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Planning commissioners resign on heels of rail spur vote 

After voting down one of the most contentious projects in the county’s history, two SLO County planning commissioners have said they are ready to move on.

Commissioners Ken Topping and Eric Meyer both announced their intentions to leave their positions on the commission. The men were two of three commissioners to vote against Phillips 66’s proposed rail spur project. Topping, who was first appointed to the commission in 2011, said in an Oct. 20 press release that his resignation will be effective Nov. 11. Meyer confirmed with New Times on
Nov. 2 that he will leave the commission at the end of his term in December. 

Speaking to New Times, Topping, who recently celebrated the birth of a great-grandchild, said he was ready to spend time with his family.

“I’m in my 80s, and I thought that six years [on the commission] was a good run,” Topping said.

Prior to serving on the commission, Topping worked as a planning director for Los Angeles city and San Bernardino County, as well as a planning consultant and general manager for the Cambria Community Services District.  

Meyer, who was appointed to the board in 2013, formerly served as a planning commissioner for SLO city and is one of the founders of Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Meyer said he was proud of his work as a commissioner and indicated that it was time for some new blood on the commission.

“It’s also good for the community to get diversity of opinions (not just mine) and let others have a chance to be a commissioner,” Meyer wrote in an email response to questions from New Times.

During their tenure on the board, Topping and Meyer voted on a number of high-profile and controversial projects, including the Santa Margarita Quarry and Laeticia Agricultural Cluster. 

For the rail spur project—which would allow Phillips 66 to transport oil by rail to its Santa Maria refinery on the Nipomo Mesa—Topping, Meyer, and the other commissioners sat through nine hearings over eight months before voting the project down 3-2.

The timing of Topping’s resignation isn’t a coincidence. He said he likely would have stepped down from the commission sooner had the project not come before the them.

“That was one of the reasons I didn’t leave the commission sooner,” he said. “I felt an obligation to stick it out.”

Meyer said there were no specific issues that prompted his departure, and said he was “very proud” of the community and the advocates who spoke on the project.

But even as Topping and Meyer leave, there is still a chance the project could go back to the commission. Phillips 66 recently filed a petition in SLO County Superior Court asking that the denial be reversed and the project go back to the commission for another vote. The court has yet to rule on the petition. In the meantime, the project’s denial has also been appealed to the SLO County Board of Supervisors.

Each supervisor is able to nominate a planning commissioner for their district, which is then approved by a vote of the full board. SLO County 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson said he will nominate SLO resident Mike Multari to replace Topping. Multari is a partner with Crawford Multari Clark & Associates, a planning and public policy consulting firm in San Luis Obispo. Multari previously served as a city of SLO planning commissioner from 2006 to 2016.

Third District Supervisor Adam Hill, who is running for re-election, said he had not picked a replacement for Meyer and would wait until after the Nov. 8 election before interviewing potential candidates.

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