16 April 2014

Madrona: COA not DOA?

YHB was at the city council meeting in Temple City last night and at that city's art commission gathering two weeks ago, so the last two Brea city council meetings including the continuing hearing on the Madrona appeal have been missed.

Apparently, last night's confab was confusing, conflicting, and confounding, at least according to some of those supporting the appeal.  Among the more notable points passed along:
  • Mayor Brett Murdock offered the view that there were three possible council votes:  uphold the appeal, deny it, or deny it with conditions of approval (COAs) attached to Madrona.
  • Marty Simonoff offered a motion to uphold the appeal, which was clarified by city attorney Jim Markman as a request to city staff to prepare documents for such and then a vote would be taken at the next council meeting.  There wasn't, however, a second on that motion.
  • Roy Moore then spoke, giving many reasons why the appeal should be denied, pointing to the staff report (albeit with several errors about what staff recommended) and then divulged that he had turned to a higher power, while also observing that his conscience and sense of fairness (how much were these latter and how much was the prayer?) outweighed considerations of the heart (whatever that might entail).
  • Ron Garcia detailed his support for Madrona, capping it off with the observation that 65% of the parcel would remain open space, but that would not necessarily remain the case if a new project was proposed to the city in the future.  The problem with that latter statement is that the city's General Plan wouldn't allow anything more than 50 and probably less because of the city's hillside management ordinance--which, of course, would mean there would actually be far more open space.  Well, 100%, because a project of under 50 houses would be totally infeasible.
  • With Garcia and Moore plainly in favor of denying the appeal and Simonoff in support of it, this left the two newcomers, Murdock and Christine Marick as the swing votes.
  • Marick started off by allowing that she would uphold the appeal as the project stood and then added the COAs were required to make Madrona worth supporting.  Ideas for additional conditions included water reclamation (given the obvious waste of water the project would create), use of solar panels, having the developer buy a share of the local water company California Domestic, having generators at the water pumping station at the Madrona entry, having some lots combined to create up to 16.5 acre parcels for real "estate" houses, asking for extra money for a gymnasium at the junior high, and additional funds for work on the 57 freeway.  These last two, however, were deemed illegal by attorney Markman.
  • For Marick and Murdock's COA pitch, staff would work on a report detailing the options for further council review and applicant perusal to see if Old Standard Life would agree to some or all of the conditions.
  • Murdock attempted to get the applicant's representatives to go to the podium to discuss these COAs, but Markman told him repeatedly that the hearing was closed, that an agreement could not be hammered out in that forum and that the Council needed to provide clarity in its directive concerning COAs and then see if the applicant would agree or not.
  • Moreover, when Markman repeated his request for specificity, Murdock demurred and then stated that he would support whatever staff came up with.
  • In addition, as each item was spelled out by Marick, Murdock tried to get council members to agree on an item-by-item basis.  This didn't go over well with the others, especially Moore who basically said that Murdock and Marick were making unreasonable demands of the developer and, more or less, were extorting and holding it hostage.
  • The result is that staff is to draft a document of approval based on the COA items offered by Marick and Murdock, who clearly worked closely together to fashion this alternative.  Markman indicated that there was a possibility of further CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review with some of the suggested conditions.
  • On the motion for this further process of COA drafting, the vote was 3-2 with Garcia, Marick and Murdock voting yes and Simonoff (because he wants to uphold the appeal) and Moore (because he wants to deny the appeal and approve Madrona with COAs) voting no.
Whatever the merits of some of the proposed COAs, there was concern expressed among onlookers that the majority of the council was heedless of the three significant adverse environmental impacts that require Statements of Overriding Considerations (SOCs) for approval.  Moreover, fundamental issues of resident safety did not seem to be thoughtfully considered.

Moreover, a cynic might wonder if the conditions offered by Murdock and Marick came out of a calculated decision to put forward ideas that would either be unacceptable or considered infeasible by the applicant.

Calling for water reclamation and use of solar panels sounds very environmentally-friendly and an attempt to address the gross use of water, a point hammered home by project opponents.

The idea of a generator at the pumping station was brought out, obviously, to address concerns about a power failure during a fire that would prevent adequate water made available up hill to fight a blaze.

The idea of creating bigger lots seems to be a way to address concerns about density while buttressing the developer's claims of the "luxury executive housing" that would fill a "need" within the city.

It just seems impossible to believe, however, that this or maybe any other developer would agree to such COAs, given the cost of planning and execution this would involve.

And, that might have been the point of introducing the proposed conditions in the first place.

Why vote against a project and guarantee a lawsuit, when the project could be less palatable by insisting on COAs (even if a lawsuit is almost certain regardless)?  At least, some of the council could claim they weren't "against" Madrona, but needed to ensure the project's quality and sensitivity to the canyon and the city by requiring the conditions.

So, this is how matters stand until the next meeting, which would be on Tuesday, 6 May.  Stay tuned as this strange saga stumbles towards some resolution!

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