Saturday, February 28, 2009

City Mouse: Welcome to the Evangelical Village of Sierra Madre

(Note: In the January/February 2006 edition of the legendary Sierra Madre News, the columnist simply known as City Mouse wrote about the Sierra Madre Congregational Church and its plans for downtown domination. And had Measure V been defeated, much of what is described below could very well have come into being. But despite that set back, and as we discovered last Tuesday night, the SMCC has never quite abandoned its ambitions. Only the techniques changed.) 

Readers may have heard about the Downtown Specific Plan, but have they heard about the Downtown Specific Plan within the Downtown Specific Plan for the Sierra Madre Congregational Church? If you aren't a member of the SMCC, you probably aren't aware of the tens of thousands of square feet of renovation and additional space to be built over the next three years, establishing the SMCC as the preeminent Evangelical Christian Church in the San Gabriel Valley.

Reminiscent of Herbert W. Armstrong's former World Wide Church of God's site in Pasadena (Ambassador College), SMCC envisions a campus which would include dormitories, classrooms, assembly halls, a gymnasium, and commercial operations to support thousands of Evangelical Congregationalists and its worldwide missions.

Favorable constructability assurances by the Planning Department led SMCC to sign a 4,700 square foot sub-lease with R/C Modeler. This space will be used as classroom and assembly spaces for its SMCC Ministries. Also planned along the boulevard are a canteen, coffee shop, Christian news stand, florist, and shops, as well as specialty boutiques offering handicrafts from the many countries in which the church operates. Local Christian merchants have been approached about relocating to the soon to be built SMCC retail complex. Help Wanted ads have been placed and interviews have been initiated.

According to Tower Notes, October 20, 2005, a publication of the SMCC, construction has already begun:

The first smaller projects have already begun starting with the seismic upgrade and remodeling of the Hospitality House. A new kitchen is being installed, and new doors added for convenient access to class rooms and office space. Serving windows will enable snacks to be dispensed from the kitchen to people outside ... Also underway is the engineering work for relocation of power lines and the placement of other utilities that will be needed as we build out the north side of our campus ... The next visible project will be the remodeling of the New Life Center and the addition of a second floor over the one-story parts of the building to add several new children's classrooms. Besides adding classroom space, this project will make the building stronger, provide for more usable spaces in the existing areas, and provide safer exiting from the upstairs.

SMCC claims to have raised more than $3,500,00 of the estimated $7,000,000 (for Phase I) necessary to build up and out on both the north and south sides of Sierra Madre Boulevard, and east along the boulevard.

Kurt Christiansen, former Director of Development for the City of Sierra Madre, reviewed SMCC's master plan (called a Specific Plan by the City) prior to leaving to work for the City of Yorba Linda, and according to Ken Cromeenes, SMCC Business Administrator, Kurt indicated that once the City had passed the Downtown Specific Plan, it would generally mean a green light for SMCC to build under the expedited approval process. The Downtown Specific Plan is expected to be approved by the end of this month.

Be very clear -- once the Downtown Specific Plan is approved, the Master Plan/Specific Plan for the expanded SMCC campus is automatically approved. That is the meaning of "expidited approval process." No planning, no public hearing, no Planning Commission, and no City Council appeal.

(More tomorrow ..)

13 comments:

  1. This is shocking! This was written in early 2006! These Congs have been planning this for years. The last paragraph just stuns me!
    I know Margie and Rick Simpson (prominent Congs in town) worked very hard to defeat Measure V. Apparently, losing the DSP wasn't going to stop the Congs. They have gone and done their New Life Center in spite of it being illegal.
    My question is.....WHO, in our city, gave them permission? My first guess was Jae Hill,then planning director, however, on second thought it had to be someone much HIGHER up in the city. But who?
    Sir Eric, I would like more information.....when and how did this New Life Center project get started and completed under the radar?
    I'm quite sure our Mayor, Kurt Zimmerman, will demand a complete investigation of this shocking scandal.
    This is very, very sad for the decent Christian people in this town, all you people who attend the other churches in town who play by the rules, the rules of their city government and the rules of God.
    It has to be devastating for innocent members of the Congregational Church who were unaware of what their a handful of their leaders were doing, along with a few (hopefully, a few)dishonest city officials.

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  2. Can anyone come up with a scenario where this could
    have happened without the cooperation of some of our
    faithful employees at City Hall? I certainly can't.

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  3. At the city council meeting last Tues. John Buchanan was suppose to have not been able to attend. More than a half hour after the meeting started, he rushed in and took his seat.
    One of the people in the audience, who was there representing the Congregational Church, after seeing Buchanan walk in....turned and said to another Cong representive....."oh, thank God, he's here".
    Draw your own conclusions.

