18 April 2014

Moore on Madrona

In the wake of Tuesday's Brea City Council hearing on the Madrona housing project proposing 162 houses on the north side of Carbon Canyon between Olinda Village and the Chino Hills border, council member Roy Moore issued his e-newsletter to residents called "Brea Net," devoting the latest edition to the hearing and his take on the project.

As noted last entry, Moore expressed his support for the project, but here are his own words on it with annotations by yours truly:

Last night’s City Council meeting was another lengthy public hearing on the Madrona project.  The hearing was finally closed and the council began deliberating the issues.  Council member Simonoff opposed the development while council members Garcia and Moore approved it.  Mayor Murdock and Mayor Pro Tem Marick could not approve the development without further concessions from the developer.  Here is the list of additional conditions they want imposed in order to gain their approval.

1.  Madrona should not be a gated community.
2.  Other than for emergency uses, Olinda Place will never be used by Madrona residents for daily use.
3.  A system should be included in the development to collect and recycle water runoff.
4.  Each home should have the capability to collect and recycle “gray” water.
5.  The developer should procure water shares in Cal Domestic for the City.
6.  The future buyers should have the option to include solar panels on their home.
7.  The development should contain 10% of the homes as true custom homes on minimum one-half acre lots.
8.  At least one of the pocket parks should contain amenities such as a tot lot.
9.  Provide back up generators for the two water pumping stations on Carbon Canyon Road.
10. Get Cal Trans approval to the ingress and egress to the tract before beginning any excavation.
11.  Increase projected school fees.
12.  Increase projected transportation fees.
As you can see many are relatively harmless with minimum cost impact.  Others are major and may be hard for the developer to comply.  The Council approved a motion (3-2, Moore, Simonoff dissenting) to ask staff to develop a draft of the above conditions for approval of the Madrona development.  The Madrona saga continues on May 6.

I have included below my statement on the reasons I approve the Madrona project.  Your comments are welcomed.

Moore next time,    Roy
On the following statement, this blogger's commentary is added in bold.  It should be noted that these comments are not intended to criticize Moore as a person, but address his public comments about this project.

Over the past couple of months I have read hundreds of pages, listened to hours of public testimony, asked staff and consultants many questions and hiked the development site all pertaining to the proposed Madrona development of 162 homes in Carbon Canyon.  I must admit struggling with my emotions as I listened to the appellant’s articulate and persuasive arguments against this project.  Give council member Moore credit for acknowledging the excellent job a cadre of volunteers did in mounting an excellent defense.

I would like to share with you my conclusions on this controversial project.  I will start with the three unmitigatable findings requiring overriding consideration for its approval:

First, traffic on Carbon Canyon Road.  This state highway has been graded F for many years.  Certainly more homes in the canyon will add to the traffic.  The City’s traffic consultant’s analysis, based on the assumption that 9.75 car trips/day/house would result in an increase of AM west bound peak period traffic of 77 cars and PM eastbound peak period traffic of 87 cars.  Assuming a one hour peak period, in the opinion of the traffic consultant, this would lengthen a trip through the canyon by 2-3 minutes.  If the peak period is two hours, this would increase the travel time to under two minutes.  This, I believe is insignificant.

Over 21,000 cars travel this route daily.  At least 19,000 originate from Chino Hills and Chino. These are communities that continue to build houses in far greater quantities than the 162 Madrona homes.  I suggest Cal Trans convert Highway 142 to a toll road at the county line and give a free pass to Brea residents.
Council member Moore makes some truly unfortunate comments here.  First, the traffic study was done several years ago and does not reflect current conditions.  In addition, there are further projects approved within Chino Hills that are not being taken into account here.  Moreover, the suggestion that 19,000 car trips are from Chino Hills and Chino is mistaken--these are trips that are emanating from those growing cities but also other points east and south. 
People are using Carbon Canyon as an alternative to the 60/57 and 91 freeway routes.  More disappointing is the assumption that, because most of the traffic is from outside the city, Brea shouldn't feel bad about adding a measly 1,600 car trips and that a couple more minutes to a lousy commute is no big deal. 
Finally, as others do, Moore chooses to isolate and compartmentalize the three unavoidable significant adverse impacts--they are a package and need to be dealt with that way if SOCs are to be issued.  Those won't be done for only one--it has to be for the trio.
As for the suggestion that CalTrans make Carbon Canyon Road a toll road through Brea only and allow the city's residents free access--well, what can you say about something that is a truly strange non-starter?  It's one thing if it comes from Joe or Jane Citizen, but from an elected city leader of 16 years standing?

