Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Downtown Specific Scam

One of the big events in recent months was the release to the public of a dusty old document called the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP). And, of course, what was really new here was the Environmental Impact Statement of this DSP. Created at the cost of $250,000 to the taxpayers of our charming foothill city, this was to be the mighty design that would bring high density development to Downtown Sierra Madre. Think lots and lots of condos and boutique shops. Of course, the fact that we paid for this plan was no guarantee that we would ever actually be allowed to see it. We might not understand. No, these were highly important matters, and only the most important people were to be allowed to gaze upon it. Even certain City Council types were to be prevented from casting their profane eyes on this holiest of holies. Probably because they might talk to people like you. Or me.

That was, of course, until over 4 years later when City Council members Maryann MacGillivray, Don Watts, and Kurt Zimmerman pushed to - finally - make this report public. Something that caused Joe Mosca to memorably ask for a break during that momentous City Council meeting because he was "feeling a little distraught." Why would he feel distraught about making an old City funded study available to the people who paid for it? Read on.

But not that we should have worried ourselves back in 2004, because there was something we actually were allowed to see. According to the City of Sierra Madre Agenda Report, prepared by then City Manager John R. Gillison, this DSP was a wonderful thing that would auger in a bright new age of joy, happiness, and elevated shopping experiences to the community. And just because YOU were not allowed to see it was no reason to be the least little bit concerned. Slap on your happy face button and follow along on this primrose path as we read a passage from the fully sanitized and scented version the DSP, the one known as The Downtown Sierra Madre Specific Plan Fact Sheet:

" The Downtown Specific Plan process started in late 2004 with RBF Consulting working closely with the City to understand existing conditions in the Downtown. In early 2005, the facilitation of an extensive community involvement program began that incorporated the entire community - residents, business owners, property owners, civic leaders, local organizations, and youth - in the planning process. From this community-based planning process, a vision for Downtown emerged, which served as the foundation for the Downtown Specific Plan."

Mmm, OK. I guess only a cynic would have called what Mr. Gillison describes here a dog and pony show designed to sucker in the rubes. And we can only surmise the cost of this sad little circus. But what exactly was this "vision for downtown" that emerged from dragging all those confused citizens off to long platitudinous weekend meetings, slow walks down Sierra Madre Boulevard, and bus rides to Glendale? Mr. Gillison's version doesn't say. But could it really have been the kinds of things that we finally saw in the Environmental Impact Statement of the Downtown Specific Plan? The one that it took over 4 long years to finally emerge? Here is what the adult version of the DSP/EIR had to say:

Density: The Specific Plan allows for an increase in intensity by increasing the base maximum Floor Area Ratio (FAR) to 0.8 for commercial uses. Residential uses will be permitted at a density of 40 dwelling units per acre (DU/AC). Height limits in the Plan Area will be allowed up to 35 feet ... Under the proposed Specific Plan buildout condition, an additional 325 dwelling units will be added, along with 221,010 square feet of commercial uses. (Tattler: Seems like a lot of houses and stores for a couple of blocks, you know?)

Police: Implementation of the proposed Specific Plan could result in reduced response times or the need for additional staff, equipment or facilities. Implementation of the proposed Specific Plan would result in an increased demand for Police services, during both the construction phases of future projects and buildout of the Plan Area. More crime may be anticipated in the Plan Area during the construction phase of future development projects ...

Fire: Implementation of the proposed Specific Plan could result in reduced response times or the need for additional staff, equipment, or facilities. The proposed Specific Plan would result in a population increase of approximately 813 persons over existing conditions. Thus, the proposed Specific Plan would increase the demand for fire service in the form of additional calls for service.

Water: Development associated with the buildout of the proposed Specific Plan could create demand that exceeds available supplies ... Development associated with the buildout of the proposed specific plan could exceed the capacity of conveyance and treatment facilities that serve the Plan Area ... Level of Significance Before Analysis and Mitigation: Potentially Significant Impact.

Air: The proposed Specific Plan would result in significant and unavoidable impacts regarding construction emissions. Construction equipment exhaust would exceed the SCAQMD's ROG and NOx thresholds, resulting in significant impact.

Traffic: The City of Sierra Madre goal for peak hour intersection operation is LOS D or better (LOS = Level Of service, ranked from A to F, F being severely congested. With the addition of the project-generated trips, the following three intersections would to (sic) operate at a deficient LOS (LOS E or worse): Lima Street/Sierra Madre Boulevard; Baldwin Avenue/Sierra Madre Boulvard; and Baldwin Avenue/Orange Grove Avenue.

Kind of reads like something out of the plague years.