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  4. The DSP was quite ambitious! Tonja Torres didn't want residents to vote on it, that's why she lost the election in 2006. Same with Ron Brandley and the others who lost. Imagine such a project and people prevented from having a say in it. Can't figure out how they got the downtown business people to support it, though. The Chamber of Commerce was totally pro DSP. Maybe they thought it would bring more customers. If you look at downtown trends in the area though, the unique shop owners eventually get pushed out for chain shops because the rents increase.

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  5. That reminds me of one of my favorite city council meetings. After residents got wind of the DSP then-City Manager John Gillison filibustered for a half hour on how it wasn't really a specific plan, it was merely a "vision plan." Torres joined in. An astonishing performance.

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  6. Thank you Mayann for leading the charge to not include the residential lots in the institutional zone change. It was revealed by the church spokesperson that the residential lots were going to be used for buildings and parking. Now the CONG must supply parking for their mega development on the institutional property. No variances should be issued to use the residential property for anything. The city must insist the CONG meet all of its parking needs on site for each location. The city should assume that every building will be in full use at the same time. Further the city should not allow any permits to be issued until the CONG's Master Plan has been approved. It should also measure the new building to insure it complies with all of Measure V's standards.

    The Cong was to give the city a Master Plan over 10 years ago.

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  7. That Torres, Stockly, Buchanan, Joffe council was the worst ever. What is astonishing is that they didn't think they would all eventually get busted.
    Torres with her deceptive scam to make the preservationists think she was one of them, when she was a stone cold plant of Bart Doyle's BIA. (So was Mosca, by the way). Tonja lost her bid for re-election by a LANDSLIDE.
    Stockly with his suspicious loan promises to Dorn Platz developers and his lies and deceitful activities with his No on V. crowd.
    (The phony focus groups....they tried to convince voters with $100 payoffs to not approve of the wording of Yes on V on the ballot).
    Enid with her dirty tricks "campaign" run by Susan Henderson's "paper", a total smear campaign against MacGillivray and Shollenberger. (they would have sued her, but Henderson is difficult to collect from)
    And last but not least John Buchanan, known to many as Mayor Smut for his endorcement of the Cumquat website. John Buchanan is known to even more as the pontificater. (you're BORING, Buchanan). And stay tuned for even more not so kosher Buchanan tactics.
    Who gave the CONGS permission to build without a permit??????????????

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  8. Small town politics sure gets mean, especially when people get busted. I wish some outside authority would just come in and investigate this whole situation.

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  9. Well, if anyone wants the old Ripple Mortuary ( now the "new life center") exorcised, call ghost busters.
    That place has been haunted for years.
    Full of spirits from a lower astral realm.
    This could be why the Congs have been caught cheating.

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  10. Anon @ 11:55 - Sierra Madre is more than capable of taking care of its own messes. And though recent Councils haven't been too big on that sort of thing, I expect the people calling the shots now to thoroughly clean house. Bring popcorn, it's gonna be quite a show.

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  11. First of all, I'm sure they built with a building permit but they did not have a general plan amendment to allow them to put the building in the wrong type of zoning. They knew exactly what they could do and where they could do it. Look at those "classrooms" on SM Blvd where the voting is held. They are made up to look like bookstores--well, they're only "open" on Sunday when they're having classes, etc. So they look like retail outlets, but they're Sunday School rooms.

    This SMMC specific plan and its ex officio approval process would have changed Sierra Madre in a much more profound way than the 3-story block buildings would have. All under the noses of even the most informed citizens. A pretty undemocratic process, I'd say.

    Somehow this plan got enough traction without ever being exposed to the public--it was to have been approved and who would have known?
    The building approval is a violation of California planning law but who endorsed the preparation and near-execution of this Master Plan? That was a complete mis-use of the power of government.

    I think it should be strongly stressed to the public and the Congregational Church that there none of their proposed uses that has been approved outside the original footprint of the Institutional Zone that they got in the GP and the ordinances passed immediately thereafter.

    They should know that everybody knows that they were trying to turn Sierra Madre into Gospelville and got caught. Little did we know how much more was at stake than building heights, etc. when the DSP was up for referendum. I think this is a complete outrage and there ought to be a commission of inquiry about how this got started, what has been done under it -- by the church and the City--and ultimately driving home the fact that no part of that plan has ever been approved and that anything done under it is completely illegal and subject to removal.

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  12. The World's Largest Flowering PlantFebruary 28, 2009 at 4:31 PM

    It's been awhile since we've has a City Hall show quite
    this good. Scandal Madre is back in full effect!

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  13. roia!
    Do you think that during the Marantha One Carter battle, this was flying under the radar, the plans that is?
    The One Carter battle was used as a smoke screen?
    Seems they wasted no time, after an long fight that exhausted the resident activists, which were over 1000 people.
    Just a thought, I don't know all that much about either, but I'm pretty sure you do.
    I'm trying to grasp all this shocking information.
    Thanks in advance for all your information, past, present and future.
    You are truly a friend of the Sierra Madre good guys!

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