The second finding is the removal of 1400 oak and walnut trees.  The City’s biologist states that they would be replaced by a ratio of  3:1 or 2:1 depending on the specie and in groupings from actual trees down to acorns to assure greater levels of success in establishing new woodland areas.  The replacement trees are to be planted in the dedicated open space and provided with a temporary overhead watering system.  The program is to be monitored by a certified biologist for five years or longer if needed.  Assuming success, eventually there will be an overall increase in the number of trees.
Invariably, these replacement programs read well on paper, look great on PowerPoint presentations, and sound excellent when presented by a developer-hired arborist.  In the real world, the ratios almost never wind up delivering what was promised.  Mature trees cannot be seen as the same as seedlings.  And, who's going to make sure the certified monitoring for five years (or longer) is being done?  And, what if water supplies become further restricted and rationing ensues, which is a feasible scenario?  More on water below.

The third finding is the pollution generated during the construction period.  Both the approved Blackstone and La Floresta developments are or were anticipated to generate more pollution than Madrona.  It would seem if we approved Blackstone and La Floresta how can we apply a different standard to Madrona?
This one is typical, but is truly misapplied logic.  Yes, Blackstone and La Floresta would generate as much or more pollution than Madrona, but not in a canyon setting with steep walls that trap particulates (which, by the way, damage trees and other plant material, as well as people and animals.)  More importantly, Moore should know full well that we are talking about three unavoidable significant adverse impacts at Madrona, which was not the case at La Floresta or Blackstone.  That is why this is a bigger deal at Madrona and not at the others.
It should also be pointed out again that the City of Brea has never approved three Statements of Overriding Consideration for a housing project.  Madrona would be the first and, as precedent setting, would not be the last.  In fact, the city would really have to approve any development by lowering the bar in issuing three SOCs for Madrona.

There are also subsidiary issues:

Do we deny approval if the homes are to be built in a high fire environment or in the vicinity of prior known landslides?  Home sites are to be located away from known landslide areas and are to be constructed to very strict building and fire codes.  The development is to contain radiant heat fencing, fuel modification zones, sprinkler systems in the houses, street lengths and widths will accommodate emergency vehicles, street grades, with one exception, will not exceed 10% and water resources are adequate.
The answer to Moore's question is, yes and yes.  CalTrans has just placed yellow (as in "warning") signs on Carbon Canyon Road at both ends of the Brea side warning that drivers are entering an extreme fire zone.  Not moderate, extreme.  Landslides, as found with our little 5.1 earthquake last month, are going to happen, even if those areas that are supposedly "engineered."  It is not just street grades, we're talking about steep grades throughout the project.
All of the promised "enhancements" to Madrona can't account for what residents may do to their homes and landscaping and the fact that sparks and embers can travel in the air up to a mile or more, which radiant heat fencing cannot stop.
What Moore doesn't mention is that there are two ways in and out and only to a Carbon Canyon Road that can be packed if a fire requires emergency response and evacuation at a given time--moreover, the evacuation plan would actually ask Madrona residents to wait for others in the canyon to leave first.  Emergency access gets more problematic in Carbon Canyon the more we add houses and cars to a road that cannot be widened.
Water resources are adequate?  For how long?  And under what guarantee?  Our region is mired in a long-term drought--there should probably be a moratorium on any large-scale project anywhere until water supplies are better.

Approval of Madrona does not assume liability if built under the above requirements.  Future buyers should understand the circumstances under which they purchase a home.
If Moore means strictly legal financial liability on the part of the city, maybe, but that doesn't mean there won't be lawsuits that won't be settled as cheaper than going to court, which would still cost the city money (and which is not accounted before in the list of financial benefits below.) 
To assume that homebuyers are either 1) be given complete full disclosure on the dangers of living in an extreme fire zone prone to slides and other potential issues and 2) be fully cognizant of what that means, were that disclosure to be made (which a cynic would question) is operating on a heightened level of suspension of belief.

The Brea Water Master Plan (WMP) has assumed water use for the Madrona site to be 486,780 gallons/day.  The estimated usage is 65,000 gallons/day for private use and common slope landscaping and 240,600 gallons/day for the replacement trees.  This totals 305,600 gallons/day which is less than the WMP assumption.
This constitutes obscuring of the fact that Madrona is still going to guzzle several times more water than the average Brea home.  And, again, we are in a historic drought that is part of a long-term pattern gripping the western U.S.  This kind of consumption is not sustainable.  Note the term "assumption."  This applies to a lot of the purported benefits of this project juxtaposed with its demands and usage.

The Madrona development was compared to approximately 300 elements within Brea’s General Plan and the Carbon Canyon Specific Plan and Madrona was found consistent with every element except two pertaining to the removal of 1400 trees discussed earlier.
This question of consistency to the city's general plan and the Carbon Canyon Specific Plan is very much in debate.  Indeed, what Moore does not mention here is that the only reason Madrona got to this stage is because of an ill-advised legal agreement that allowed it to be applied for under a grandfathered arrangement.  In other words, if the same plan was to be offered tomorrow, it would not even be able to go to the application stage.
Last there is the issue of private property rights.  Does the property owner have the right to develop his property if he does so while complying with existing city codes and ordinances, building codes, fire codes and the General Plan?  If you wish to add an addition to your house under these requirements do your neighbors have the right to prevent you from building because your house will be too large, or you will block your neighbor’s view or they don’t like your architecture?

