16 September 2008

Canyon Crest Public Hearing, Part I

Well, most of tonight's Brea City Council was dedicated to the public hearing of the appeal by citizens against the Canyon Crest housing project proposal, passed in June by the city's Planning Commission by a narrow 3-2 margin.

The appellants included several speakers, all of whom did an excellent job of explaining their views on various issues, with the exception of one who spoke about the use of Olinda Drive in Olinda Village as a construction access and future permanent resident access road, even though those issues had been mitigated by city staff discussions with the developer long ago.

In all fairness, the representative for The Shopoff Group ably presented the applicant's side in terms of presentation style and staying "on message." Which is not to say that his view guarantees that the applicant prevailed, because, in truth, this is not a question of one or the other side having the facts supporting them.

This is not fundamentally an objective process, despite the general plan, Carbon Canyon Specific Plan, Hillside Management Ordinance, California Environmental Quality Act provisions, mountains of geotechnical reports, glossy portfolios, or PowerPoint presentations filled with charts, statistics and pictures of little kids. It is a subjective matter based on the use of data that can be interpreted however suits the argument presented.

At base, what this comes down to is: does the City Council believe that the merits of the project, abetted by the staff's recommendation (and the Planning Commission's divided assent) via statements of overriding consideration, trump the significant, unavoidable, adverse impacts from the Final Environmental Impact Report AND the will of the majority of Brea residents, as represented by those citizens who have participated in this near decade-long project?

The council can either uphold the appeal, citing any one or more of the three impacts, as well as drawing on the overwhelming support for the appeal by the constituents or deny it on the basis of these benefits, which include money for affordable housing, a new fire truck, money for schools, an offering of "executive" housing opportunities, and other "incentives" that add up to nearly $10 million. From the perspective of the council's decision-making process, there is no "right" or "wrong" here, it is a matter of deciding what matters to them most: the will of the residents or the benefits that they believe will accrue to the city.

As matters stand now, actual public comment has been continued until the next meeting, which is Tuesday, October 7 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers. I had prepared my comments in advance, which I had not done at the Planning Commission meeting in April, but am now going to rework them based on what I heard tonight. It will also be very interesting to see how many of the speakers at that meeting will be for and how many against the project. So, if any of you out there are interested in this topic, mark down October 7 at 7:00 p.m. in your calendars or Palm Pilot or Blackberry and be part of the process. You can't be represented if your elected officials don't know where you stand, one way or the other.

I do have one other thing to say, though. It is an unfortunate reality that, in our system of government, development is almost completely under the domain of municipal or county (in unincorporated communities) governments unless the effects are of such magnitude that it runs into the opposition of such larger entities as the AQMD, CalTrans, State Fish and Game, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and others. Even then, these agencies can strongly recommend a course of action, but it is usually that local government that has the prerogative.

The reason this is a concern is because, especially in crowded urban environments such as ours, the effects and impacts are not purely local. Pollution from grading, for example, will not stay solely within the borders of Brea. Traffic impacts will affect a wide variety of people from many cities and towns. The loss of oak and walnut woodlands is a phenomenon affecting our entire region. Concerns over water (notably, the city has asked for a 10% voluntary reduction in water while staff has asserted in the Canyon Crest documentation that there is more than enough water available for the project) are actually concerning all of western America.

Yet, local governments are not obligated to take in the bigger picture. They have to observe their own laws, state and federal statutes and codes, and the like. But, if Chino Hills is planning on building 100 or more homes in Carbon Canyon, that has nothing to do, administratively, with Brea's plans for development. But, it should! When the developer's representative states that the project will only add 5% to the traffic on Carbon Canyon Road, it seems an insignificant number. Except that the road is already well beyond capacity for its intended use (and has an "F" rating for traffic crowding.) If our schools were overcrowed and new ones could not be built, would we say it's OK to add another 5% to the student body populations because, AFTER ALL, it's only a small percentage?

The lack of regional planning has resulted in overbuilding, crowded schools, overburdened freeways and streets, polluted air and water, and many other issues and, because of how our system is set up, THERE'S VERY LITTLE THAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT.

Again, however, the council does have a clear choice: it can uphold the appeal and support the mandate of its residents or it can override not only the significant unavoidable adverse impacts but the wishes of its constituency and deny the appeal and award victory to the applicant. So, now it moves on to October 7 and there is still every reason for opponents of this project to show up and register views. I cannot imagine there will, however, be many project supporters there, but who knows?


Canyonnative said...


As usual your blog is right on the mark. I was the first speaker for the appellant on the impacts to trees and oak/walnut woodlands. I think the Council listened attentively, but that in no way means they will unltimately agree with our position.
I strongly urge you to speak Oct. 7and encouage everyone you know to do the same. If this project is approved, it must be done with all the facts on the table and with ample time for the public's concerns. The applicant must be required to make a much stronger effort to align the project with the realities of that property's terrain and with the values of the Caarbon Canyon community, both Breans and those on the Chino Hills side.
Thanks for devoting so much of your time to helping this unique canyon and its residents.

Ann Summers - Canyonnative

Paul said...

Hi Ann,

As I said in my post, I brought remarks with me, but am glad that I heard the different arguments (of course, the one pen I brought ran out of ink as the Shopoff rep started his presentation--an omen, perhaps?) I'll definitely be there next meeting and will want to speak, though I want to wait until Brea folks have their say. I wish there was some media interest in covering this--maybe on the 7th? Thanks again for your comment!

Canyonnative said...


Go the the Brea City Web site. There you will find a streaming account of the public hearing. I intend to review everything Brian Rupp (Shopoff rep) said to search for good ammunition.


Paul said...

Thanks for the tip and I will do that. See you October 7!