Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Eager to unload the costs of planning departments, Petaluma and other cities decided to stick it to developers. Developers made easy targets, and they weren’t going to complain. They were just going to pass the costs on to their customers.

But no one asked the question: What do we do when there are no more developers?

Paul Payne’s story today – here – reports that Petaluma is talking about getting rid of its planning department and assigning the work to another city department or to a private consultant.

It’s a terrible idea on many levels – and a potential embarrassment for a city that once defended its planning department all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

In effect, the city would give away some piece of the things that matter about city planning – independence, local control, community access, brainstorming about the future. The arrangement might not save money either.

But Petaluma and other towns may be stuck. Even in good times, they were happy to pass the cost of local government to someone else. Now, in bad times, they get to deal with the consequences.