08 October 2008

Canyon Crest Project at Brea City Council, Round Two

Well, it appears there will be at least four, possibly five meetings of the Brea City Council relative to the controversial Canyon Crest project in Carbon Canyon. This 165-unit gated, "luxury" development would be built on over 350 acres on the north side of the canyon and dramatically alter it for a looong time.

After the appellant and applicant had a chance to address the council on 16 September, last night (a few hours ago, actually) was the time for public comment. Next meeting, Tuesday, 21 October will be a chance for the appellant and applicant to address the public comment, but, because a council member will be out, a special meeting for Wednesday, 29 October will be called for the council to ask questions of the two groups and possibly vote then, though that action could be delayed to another meeting.

Being that it's late, I'll make only some general commentary on the proceedings last night (a few hours ago, actually). First, there were surprise commentaries from folks outside the immediate area, including Yorba Linda, Hacienda Heights, and a sizable contingent from Silverado and Modjeska canyons. These latter were on message about wildfire risks in canyon settings and, even if we admit that a newer project like Canyon Crest would consist of homes better equipped to deal with fire, the sheer force of Santa Ana wind-driven fires and difficulty of access for emergency vehicles competing for space with evacuees are points that cannot be ignored. Nor did a new wrinkle that did not appear at the Planning Commission meeting or in the appellant's statements three weeks ago: the problem of obtaining fire insurance in high-risk zones, especially after last fall's devastating fires, such as the massive Silverado blaze.

Also surprising was that, by my count, there were 8 people who showed up to speak in support of the project. Still, it is worth noting that most had some business connection (a man who works with builders, a representative for Bobby McGee's restaurant, a business owner who spoke in favor of [unrestricted?] property rights), almost none of which spoke to any detail about why the project was so good, other than saying in very general terms that they approved.

This can be juxtaposed with the twenty-odd persons who spoke against the project, and, as was the case at the Planning Commission hearing, usually did so with great specificity and passion. One supporter basically invoked the "American Dream" as embodied in the desire to move up to better housing, as if that was the sole criteria for the dream! She also made sure to mention that she lived on hope that the economy was going to improve and trusted the council would also act on hope. I was also sure to remember the guy who invoked property rights and seemed to indicate that there should be no government-imposed limits. Now, I could be wrong about his message, because it was so vague and brief, but there has to be some limitations, otherwise Brea and most other cities wouldn't have general or specific plans, hillside ordinances, and other "socialistic" means to deny the poor property owner, especially insignificant, little entities like the Shopoff Group or, say, Shell/Aera, their birthright to unfettered development. As I said at the meeting, all you have to do is look at Moreno Valley (or most of Corona, or Menifee, or Temecula, or Murrieta, or . . .) to see what can happen when development is allowed to run amok. The stunning thing about Moreno Valley is that they've done this twice (first in the late 80s/early 90s.)

Finally, there was the local pastor who basically came right out and said that the council should only look to the staff for guidance on making decisions, implying that, because there are some citizens who can get unreasonable with elected officials (as if that never goes the other way around), the latter need not take heed of the former. It bears noting, however, that the opposition to Canyon Crest has uniformly behaved very well. Sure, there were some pointed comments, usually at the developer, and some cheering and clapping, but nothing like the free-for-alls that take place at lots of council meetings. As I said after the Planning Commission meetings, Brea residents were almost exclusively composed, reasonable, rational, substantive, respectful and just a real credit to their town.

But to have a man who stakes a claim as a real community-minded guy to just come out and say that the council should work exclusively with staff to make decisions is really stunningly misguided as to the role of the citizen in a democracy. Is it more efficient to make unilateral (or quasi-bilateral, if city staff are to be seen as separate from the council in the government hierarchy) decisions without consulting your citizenry? Of course. But, is that desirable? The answer ought to be: no, no, a thousand times no. This gentleman at least had some company this time, as he was the only supporter, if half-heartedly, of the project at the Planning Commission meeting.

When you take substance, depth, and specificity and weight the scale of the twenty or so opponents of Canyon Crest with the eight or so supporters, there really was no contest. The strangest of the support comments had to be the representative from Bobby McGee's, who made her proxy comments as briefly as humanly possible and promptly disappeared. The reason for the support: McGee's evidently believes the potential well-heeled residents of Canyon Crest will save the restaurant in its losing battle with Claim Jumper. Another supporter rested his argument solely on the idea that, in conflicts over housing developments like this one, the opposing issues will simply be resolved and that's more or less it.

So, if these were supposed to have constituted ringing endorsements for the project, in which supporters showed a real enthusiasm for the project and elucidated all the wonderful things this project was going to provide the city, than the vague, brief and uninspired comments offered are telling. By contrast, as I said above, opponents offered detail and passion, which, I suppose, would bode well for an upholding of the appeal.

Therein lies the crux and we'll have to wait through another six or so hours of meetings to see if the council is ready to make their decision. I just want to say again that the speakers who came in on a presidential debate night, no less, and gave of their time to offered mostly well-phrased, detailed, respectful and restrained opposition are a real credit to their city and community. Regardless of what the council ultimately decides, these citizens (in the true meaning of the word as involved) should be very proud of the work they've done.

Let's just hope that it is rewarded!


Anonymous said...

Well said, Paul. I too was taken back by Dave Radar's comments.

I wonder, were you at the meeting during the discussion regarding the Shopoff Group's participation in the fundraiser for the Brea Museum and Heritage Center? There is a flyer circulating about the event. Mayor Schweitzer's name is on it and BRupp is noted as the one taking the RSVP's for the event. While the mayor isn't on the board of the museum the President of the Board happens to be the Brea Planning Commission Chair. Intriguing. The mayor and city attorney's response was that it wasn't illegal so it was okay. I don't know...it seems we've stumbled into a grey area between moral and ethics.
What are your thoughts?

Paul said...

Hello anonymous, I'm going to address your question in a blog entry. And, yes, Mr. Rader/Radar seems to lack a fundamental understanding of citizen-based democracy. Fortunately, over 20 of his fellow citizens only too well understood and exercised their basic right to participate in one of the aspects that makes American democracy what it is. Thanks for the comment!