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.

 

It’s Payback Time!

free_tripFrom September 28 through October 9, 2012, then Mayor Don Schweitzer, MPT Brett Murdock and City Manager Tim O’Donnell took a vacation together to Anseong, South Korea and Hanno, Japan and stuck Brea taxpayers with the bill.

Aren’t those our Sister Cities? Yeah, so what?

Under the ruse that the number of official duties outstripped the Mayor’s ability to respond, Schweitzer convinced Murdock and O’Donnell that they should come along to help pick up the slack. Really? I’ll bet that took a lot of arm twisting.

Another thought, did O’Donnell charge his time to the taxpayers on this trip anticipating that Measure T, which disallowed payment for work done outside the country, was likely to pass and this was his last chance to sock it to the taxpayers before Measure T took effect?

Let’s back up and look at the facts.

Brea Matters has discussed this twice, on September 20 and November 6 – please take the time to read these again to put what follows in proper context.

The invitation, from the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folkarts (CIOFF), could have easily been turned down without international incident by simply replying, “While we would be honored to join you, we are not in a position to budget for a non-commercial cultural event.”

troupeThe CIOFF, according to their own mission statement, purposefully focuses on cultural activities and as an NGO (non-government organization), does not get involved with developing commercial opportunities. The fact that O’Donnell originally characterized the junket as one exploring commercial connections between Anseong and Brea is completely bogus.

At no time has there been acceptable explanation of this junket’s benefit to Brea sufficient to consider it justified in any way. Particularly the side trip to Hanno, Japan. It was an abuse of power and authority using public funds without public approval to pay for a vacation.

So, what did this cost us?

money_buriedThe product of a difficult and protracted public inquiry, this Expense Report accounts for lodging, airfare, ground transportation and meals. It also reports how O’Donnell’s time off was allocated.

All three happy travelers cost the city about $3,115.00 each for reimbursed expenses. I believe that’s more than Movies In The Park or our summer concert series costs. One person’s expenses are at least double the cost of “Gotta Have Art” which annually benefitted Brea kids all across the city and produced the amazing banners you see hanging down at the Community Center. A program, by the way, that has been cut.

O’Donnell adds insult to injury.

politician_liar_150If that nine grand was wasted, wait until you hear what’s next. Tim O’Donnell charged off three days as “regular paid work days” and four days as “paid administrative leave.”

Are you kidding me? I would love to see a detailed itinerary for these days that justified bilking the city for the expense.

Based on the unconscionably enormous salary we pay O’Donnell, these expenses are roughly equal to the travel expenses of all three combined! Yeah, I believe it comes to almost another nine grand!

Hey, I’m a reasonable guy. If O’Donnell wanted to charge off his time against “paid vacation” I would have no problem with reducing his accrued vacation. If he earned it, it’s his. But don’t stick taxpayers with this… it’s like double jeopardy.

It’s grossly unfair, and seems equally unethical, to make us pay you now and then pay you again when you’re terminated. You read that right Tim, terminated.

There is a simple answer.

In the court of public opinion, you’re all guilty as charged.  Unfortunately it requires an act of contrition on your part to bring this to a positive conclusion.

Here’s what you should do… pay it back. All of it. All three of you.

It was unethical. It was unapproved. It was without excuse. At least five former Mayor’s have clearly expressed that they feel the same way. Three shared their opinions during Matters From The Audience and they were basically ignored.

Don, Brett, Tim… write a check to reimburse the city, and Tim, reclassify your time in Anseong and Hanno as “Paid Vacation” and be done with it.

I would much rather see the three of you step up and do the honorable, the honest thing… for once. Then put a review of travel budgets on the agenda and ask folks what they think they ought to be.

While we’re at it, how about taking a hard look at our League of Cities memberships and participation in the Energy Coalition too. Many of us are still trying to figure out what sort of benefits we get from these and similar groups.

Finally gents, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” so save yourself the trouble of wagging the dog on this one… it’s far too late for damage control now.