Again, Madrona would not even be permitted to go to the application level if proposed today.  Private property rights are to be respected when it squares with the broader public interest.  That is the matter at hand.  But, bringing up an unrelated example like home additions, size, view or architectural style have nothing to do with the question at hand.

It is also a lot easier to sympathize with a property owner when it is not a bankrupt insurance company that drove itself to that condition by poor management (and perhaps more) and which has not real intention or ability to build the wonderful estate homes it has proposed.  This is because Old Standard Life Insurance Company is only (repeat, only) seeking approval because it will increase the value of land for sale to provide some compensation to its creditors.

Does the Madrona development provide enough benefits to over ride the three considerations?  Here are the suggested benefits and the values assigned by the city staff:

• Fills the need for hillside estate housing Note the word "need."  This should actually read "want."  Besides, Blackstone is now advertising "luxury housing."  But, this appears to not be sufficient, a point bluntly delivered by former Brea planning commissioner John Koos, who just happened to have voted for Madrona's predecessor, Canyon Crest, in 2008, and now represents Madrona, when he stated that executives are forced (yes, forced) to live elsewhere because Brea lacks the large residences they demand.
• Property taxes ($472,000 annually)
• Sales taxes ($40,000 annually)
• Auto license fees ($108,000 annually)
• School fees ($2.0 million)
• Park in-lieu fees ($1.6 million)
• Affordable housing in-lieu fees ($3.6 million)
• Art in Public Places ($1,231,200)
• Water infrastructure fees ($3,417,552)
• Transportation fees ($319,788)
• Cal Trans sign
• Possible CFD
Again, none of this money is going to be delivered to the city under the current Madrona plan, because Old Standard Life is only in this to sell the land at an appreciated value with an approved map.  Someone else is going to have to do this and who knows when that will be, what conditions will be like, how much change there'll be, and whether these monies would be adequate for that future scenario. This is why approved tract maps that can be good for many years are a bad idea--too much can change in a period of time that makes what seemed like a good project in 2014 seem a lot less so in, say, 2024.
These total $620,000 annually and one time revenues of $12.2 million.  Except that there will be major wildfires with significant costs in response from the city.  If landslides do occur, there will also be expenses there.  There may also be settlement costs for lawsuits.  There will also be response expenses for emergency response for other reasons, such as car accidents caused at the only site entrance, where Carbon Canyon Road curves and dangerous driving will no doubt be unmitigated by law enforcement.  There may be more such matters to account for, as well.

As a 53 year resident of Brea, involved in city activities for over 22 years, 16 on the City Council, I have come to love this community and our hillsides.  This decision has been difficult for me for do I listen to my heart or to my conscience and sense of fairness?  After much thought and prayer I feel I must vote against the appellant and in favor of the Madrona project.
For all that's been said here, it would be manifestly unfair to assume that Roy Moore doesn't care for his city and even its hillsides (which, though, are disappearing slowly, but certainly surely).  It must not be easy to be in a position of making difficult decisions and that is not envied.
There are, however, some real issues with many of council member Moore's comments, characterizations and contentions (and it isn't just him on the council.)
He knows full well that, if Madrona were proposed exactly the same way today, it wouldn't even be allowed to submit an application.  So, all the merits he points out regarding financial benefit and community need mean what in this context?  His assumptions about traffic, water, loss of habitat, fire risk, landslide potential, and pollution are fraught with misunderstandings, misstatements and misapplication (again, he is not alone here.)
If Madrona was such a great idea, in terms of significant numbers of estate housing units on a footprint comprised of steep canyons and wind-prone ridgelines with a two-lane highway rated F for much of the time, and so on, this would have been done a long time ago.
There's a reason why this project has dragged on for fifteen years.  It is deeply flawed and a poor example of planning for a canyon that is already over-develolped.  That isn't NIMBYism--that's a recognition of limit.
Finally, it is always been assumed that Moore was going to vote for Madrona, as was Ron Garcia, just as it has been taken for granted that Marty Simonoff would vote against it.  The swing votes are Brett Murdock and Christine Marick, whose calls for conditions of approval might include ones that are, as Moore says, "relatively harmless with minimum cost impact."  But, as he also states, "others are major and may be hard for the developer to comply [with]."
What Moore didn't relay here was that he was visibly upset with Marick and Murdock's proposal and, it has been state, all but accused them of extortion and holding Old Standard Life "hostage" to their demands. 
Maybe on reflection, he's softened that view, but Murdock and Marick may well have introduced their laundry list of conditions in the hope that it will drive Old Standard out of the project so that there aren't two direct "no" votes that will make it easier for the developer to pursue the inevitable lawsuit that will come regardless of what the council does.
In any case, 6 May is the next round and we'll see what city staff comes back with on the conditions question and how Moore and his colleagues respond.

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