John Mendoza, partner in respected consultancy Mendoza Planning, launched a blistering attack on the performance and experience of local government planners at a seminar last month, while insisting he valued their contribution to the profession. “Most local government planners are obstructionist, reactionary, poorly educated, and unhelpful,” he said, “but I don’t wish to denigrate them.”
Despite his strong criticism of Council planners, Mendoza was at pains to outline the deep affinity he shared with them. “I am, at heart, a creature of local government,” he said, citing his time as assistant to the junior town clerk at the Hawthorn City Council from 1972 to 1974 as evidence of his commitment to the sector.
“I understand all too well from my time at Council the pressures they’re under. I know what it’s like dealing with the complexities of interim development orders, underlying zoning, or the finer points of the Residential C Zone,” Mendoza said. “But still, they’ve got to do less chatting with the tea lady by the mimeograph, and get their applications off their desks and into the typing pool.”
“I don’t want to patronise local government planners: they’re doing the best they know how,” Mendoza concluded. Nevertheless, he is critical of the level of experience and expertise demonstrated by planners in the sector. “It can be hard getting hold of a local government planner with any seniority or experience,” he said. “At least, that’s what the members of my staff who have to deal with Councils constantly tell me.”
At drinks after the session, Mendoza made a point of building bridges between private and public sector planners by approaching various Council planners and sharing a good-humoured “Where’s my permit?” joke. But the bonhomie hid a more serious point. “The Council sector needs to wake up and modernise,” he said. “We weren’t living in the past when I was at the Board of Works.”
Originally published in the “Clause 101″ column of Planning News 35, no. 4 (May 2009): 30.