Hatch Survives Planning Commission Challenge; Supporters Say His Questions Support Transparency

Aaron Hatch, foreground, awaits his fate during Tuesday’s Redding City Council meeting. Photo by Aaron Dobson

Aaron Hatch, chair of the Redding Planning Commission, walked into Tuesday’s City Council meeting expecting to be relieved of his volunteer post for allegedly creating a “toxic and divisive” environment.

He walked out of the meeting with his position intact and, after listening to a chorus of supporters speak to his intelligence and character, he received encouragement from two council members to seek higher office.

The two-hour hearing was prompted by a motion from Mayor Tenessa Audette, with initial support from Councilmember Julie Winter, to have Hatch removed from the commission with a year left on his four-year term. The two felt Hatch had disparaged the city’s top planner and essentially accused him of corruption during his comments at the conclusion of the April 9 commission meeting.

At that meeting, Hatch questioned why planning commissioners were told not to speak at the City Council’s March 26 meeting when the council took up, and ultimately approved, an updated general plan for Redding.

The Planning Commission had just spent 14 months poring over the plan—a document intended to direct Redding’s growth over the next 20 years—and Hatch was eager to share his thoughts with the council. Less than two hours before the meeting, Hatch said commissioners were advised not to comment at the council meeting, ostensibly to prevent a potential Brown Act violation.

Aaron Hatch. Photo by Jon Lewis

Noting that members of other city commissions and boards frequently address the council, Hatch said the 11th-hour advice was “nonstandard” and “felt like staff was trying to design a specific outcome” with the council. Specifically, since the commission voted 3-3 on the general plan (“a hung jury”) Hatch said commissioners wanted to explain their reasoning during the council’s 3-minute public comment period.

At that April 9 meeting, City Attorney Christian Curtis said he was informed late that enough planning commissioners to constitute a quorum would be attending the council meeting and he wanted to avoid a violation of the Brown Act.

General plan background

At Tuesday’s meeting, Audette, who serves as the council liaison to the Planning Commission, said she watched as commissioners deliberated over language and tone in the general plan. Specifically, the commission argued for more declarative and directive language like “shall” while planning staff countered with aspirational language like “strive.”

Tenessa Audette. Photo by Jon Lewis

In talks with staff and other experts, Audette said she learned that the more directive-leaning a general plan is, the more a city is exposing itself to lawsuits. Nonetheless, she said, commissioners continued to press for more declarative language. Hatch alone made 100 requests for changes, more than all other commissioners combined, Audette said.

“All of his requests were addressed,” Audette said. “Staff wanted to work with him. They wanted to make it work.”

Hatch stepped over the line at the April 9 meeting when he “politely accused the staff of corruption,” Audette said. “As mayor, I’m standing up for staff. I’m setting a standard for acceptable rhetoric.”

Julie Winter. Photo by Jon Lewis

At the April 16 council meeting, Audette and Winter both said Hatch needed to be removed from the Planning Commission due to his creating a “toxic” environment. That led to Tuesday’s showdown.

The first to address the council during the public comment section, Hatch said he felt he was raising legitimate concerns when he talked about the legal advice to remain silent. “I offered feedback in a professional tone. In no way was it meant to create any toxicity with staff or the city attorney.”

Hatch said he was surprised at the April 16 meeting when it was proposed that he be kicked off the commission. “I felt it could have been handled with a conversation.”

Hatch support

Some 30 speakers total addressed the council, each offering their support and admiration for Hatch.

Asked Lea Tate, a clinical psychologist: “Isn’t a commission supposed to ask questions? Don’t we need different opinions? If you continue to remove people because you disagree it seems more like a dictatorship.”

Jonathan Freeman, who volunteered to help on two elements of the general plan, called Hatch “a commissioner we can only dream about.” Freeman said several people researched general plans in other cities and advocated for stronger language that had been used in other cities with success. He said he could not reconcile Audette’s comments. “Toxic doesn’t fit. If you want to get rid of Aaron, you’ll have to come up with something better.”

“Aaron is what we want and what we need. He’s intelligent, curious and well educated,” said Dean Moyer.

Brandi Greene. Photo by Jon Lewis

Brandi Greene, a Planning Commission member, called Hatch “the most well-researched commissioner on the dais … he has not been toxic or divisive. Thank you, Aaron, for risking your reputation, your business, for asking why we were told not to speak.”

Caleen Sisk, chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, told the council she has full confidence in Hatch. “We believe he should be asking questions and making sure our concerns are represented. We are asking that you keep him in place. We need a voice for the Winnemem people and the salmon.”

Caleen Sisk. Photo by Jon Lewis

Kallie Markle said she profoundly disagrees with the motion to dismiss Hatch and said he was right to question being silenced. “Half of the Planning Commission couldn’t approve it (the general plan) in good faith but the city couldn’t hear the reasons why. When Aaron asked, he was publicly disparaged by council members. People need Planning Commission members like Aaron to stand up for transparency.”

Vote of support

Councilmember Winter said she would withdraw her support for Hatch’s ouster and was confident that following a conversation she had with him earlier, “he will make things right. I’m hyper sensitive to what happens with staff” because of Shasta County’s difficulty in retaining staff due to the erratic nature of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors. “Getting staff to work here is incredibly hard and we want to see that staff is fully respected.”

Mark Mezzano. Photo by Jon Lewis

Councilmember Mark Mezzano waved a thick stack of paper and said they were the 120 pro-Hatch emails that he had printed out. He said he regularly attends Planning Commission meetings and firmly believes “we need seven different voices.” Mezzano went on to suggest Hatch consider running for Mezzano’s council seat when he steps down.

Councilmember Michael Dacquisto, who has criticized Audette’s two recent Planning Commission appointments, said Hatch had done nothing disrespectful and was deserving of an apology from the council. He, too, encouraged Hatch to run for council.

Undaunted, Audette said she hoped Hatch would apologize to Jeremy Pagan, Redding’s director of development services, for his April 9 comments. “It felt like an attack and it looked like an attack,” she said. “Jeremy fought to have your voice heard. He deserves an apology.”




Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

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