Council Is Blindsided Again!

While watching Tuesday’s Council meeting (04/15) my cellphone blew up with calls and texts saying, in one form or another, that Council is blindsided again. Most referenced last December’s Council reorganization meeting as the blindsiding benchmark.

Madrona-yes-1After receiving Planning Commission approval, first in 2008 and then in 2013, the Madrona development was challenged again by a small but vocal special interest group Hills For Everyone. Their Vice President/Treasurer, Bev Perry, took the lead role as appellant and asked Council to overturn the Commission’s decision.

After several hearings going back to November of last year, the appellant presented their objections to the project, the applicant presented overriding considerations, both sides rebutted the other’s facts and figures and the public was given the opportunity to wade in, on the record, with their opinions.

The finish line was in sight.

Or was it? With the public hearing closed, this was to be the wrap-up discussion by Council with a vote to either uphold the appeal or deny it – in essence to deny or approve the development moving forward. Then Council, at least some of them, had the rug pulled out from under their feet.

brett_praysSuddenly we were listening to Mayor Murdock and Mayor Pro Tem Marrick dive into their special list of additional considerations ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime.

No one calling or texting me thought this was appropriate and wondered why neither other Council members or the City Attorney interjected and pulled the plug on their dog and pony show.

Well within their rights.

christine_talksI discussed this with folks either having  a strong background in planning and development or legal authorities specializing in development law.

Murdock and Marrick were well within their rights to present their considerations.

But what is legal may not be prudent. Many still question their secretive style which seemed more than a little politically motivated. Plus, the items they rattled off, with marginal support from other Council members, added weeks to a process most in the community were ready to put to bed.

How critically important are these last minute considerations?

roy_intervenesHere, lifted from Roy Moore’s Brea Net (#682) newsletter, are the items in question. (The commentary is mine, don’t go calling Roy on this.)

Roy concludes, “As you can see many are relatively harmless with minimum cost impact. Others are major and may be hard for the developer to comply. The Council approved a motion to ask staff to develop a draft of the [above] conditions for approval of the Madrona development. The Madrona saga continues on May 6.”

1.  Madrona should not be a gated community.

Claiming that good old Brea’s reputation would be poorly served by creating a security barrier around executive estates, that it would appear snobby… I guess Marrick overlooked the numerous gated apartment and condo properties throughout Brea.

Besides, why would owners of million dollar plus homes want that sort of security anyway?

2.  Other than for emergency uses, Olinda Place will never be used by Madrona residents for daily use.

This really doesn’t provide an overriding consideration benefitting much of Brea outside of Olinda Village residents, the loud voices droning on and on supporting Hills for Everyone.

marty_motionsNoteworthy however is that this allowed emergency use provides the second ingress egress point felt mandatory by Councilman Simonoff who seemed to be weighing his total view of Madrona based on a public safety technicality.

To be sure, Simonoff has a lengthy track record of fighting for public safety issues. Someone should remind him that Fire Chief Kanaabe was satisfied with the plan as written.

When I questioned Simonoff about this, he reconfirmed his position relative to safety issues and said that, if Olinda Village came to him today for approval, he would likely vote no on it as well.

3.  A system should be included in the development to collect and recycle water runoff.

For most concerned this is a useful and feasible consideration. Not sure where they want it collected or how they want it redistributed. I suppose we’ll hear more at the next meeting.

4.  Each home should have the capability to collect and recycle “gray” water.

This will likely prove more difficult, more costly, because it calls for two parallel plumbing systems, doubles the number of connections and requires the addition of individual purification systems. No figures were given regarding water savings. And again, I have to ask what is the overriding benefit derived by the rest of us living in Brea? Weren’t water issues determined to be non-issues now?

5.  The developer should procure water shares in Cal Domestic for the City.

david_respondsIn a word, impossible. There are no shares available now. The current price per share is $16,000 dollars.

What, you want a check so if and when shares become available we can acquire them? How big a check? At what price per share? Putting this “water in lieu” idea on the table is unfeasible, impractical.

Did you not listen to staff when they told you this? You keep laying it on thick how wonderful, how brilliant these folks are who, as Murdock put it, “get the big bucks…” Why don’t you listen to them? They’re trying to earn their keep. Let ’em!

6.  The future buyers should have the option to include solar panels on their home.

ron_babblesAnother half baked snake bit idea. From your conversation it’s clear that you have no clue how this would be implemented. Kudos to Garcia for mumbling something about solar panels he saw once at a League of Cities meeting that look like shingles. Maybe I was the only one who heard him because the discussion raced off in another direction and the whole matter was dumped into staff’s lap.

