06 January 2015

Madrona Lawsuit Openng Brief Filed

Just before Christmas, an opening brief, prepared by the San Francisco law firm of Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger, LLP, was filed by Hills for Everyone, Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, California Native Plant Society and the Sierra Club in the lawsuit against the City of Brea and OSLIC (Old Standard Life Insurance Company) Holdings over the Madrona housing project of 162 units approved by the city in July 2014.

The forty-three page brief has all of the complex legal language expected in a court filing, but suffice to say that the brief outlines the many reasons why the plaintiffs believe the approval of Madrona was unlawful.  In essence, these are that the project:
  • violates Brea's Hillside Management Ordinance by 
    • its extensive grading; 
    • lack of process via a specific plan; 
    • and violation of the Carbon Canyon Specific Plan;
  • contains acknowledged "fatal inconsistencies with its own plans," with respect to 
    • the lack of protection for woodland habitat, and 
    • the failure to provide open space within the project site, yet was still approved;
  • and violated the California Environmental Quality Act with the city's certification of the project's Environmental Impact Report with respect to 
    • the failure to apply the city specific plan's grading standards; 
    • a failure to analyze climate-related impacts; 
    • inconsistency with and too high of a threshold for standards relating to greenhouse gas emissions; 
    • emissions calculations from car trip estimates that were elsewhere discredited in the document; 
    • inadequate analysis and mitigation of fire impacts, and 
    • an incorrect baseline in assessing impacts on open space and recreation
The document's conclusion concisely and succinctly summarizes the plaintiffs' position on the Madrona project's approval by the city:
The record before this Court establishes that the City knew it was being asked to approve a project it could not legally approve. But instead of acting as law required, the City bobbed and weaved, using its EIR and findings to try to explain how Madrona could nevertheless go forward. Petitioners have demonstrated that these attempts must fail. The City's approval of the Project is invalid under its own Hillside Management Ordinance and Carbon Canyon Specific Plan, as well as state planning law. And its certification of the EIR and approval of Madrona on the basis of that flawed EIR are both invalid under CEQA.
Consequently, the brief ends with:
Petitioners therefore respectfully request that this Court grant their petition for writ of mandate and set aside the City's approval of the vesting tentative tract map and development review application for Madrona and its certification of the EIR.
Looking from one ill-conceived housing project to another--this photo was taken from the Canyon Hills site, now under (de)grading, towards the Madrona project location in the hills in the distance.
Notably, the attorneys who crafted the brief rightly point out that "for decades the City crafted land use plans and ordinances to protect its residents" from hazards that are inherent to the steep, exposed hillsides of the project site, which sits on the north flank of Carbon Canyon between Olinda Village and Sleepy Hollow.

Another relevant statement for our entire region is embodied in the simply expressed observation that, "developers first looked to the flatter lands [of Brea] but as accessible land grew scarce, their gaze gradually extended to the hills."  These hilly areas involve a great many challenges and risks that have to be given far more scrutiny than those flatter areas developed over decades.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Brea enacted the Carbon Canyon Specific Plan and Hillside Management Ordinance in order to provide adequate safeguards against precisely the ill-conceived type of project Madrona completely embodies.

Further, in an ill-advised concession on the basis of the threat of a lawsuit, the city agreed to process Madrona (under its previous Canyon Crest incarnation) under old rules, which did not mean that the city had to approve the project under old plans and ordinances.

Yet, it chose to do just that and the extraordinary concessions made by city council members, including Brett Murdock, who was subsequently voted off the council in the recent elections, added to the shocking lack of foresight of the city in its approval.

Now, the matter is with the Orange County Superior Court for a ruling on the request for the writ of mandate and we'll see, hopefully relatively soon, what the decision is on the future of this project which would forever transform Carbon Canyon.

No comments: