WENATCHEE — Last August the City Council voted to have members elected by district, and now it’s considering doing the same for planning commissioners.
Councilman Mark Kulaas made the pitch at a council workshop Thursday. He said he’d like the Planning Commission to follow the same system as the council, with five members chosen from the districts they live in and two serving at-large.
Currently, all seven planning commissioners serve at-large, as the seven councilmembers previously did. This fall marks the first time councilmembers will be elected by district.
“No one’s going to get booted off during their term,” Kulaas said of the Planning Commission. “When their term expires, if they’re not living in that district, they can either apply for another district or move on.”
That happened with the council. Two members are running citywide, as they don’t live in the districts they currently represent, and a third who chose not to run at-large is losing his seat.
The council’s August decision followed a 2015 federal court ruling that all seven Yakima City Council members be elected by voters from their respective districts instead of citywide. The idea was to give Latinos a better chance of winning.
Kulaas noted that there are currently no people of color on the Planning Commission.
He proposed that councilmembers nominate planning commissioners from their districts, but they would still have to go through an application process. Currently, the Planning Commission recommends applicants, which the City Council then has to approve.
Planning commissioners may be future councilmembers, Kulaas said.
“I think they’re a great place to learn about civic affairs, government functions, getting along with people, collaborating,” he said.
Councilman Keith Huffaker said districts may make it harder to find candidates for the Planning Commission — a concern raised for council districts — but he likes the idea.
“Different parts of our city have different needs when it comes to planning, and those voices are not being heard,” he said.
Councilwoman Ruth Esparza, the only vote against a district-based system for the council, said simply having people from different backgrounds or locations on a board doesn’t guarantee diversity.
“Ultimately, real diversity in any group setting is when everyone is heard and it’s not just dictated by a certain group,” she said. “You could have three people here who look like me, and if they’re not making decisions or their input is not ultimately getting to the decision-making, this is not a diverse group.”
The council will discuss the issue at a later meeting. Kulaas said he’d like commission districts to be implemented before the end of the year to coincide with the council’s districts taking effect.