7.  The development should contain 10% of the homes as true custom homes on minimum one-half acre lots.

There are half acre lots already, maybe they could be designated as your “custom” lots Ms. Marrick. But wait! This sounds really snobby to me! Big fat mini-mansions in the hills? How does this not completely conflict with your wanting no security gates? You can’t have it both ways, pick one and argue for it.

8.  At least one of the pocket parks should contain amenities such as a tot lot.

Hmmm, pretending that you didn’t come up with this months ago Ms. Marrick, the idea still gets stuck in first gear for me. Tell me how many families able to afford million dollar plus homes have kids still in the toddler stage? Are they supposed to wait until they become grandparents before the amenity is useful to them? Or maybe you thought all of Brea’s young moms and dads would flock there, through the un-gated entry, on weekends and holidays. Yeah, that will help sell executive homes.

9.  Provide back up generators for the two water pumping stations on Carbon Canyon Road.

Might be a bit excessive considering that the Fire Chief, already satisfied with the development, has a clear plan to cover this need. This sounds more like bankrolling political collateral. We’ll know for sure if, during campaign season, we see another of those “Look What I Did For Ya” flyers circulating all over town.

10. Get Cal Trans approval to the ingress and egress to the tract before beginning any excavation.

This is an absolute. It should have been on the “list” months ago. The space out there is tight and Cal Trans has a reputation of taking forever on matters like this. The Olinda Village signal took what, two years to get approved? Seems like it. This is the developer’s number one mission. Without this, nothing else being discussed matters.

11.  Increase projected school fees.

12.  Increase projected transportation fees.

These get lumped together because they’re statutory fees and arbitrarily doubling them, as pointed out Tuesday night, is actionable. The school fees are totally out of the scope of city business and Murdock needs to start paying better attention in class. These should be pulled off the list before the next meeting if for no other reason than to minimize the embarrassment to the community.

At the risk of opening Pandora’s box.

markman_chidesAfter the meeting the applicant’s attorney approached City Attorney Markman seeking to confirm that he and the applicant’s people will now be allowed to meet with city staff.

Both Murdock and Marrick, in there comments, alluded to this needing to happen. Markman confirmed that access was assured.

Really? What I discovered is that the appellant and her people had unlimited access to Council and staff during the hearings but that Markman barred city staff from having any contact with the applicant or their staff. What purpose did this serve?

It’s like trying to negotiate peace between Russia and the Ukraine… and telling the Ukraine they can’t come to the negotiating table. Sorry, but that sounds totally counterproductive to me and I’m surprised Council put up with it.

As long as the box is open.

Another issue that surfaced was, with all of these “new” considerations on the table, should the public hearing be reopened allowing the public to speak on the record again? When I queried Markman about this via email, here is his response.

“A reopened additional hearing would not be required legally. A Council may modify a project through conditioning as a result of a hearing process without reopening the hearing to discuss the Council’s revisions. The Council may reopen the hearing if the Council decides to do so by motion.”

Roy Moore asked the question. Brett Murdock said absolutely not. Markman said it’s possible but not required. The more people talked, the more they thought about what meaningful contribution John Q. Public made in this whole affair and the less interested they were in reopening public comment.

I agree. Don’t reopen the public hearing. Seriously, go back and watch the meetings.

Except for three or four very well articulated positions, everything else became a din of emotionally delivered soundbites of canned Hills For Everyone rhetoric delivered over and over like a broken record.

I know I’m going to get royally jammed up on that one so I’m hoping all of you who have turned off Matters From The Audience half way through to watch a rerun of Waking Ned Devine will support me with your comments.

It’s Time To Fish Or Cut Bait.

 

A Simple Confession.

Spongebob_AIt’s been a while since I last posted here. Frankly, the continued juvenile behavior in council chambers, meeting after meeting, is less than motivating. I’d almost rather that Time Warner replaced their bi-weekly meeting coverage with reruns of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Seriously, have you ever seen five people so unable to get along together, so incredibly dysfunctional, incapable of building consensus on even simple matters?

Wake up Brea.

With a contentious and heated campaign season just around the corner, it’s time Brean’s took stock of their options and made some effort to follow what’s happening down at 1 Civic Center Circle. The average Brea resident can’t name one member of the City Council.

madonna_bIn recent weeks I’ve been asking folks what they thought of Madrona. “She’s starting to show her age.”

No. I’m not kidding. Someone actually said that. Most people had no clue what Madrona is, more about that in a moment.

I also asked readers of Brea Matters, typically well informed high probability voters, what issues they felt were the most critical at the moment… most likely to be woven into campaign rhetoric.

