18 March 2014

Madrona Hearing Tonight Was One-Sided


YHB showed up at about 9:00, expecting to be in time for the applicant's rebuttal of the appellant's rebuttal to the previous hearing statements made by the developers of the Madrona project.

From the admittedly anti-Madrona contingent, the earlier presentations this evening by Anne Summers, who spoke with great authority and conviction about the issues of supplying water in a cost-effective manner as well as about the enormous levels of use projected for the development, and former Brea council member Bev Perry, who summarized the multi-varied positions against the project, continued the level of professionalism, striking visuals, attention to factual detail, and well-reasoned argument that has marked the appellant's case all along.

As YHB walked up from the parking lot and stopped at the TV monitor in the plaza outside the council chambers, it was observed that Mayor Brett Murdock was polling his fellow council members about adjourning the hearing to the 1st of April (an auspicious date, maybe?).

Well, what happened to the hearing?

Moments later, after the meeting adjourned and folks streamed out of the chambers into the cool evening air, the surprise was revealed.  The applicant's attorney merely walked to the podium and curtly offered that there was no further rebuttal, effectively ending the public hearing and leaving it to the council to move on to the next stage.

Was this a concession to defeat or a simple acknowledgement that the applicant, Old Standard Life Insurance Company, simply had nothing further to say, having made its case, but, more importantly, laid the groundwork for its arguments in the inevitable lawsuit that would follow the council's decision either way?

Obviously, the applicants did not have a prepared rebuttal only to slink away from it in the face of what was a strong showing by the appellants.  They never intended to offer anything, but not necessarily in supreme confidence of prevailing in the appeal.  More likely, the assertions that older city general and Carbon Canyon Specific plans were sufficient for approval, as well as the argument that the project was exempt from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (at least two ways, that is, that the applicant could make a case in court) provided the strategy in the event that the council was disposed to uphold the appeal.

Not that tonight implies that a victory for Perry, et. al., is assured either.  Whatever might have been read into facial expressions, body language, note taking, whispered comments and so forth by council members, there really is no reason to assume that there is a clear-cut path staked out either direction.

Now, come April Fools' Day, the kinds of questions asked by council may give some clues, or not, regarding leanings.   It is also not likely that the questions will be few and the answers short and that, therefore, a decision is forthcoming on that date.  There will probably be at least one more meeting for that to take place.

And, a lot can happen during that time, as the council works to understand the issues, process the arguments by both sides and so on.

Still, there's no denying that it was a bit of a shock to many observers present at tonight's meeting and, perhaps, to most of the council, that the applicant decided to rest their case without further rebuttal. 

What was not surprising, though, was another stellar presentation by the appellants, who have relied on the issues, rather than emotion; concentrated on broader issues relating to Brea, rather than specifically the canyon; and used an array of compelling visual images and equally evocative statements, rather than broad generalities and misleading graphics, such as the applicant's flawed representations of the project site.

Whatever people may think or say about the applicants regarding NIMBYism, anyone looking at this in a reasonable way would have to admit that the argument on the issues of water, fire, traffic and loss of walnut and oak woodland habitat is not NIMBYism, at all, but simply a recognition that there are valid arguments that this project is bad for the Canyon and for Brea. 

The applicants have presented themselves in about as responsible and professional a manner as anyone could expect and, hopefully, the Council recognizes this and is appreciative of just how important this is.  It's easy to scream and yell, wave banners, blow whistles, shout, jeer or boo at meetings and rely on theatrics, political spectacle and raw emotion.  That happens in lots of cities. 

Here, though, the appellants have been very reasonable.  And, in truth, the applicants have done their jobs as would be expected and have been cordial to the opposing side (and vice-versa.)  No one can blame receiver Jackie Muro for doing what she is mandated by court order to do--improve the value of an asset for a bankrupt firm (one that drove itself there, however) seeking to satisfy creditors to the extent that it can.

Both sides have made their respective cases--it's now up to the council to ask questions, take in answers, process what has been argued and use their discretion to make the decision they feel is in the best interests of their city.

Sometime in April, it may be April Fools' Day or it may be Tax Day (either has its ironies) or maybe some other, that decision will come down.  Whatever the ruling is, this blogger can sincerely say that the appellants have mounted a masterful defense, no small achievement from a group that is doing this from community activism, not as a professional obligation or duty.

To them, a salute for a job extremely well done!

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