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Will seek more applicants after holiday season
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Manteca’s elected leaders are in the hunt for a fifth planning commissioner after rejecting six applicants, appointing two, and deciding another had what it took to be an alternate but not a full blown member.

The recently installed City Council broke new ground Tuesday after they rejected Mayor Ben Cantu’s request to appoint Leonard Smith, David Cushman, and Ron Laffranchi as full-fledged commission members and Parminder Singh Sahi as the alternate. 

The council then asked to try and appoint one position at a time. That ended with Smith and Laffranchi being selected on unanimous votes. Smith has already served two four-year terms while Laffranchi has been serving as the alternate.

When the next six nominations failed to get a second, Councilman Gary Singh indicated he wanted to try something different and nominated Sahi for the alternate position. Sahi had been nominated by Councilman Jose Nuno to serve as a full-fledged commission member but that motion had died for lack of a second.

Sahi became the alternate on a 3-2 vote with Cantu, Singh and Nuno voting for him and council members David Breitenbucher and Debby Moorhead voting no.

The council then did something that hasn’t happened in more than 40 years — if ever — by a Manteca City Council when it comes to appointing members to the Manteca Planning Commission when they’ve had ample applicants. They decided to re-open the application process in a bid to seek other candidates after the holidays.

Nuno, Singh, and Cantu all indicated through various comments that they preferred candidates that had a strong grasp of planning related issues. Smith and Laffranchi fit the bill due to their service with the planning commission. Nuno and Singh both have served on the planning commission while Cantu noted he had nearly 40 years working with the planning commission primarily in his role as a city planner.

Prior to his motion that failed to get a second to fill all of the commission vacancies in one fell swoop, Cantu provided insight to his thought process on what he’d like to see in commission members after indicating he wished the commission was larger to accommodate all of the applicants.

“I’m not going to make everyone happy,” Cantu said. “That’s not my job . . . It’s to look after the best interests of the community and to fulfill my promise to the community to make that happen.”

In explaining his nominations he noted Smith and Laffranchi — who both eventually ended up being appointed — “had the experience” with each having served eight years in their commission posts. Cushman, who Cantu openly acknowledged was his campaign manager in his successful run for mayor, was cited “for his foresight” and as a  26-year-old he’d bring a more youthful perspective to development-related issues to the commission.

In the subsequent motions all the other applicants except for Geraldine Williams who was not present at the meeting had a council member move to appoint them but no other council member seconded the motion. Those unsuccessfully nominated were Armajit Dhaliwal, Barron Gonsalves, Cushman, Sahi, Stephanie Kong, and Richard Silverman.

The council passed on a chance to appoint what would have been the appointment of the first woman to serve on the planning commission in more than 20 years when they passed on three women candidates including Kong who has experience as a civil engineer.

In another unusual move, before the council voted they had a citizen share his thoughts on what the council should be  looking for when they appoint planning commissioners.

Al Moncada expressed dismay that the council was peppering eight of the nine candidates that made pitches to the council Tuesday in a bid to secure their support for appointment to the commission with questions zeroing in on their planning related experience and community involvement.

Moncada noted neither planning experience or community involvement had been listed as a prerequisite for appointment.

“The people have spoken that they want change,” Moncada said, underlining his point that voters elected “a 32-year-old with no experience” to Congress when they selected Josh Harder over four-term incumbent Jeff Denham.

The two positions that the council did fill unanimously are essentially a continuum of the current commission. The same is true to a degree of Sahi who serves on the general plan update citizens’ advisory committee and is an alternate for the Manteca parks & Recreation Commission. All three are involved in community endeavors.

The commission will be able to operate with five members until the council selects someone to serve in the final spot.

Smith and Laffranchi will serve with Jeff Zellner and Eric Hayes that each have two years left on their four-year terms while Sahi as the alternate will temporarily fill the fifth seat that gives him the ability to vote.

The planning commission is considered the most high profile board in city government after the City Council. In the last three elections, half of the six council members seated were serving as planning commission members when they were elected.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email