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.

Status Quo? Just Say No.

First draft written Sunday, September 14, 2008 – two years later, in light of recent events at City Council including the rash of salary raises and bonuses (even the ones they didn’t realize they were giving themselves), it still rings true.

The more I keep an eye on things, the more I get involved as opposed to sitting passively by letting the status quo prevail, the more I believe Brea is ripe for a complete retooling.  Managing the city’s affairs has evolved into a staff run conglomeration of revamped little fiefdoms many of which are more interested in perpetuating (justifying) their existence than promoting the general welfare of the city.

The Brea Dividend?

It’s shorthand for creating a mythical municipality that exists only in the minds of those naive enough to believe the propaganda.  We’re a small town and need to stop deluding ourselves into believing we’ve created some sort of suburban utopia.

We need to return to the days when a strong, well informed and decisive city council guided city staff to execute the council’s vision. We need to rethink the “business plan” that turned sales tax revenue into the holy grail.  We need to admit that Brea has almost three times the retail establishments that even the imaginary 150,000 population (we’re 40,000 strong) would sustain.

Brea businesses are cannibalizing themselves at an alarming rate – look around, how many vacant building are staring you in the face?  How many more years will the Tower Records building remain a monumental eyesore and stark reminder that “Downtown Brea” hasn’t become the regional destination so many had hoped for?

We’re all feeling the impact of this virtually never ending recession, that has already set unprecedented records in terms of unemployment, sent our financial, banking and housing industries into tailspins and inflicted serious, perhaps irreparable damage upon our quality of life for generations to come.

Rebuilding our community, from the ground up (not the top down) will require we get back to basics, that we create sensible expectations for ourselves by seeking a realistic blend of public services matched to our true resident population.  We need to develop an operating model for city governance and management based on sound business principals and not the whims of the few big fish in this small pond that wrongly feel some sense of entitlement to decide what’s best for the rest of us.