Norm Kline drops bid for San Jose Planning Commission

After a blunder left Norm Kline off a list of applicants for the Planning Commission, he dropped out of the competitive process and cleared the field for three others.

“Since applying and not being selected, I have volunteered for other public service projects,” Kline wrote in a letter. “This combined with knowing the council has a solid selection of candidates to choose from, I have decided that the city does not require my services and I am withdrawing my application.”

The gaffe happened after Kline, a former Planning Commissioner and City Council candidate, apparently applied for the position but was excluded from a list of applicants for the City Council members to consider because of a software glitch. As a result, Kline didn’t publicly interview for the job, alongside three other frontrunners, last month.

To correct the error, the councilors voted to grant him an opportunity to interview on April 9 — nearly three weeks later. The decision raised concern that Kline was being given preferential treatment and could unfairly view the video of interviews of his three competitors.

Kline said in his letter he did not believe he was given special treatment.

“I applied for the position early,” he wrote. “I was mistakenly omitted from the qualified list that the Council initially received. Some Council members may not have been aware that a second list included my name.”

Kline added that he applied for the post after hearing “of the lack of qualified applicants,” but is “pleased” that the new round brought out many more qualified applicants. The commission, which oversees land use decisions, is arguably the most powerful in San Jose.

The remaining candidates under consideration are former City Hall staffer Rolando Bonilla, county planning commissioner Aimee Escobar and former Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio.

Neither of the three candidates immediately responded to a request for comment on Kline’s withdrawal.

But as San Jose becomes a hotbed for development, community leader Tamara Alvarado said it’s critical to have diverse representation on the panel from all over the city — especially from minority communities. Bonilla is the only candidate from East San Jose, she said, and the commission has historically been stacked with representatives from more affluent neighborhoods.

She called for more geographic equity on the panel.

“We’re dealing with so much development, gentrification, so much growth,” Alvarado said. “District 5 is home for so much potential development. It is incredibly important that it doesn’t happen with no regard for what the community wants. We have to strive for as much equity and representation on the Planning Commission. We need people to hold developers’ feet to the fire.”

“I think it’s of tremendous importance for kids in East San Jose to be able to look at every governing body in the city and be able to see themselves there,” agreed Bonilla. “But I want to be respectful of the process and give decisionmakers the space to make the decision they feel is best for the city and can’t comment further.”

The City Council on Tuesday will select a commissioner to fill a term ending June 2022. Applicants must receive six or more votes to be appointed to the Planning Commission, according to City Clerk Toni Taber.

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