The full Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted to remove a member of the Montecito Planning Commission on Tuesday in response to a request from First District Supervisor Das Williams.

Susan Keller had been a commissioner for eight years and was serving as vice chair. Her term was set to end in January 2024.

Members of county advisory commissions are appointed by their district supervisors.

“In order to facilitate a full complement of commissioners and to allow other individuals in the Montecito community to serve on the Montecito Planning Commission, we are seeking removal of Ms. Keller at this time,” Williams’ office wrote in a board letter.

Keller attended the Santa Maria meeting in person to oppose her removal.

“I’m willing to endure this formal and very public process of removal because I believe so strongly that commissioners trying to coerce another’s resignation by threats sets a dangerous precedent,” Keller told the supervisors.

Susan Keller, a member of the Montecito Planning Commission, asks the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to oppose her removal. (Screenshot via Santa Barbara County)

Two of the other commissioners — Ron Pulice and Bob Kupiec — threatened to resign unless Keller stepped down.

Williams offered her a spot on a different commission less than a month ago, she said.

“Previously he has given me no warning, nor indication of any criticism or failure regarding my work with the Montecito Planning Commission,” Keller said.

After her comments, Williams said there have been “some personal disagreements over the function of the MPC for some time” and that it has an “unfortunate dynamic.”

He said there have been “tit-for-tat attempts to remove commissioners, including a year ago where Ms. Keller tried to remove a commissioner.”

“I think this is really about the functioning of the institution,” Williams said, “and I have requested advice both from planning commissioners themselves and from staff of the Planning Commission, and believe this is going to ultimately be the best way to move forward.”

Williams said it “largely boils down to a math game” of keeping two commissioners over one commissioner who was going to serve for only one more year

He added that he wants a Montecito Planning Commission that “functions for the long term” and “functions with alacrity” for applicants.

The other four county supervisors supported Williams’ request and voted to remove Keller from the commission.

“It’s his call,” Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said, adding that commissioners serve at the will of the supervisor.

In a comment letter submitted to the board, Keller wrote that Williams gave her “vague reasons” for asking for her resignation, including recent absences in meetings, a “lack of deference to the decisions of the Montecito Board of Architectural Review, and tendency to ask many questions, which contributed to lengthy meetings.”

Keller said Jeff Wilson, the assistant Planning & Development director, told her some newer planners “felt intimidated and uncomfortable” during presentations to the Montecito Planning Commission because of Keller’s “many probing questions.”

Keller wrote that she could “amend my possibly intimidating manner when dealing with Planning Department staff” and skip being commission chair for 2023, but it was not an acceptable compromise to the other commissioners.

Some of her comments at Tuesday’s meeting seemed to be in response to those allegations.

“I helped develop the ordinance language that created the Montecito Planning Commission, so I know my responsibilities,” she said.

The commission, she said, “is not a rubber stamp for recommendations of the Montecito Board of Architectural Review. The commissions should not accept county staff recommendations without question, amendment or possible disagreement.”

The Montecito Planning Commission has been meeting remotely via Zoom since early 2020.

At the most recent meeting on Nov. 16, Keller said she planned to finish the rest of her term since she didn’t win a seat on the Montecito Fire Protection District board.

She previously served on the fire board and saw a potential return as a way to fulfill some unfinished business, she said at the time.

Keller came in third in a three-person race for two seats.