I’m pleased to say I received a respectable response, thoughtful and articulate answers, and am consolidating them for an upcoming post.

Back to Madrona.

Oh, and for those still clueless, “Madrona” is a hillside development that’s been in gestation in one form or another for over 20 years. It made it through the Planning Commission, which vexed the save-the-hills crowd and a handful of villagers.

The Triangle Fire opened the door for this nimby (not in my back yard) bunch to appeal the commission’s decision and it’s landed in front of our dysfunctional council.

The subsequent public hearing has brought out the worst in all concerned. It is he-said-she-said with hardly any way to truly fact check the claims of either side.

Council, I’ll make it easy for you.

apples-oranges_150Whether you approve the project or not, you’re going to get sued. Deny the project and the applicant will drag you into court. Approve the project and the appellant will do likewise.

The answer is simple, figure out who you have the best shot at beating in the courtroom and cast your vote for their opponent.

I suggest you approve the project. The whiney complaints of the small special interest group will ring hollow when juxtaposed with the property rights side of the argument. And wouldn’t it be nice if we could avoid one more developer financially crumbling under the weight of Brea’s incompetence?

But, for heaven’s sake, don’t pretend you need more information to make your decision. Bouncing this back to staff after all these years, is like giving yourself a big dose of novacain. Trust me, you can’t avoid the pain… it’s inevitable.

 

An Oh So Blustery Day.

Thanks to the high winds today, the skies over Brea were uncommonly clear… except for the curious puffs of white smoke coming from just east of the 57 freeway. Eerily reminiscent of the first signs of the Triangle Fire, I hustled in that direction to see if another conflagration was starting.

Thankfully, the answer was no.

The smoke was coming from a couple of dozers up on the hillside in the new Blackstone development. However, as I stared at the scalped hillsides, I began having a few questions, none the least of which was, “I wonder why so few people around town have any clue what’s happening up here?”

So, I did a little surfing.

Here’s what I gleaned from a brief article on the City of Brea website.  Blackstone is a sanctioned County of Orange project.  All construction is being overseen by the County. As phase one (sold out) becomes occupied, Brea will work out some sort of annexation arrangement and begin the provision of public services to residents.

Where are we with this? What is the additional burden on city services and what is the projected property and sales tax increment from those living in these mini-mansions? Will we at least make a couple of bucks to help bolster our reserves?

Built in four phases, Blackstone (a joint effort between Shea Homes and Standard Pacific Homes) will feature 795 new homes.  Having skirted Brea’s hard-nosed Planning Department and, except for a dog and pony show on the hillside repair and enhancements, the Planning Commission, I wonder how many of these homes would have made it to the final development agreement?

If “La Floresta” and “Central Park Brea,” on the old hospital site, are any indication, Blackstone would still be about five years away from breaking ground and would be limited to less than 300 homes.

Digging a little deeper.

Blackstone’s website, pretty minimalist by developer standards, says that in addition to Blackstone’s big lot, über-stylish mini-mansions, the development will feature a robust recreation center with “wading pool, Junior Olympic pool, spa, outdoor fireplace, barbecue and children’s water activity center.

As if this weren’t plush enough, Blackstone will also incorporate walking trails, six pocket parks (one with a tot lot), and a 14-acre linear park (Wildcatter’s Park – will be turned over to the city), dog park, fancy schmancy gazebo and a variety of sports fields rivaling our new Birch Street Sports Park (20 acres).

Will we be competing with ourselves?

Didn’t I hear a lot of pushback when folks talked about having some of these amenities at the new Sports Park? Now it’s okay to put these things in a pseudo-private residential neighborhood? Will the HOA take on the costs? Or, like Central Park Brea, will these parks be open to all?  Answers… I think we deserve answers.

When the city “takes over” Blackstone, whatever that might mean, I’m feeling some big, on-going infrastructure maintenance expenses on the horizon and what do we know about them?  Precious little.

Folks used to trust Hills For Everyone to watchdog stuff like this but I found no mention of Blackstone anywhere on their website.

Their mission statement is, “To protect, preserve and restore the environmental resources and natural environs of the Puente-Chino Hills and surrounding areas for the enjoyment of current and succeeding generations and to initiate, sponsor, promote, organize and carry out plans, programs, and activities that will tend to further these ends.”

I guess Blackstone doesn’t fall under the “surrounding areas” provision. I checked out their “Current Projects & Threats” info and, though there are 14 items listed, not one says squat about Blackstone.

Hmmm, maybe a better name for the group might be Only Some Hills For A Few Of Us. Naw… that’s too long and difficult to remember. Besides, it’s not really that flattering either.

Still wonder why we need accountability and open governance?

Didn’t think so.