Absence of Two Plan Commissioners Could Tip the Balance in Favor of Fracking
It seemed a bit puzzling last week when Joe Alcantar, chair of the City Plan Commission, asked that the CPC reconsider Trinity East's request to drill in the Trinity River floodplain, which the body had just gotten through denying.
Perhaps Alcantar, who voted in favor of Trinity East's proposal, had swayed one of his fellow members, but that seemed unlikely. Fracking is like the abortion debate. People have already made up their minds. Maybe he was banking on yays from the two CPC members who had missed the initial vote, but even that would only bring the vote to a 7-7 tie. (The 15th seat on the CPC has been vacant since Bobby Abtahi stepped down to run for City Council).
It's seems now that Alcantar's request will pay off. Rudy Bush at the Morning News reported that two of the CPC's gas drilling opponents, Mike Anglin and Paul Ridley, are unable to attend tomorrow's meeting. So is Liz Wally, who also missed the first meeting.
Assuming everyone else votes as they did last time, that leaves the tiebreaker to John Shellene, who missed last meeting but plans to be there tomorrow. And he declined to say how he plans to vote.
"I'll be waiting to hear comments and what staff has to say," he told Unfair Park this afternoon.
That's assuming there is a vote, which is where things get complicated. According to Robert's Rules of Order, which governs city meetings, a motion to reconsider has to be made by a member of the majority, in this case gas drilling opponents. As CPC chair, Alcantar is free to put the matter on the agenda but a member of the majority will need to actually make the motion once the meeting starts. Only if that motion passes will the body consider whether to approve Trinity East's SUP.
Even if that happens, there are other procedural questions. Terry Welch, an attorney and anti-fracking member of the city's gas drilling task force, wrote a letter to the CPC. In it, he argues that, even if the motion to reconsider passes, a vote on the SUPs themselves will have to be delayed until the next meeting, when Anglin and Ridley would presumably be back.
This will all ultimately be sorted out by the City Council. The reason the CPC's decision is important is that a recommended denial means the measure will need a 3/4 vote by the council, rather than a simple majority. It's at least possible that there are eight pro-drilling votes on the council. There certainly aren't a dozen.
Update at 4:43 p.m.: Council members Angela Hunt, Scott Griggs, and Sandy Greyson have sent a letter to Alcantar urging him not to push for a reconsideration of Trinity East's SUPs, arguing that the matter has been clearly settled and that part of the rationale for the move -- that two commissioners were absent -- should apply doubly now as it appears three won't make tomorrow's meeting.
If Alcantar feels otherwise and decides to continue to push for reconsideration, they ask that the public be allowed to comment, which, as of now, isn't on the agenda.
Their full letter:
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.