30 October 2008

Canyon Crest and the Million Dollar Question

A Brea resident present at the city council's special meeting on the Canyon Crest development appeal handed me some copies of a post from an Orange County Register blog called "OC Watchdog" dealing with allegations that the Shopoff Group, the developer of Canyon Crest, offered $1 million to Hills for Everyone, one of the major opponents of the project, to cease its fight against it.

According to Hills for Everyone's executive director, Claire Schlotterbeck, "an intermediary for the Shopoff Group offered me, as a Hills for Everyone, representative, $1 million for 'an acquisition or for using it any we wanted to use it' -- if we 'went away." Schlotterbeck says she took the offer to the board, which unanimously rejected it. Further, she has stated, even though the offer was not illegal and Hills for Everyone was not in a position "to make a decision on the Canyon Crest project," that she would take out a sworn affidavit to counter any question of her account.

After project rep Brian Rupp denied the accusation and Shopoff Group president William Shopoff accused Schlotterbeck of libel and slander, the Watchdog blogger got hold of Shopoff and said, "This is interesting if you want to hallucinate. It never happened. Our firm never authorized it." Shopoff, however, did follow up that: "I believe a conversation may have taken place with an intermediary [which is the exact word used in the quote attributed to Schlotterbeck above] but nobody here authorized it." Moreover, Shopoff has attorneys evidently looking into potential legal action, to which Schlotterbeck has replied "It's not libel, because the defense for libel is the truth. It did happen." She went on to state that the incident took place on 4 July, that there were two persons present (one "a political consultant type") and that, hold on to your hats, "the other was a city council member." The Watchdog evidently tried to get names, but wrote that "she won't name names publicly right now." With that, the post concludes with the question: "Messy business, this democracy and capitalism stuff, isn't it?"

I've never posted a comment to any blog posting before and have probably only read a half-dozen blogs before (not including this one), but I did put in a response after six others were posted, a couple taking shots at Schlotterbeck for living in a housing tract in Carbon Canyon that used to be the kind of open space she is now trying to protect. I really don't have the inclination to get into cyber shouting matches, so came up with this response:

The question here is not about attacking anyone (Claire Schlotterbeck, William Shopoff, or members of the Brea city council or planning commission), it is about the legitimate differences of opinion about the viability of the Canyon Crest project. This is a subjective question to be answered by Brea’s elected officials. As Brea’s city attorney clearly stated last night at the council’s special meeting, the basis exists for denying or approving this project. The council has to decide whether adding to an already overburdened Carbon Canyon Road, removing a significant portion of a rapidly-vanishing plant and animal habitat, and contributing more emissions to the most polluted area in the United States, can be mitigated and overriden by the fiscal and material benefits offered by the Shopoff Group to the greater benefit of Brea. While concern was expressed at last night’s meeting about the fact that regional impacts (mainly traffic) are larger than local ones, we should live in context not isolation. With three other Carbon Canyon housing projects in process or in the pipeline on the Chino Hills side (totaling over 200 houses), not to mention massive housing development plans in the Inland Empire, the future of the canyon is the issue. We can’t “buy out” Claire Schlotterbeck or anyone else, myself included, who lives in the canyon and would like to limit its growth because of the significant impacts, but we ought to understand the regional and local issues before it’s too late to respond in a reasonable, rational and respectful way.

To which, one of the commentators who had taken Schlotterbeck to task responded:

Gee Paul, I guess we know where you stand on this issue! Next time scan your Hills For Everyone membership card and use it as your avatar! You are right…this is not about attacking anyone, even though when I lived in Brea (HFE) attacked me for voicing my opinions, ask Debbie. This is about property rights. You own a property, you drawn plans to develop it and then the city changes the zoning (with the advise of certain environmental group) and you lose the money you spent on the property or the earning potential of the property. Property rights vs. environment? Being that we live in a capitalist system and not socialist, property rights should win. This is not about the “greater benefit of Brea” (socialism). This is about being able to retain or increase value in the land you rightfully own (capitalism). Once again “where does Claire live?” has it right. If the city can prevent The Shopoff Group from developing their land then they can easily take Claire’s (and yours) and turn it into a nature preserve or a park. Besides the developers are not stupid…they are capitalists, they have something of value…others want it and will pay for it. What you want does not matter to them because you have nothing to offer them. The issue is not going away until they develop their land.
As I said, I'm not going to respond directly to the commentator because my interest is not in blog jousting, but this person has clearly and concisely identified one of, if not the biggest, issue involved in the Canyon Crest controversy: "Property rights vs. environment."

Meantime, whatever comes out of the "$1 million question," the decision to approve or deny the Canyon Crest project really has nothing to do with it. That has to come on the project's merits. The "greater benefit of Brea" is actually what was stated last night by the city attorney who told the council that the issuance of the "Statement of Overriding Considerations" is not predicated on a one-to-one matching mitigation of each significant impact. Rather, the council has to decide if the sum of the considerations is greater than that of the impacts so that the larger community of Brea benefits more from the project than what its impacts are. I'm not trying to diminish the issue of the $1 million "offer" or its potential ramifications in some other forum, but would prefer to stick to the question of Canyon Crest's fate at the hands of the city council.

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