting for him in the final selection process, but the seat went to Bailey Grewal who received the three remaining votes. Grewal served through the end of 2018 and did not seek re-election.
“For the past 10 years John has played a vital role in envisioning the build-out of Brentwood, serving the past decade as a planning commissioner, as well as a member of both the 2014 General Plan Update and our economic development Priority Area-1 working group,” said Rarey of Fink’s resignation. “His voice on the dais will be sorely missed.”