So let me ask you a question. Is this what the persons participating in the "community-based planning process" said they wanted from a reinvented Downtown Sierra Madre? High density condo housing and shops, degraded Fire service, increased crime, water shortages, bad air, and increased traffic? Somehow I don't think so.

No wonder Joe was distraught.


  1. Thank God for Don Watts and Kurt Zimmerman who valiantly fought the dirts, including the three dirts on the council with them, Joffe, Buchanan and MOSCA.
    You led our successful fight for the right of the residents to vote on this outrage.....the DSP! We will ALWAYS be grateful to you both.
    Thank God for super volunteer of the decade....MaryAnn MacGillivray, who urged by her family and residents to run for council in 2008.
    MaryAnn had previously served several years ago. She served on our city council for EIGHT years....while raising 4 children. Four children (two of them small) who grew up to be fine adults.
    MaryAnn had to survive a brutal campaign in '08, the dirts, fearful she would win and knowing well she was not a supporter of development, downtown or hillside.......waged a very dirty campaign against her and city clerk Nancy Shollenberger. MaryAnn and Nancy won anyway.
    Thank you so much for exposing this DSP plan, Sir Eric. We must never forget what they tried and are still trying to do.

  2. Putting 80 condos directly across from a fire station....who thought this was a brilliant idea?

    At least there's a bright spot to this recession, it quelled the bloodthirst of the realtors and developers to plunder the downtown into a cavern of condos down SM Blvd.

    But the vampires will be back.

  3. Yes, they will be back, 7:40....However.....
    I have confidence the people (who happen to be the majority) will not allow this. They will demand a vote, no matter, and even in the future when and if the economy ever gets better, will remember this, they will remember the depression we are in, and will not ever agree to over-development. Had that DSP SCAM gone forward....it would have been horrific disaster.
    Bart and your gang of dirts! Why don't you just leave town? We don't want your kind here.

  4. Distraught? Perhaps he meant to say "disgruntled," or "displeased." Could he have known the actual meaning of distraught?

    1 : agitated with doubt or mental conflict or pain (distraught mourners)
    2 : mentally deranged : crazed (as if thou wert distraught and mad with terror — Shakespeare)

  5. Remember we heard about a class that is offered to those in the development industry called PSYCH THE TOWN. I bet that we have become a studied case for when the psyching failed - but it was close. There must be new lectures written for that class -how to avoid the Sierra Madre result.
    Also remember uncovering the Realtors Association cheerful paper : How to Defeat Slow Growth Movements.

  6. Sierra Madre business owner?
    I remember that California Realtors Association handbook, they had a plan for defeating slow growth movements, it involved getting into all the city groups, like Kiwanis Chamber of Commerse, Rotary, Little League.
    Anyway we can find a link to that?
    I'm not good at it, anyone help us out?
    Thanks in advance

  7. The Skilled Nursing Facility site, the Howies site, and the Cong Mega Developmet would have all been done deals if the DSP had been adopted. Measure V did not save Sierra Madre from a bullet, it save the town from the Mother of all Atom Bombs of development. Can you say El Monte Transist Center? Downtown Monrovia?

  8. Hank: This is what you want

    A Handbook Produced by
    The Local Governmental Relations Committee
    December, 200

  9. Wow, Pasta,
    Measure V saved us from an Atom bomb!
    Thanks again for the link.
    I'm going to put my hip boots on and wade over to the CAR site and read their handbook.

  10. Well, I have to say, I underestimated the realtors over at popular Dirt realtor's office, Judy Webb Martin. I had no idea they could read, but there it is in the Handbook.
    The road map for destroying a small town.
    Everytime I walk by Webb Martin's I recall the picture postcard SMRRD sent out during Measure V......of the ex-mayor DIRTS all standing in front of Webb Martin's. They looked like criminals on a wanted poster! They had called a dirt rally, but no one showed up but them and an SMRRD photographer. LOL LOL LOL LOL
    The Dirts accepted $170,000 from BIA and CAR to fight the citizens who only wished for slow growth, not the DSP atom bomb, as Pasta calls it.
    SMRRD (Sierra Madre Residents for Responsible Development) sent out a black and white postcard city wide. People posted them on their windows, car windows, telephone polls.....absolutely sunk the creepy ex-mayors! LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL

  11. You know, all that money the dirts took from developers and realtors, used to send canned calls to residents, sometimes as often as twice a day. Every other day we got a glossy expensive mailer filled with lies.
    Then you had SMRRD, working on a small donations from residents, winning the election with a modest little post card and the raw courage of Katina Dunn, Kevin Dunn, Kurt Zimmerman, Don Watts and the majority of the voters.

  12. There is some amazing research here. Thanks for sharing all this.

  13. 10:32 And there is a lot more.

  14. Scam is the four-letter word for this. Fraud is the F-word for this. We know that the public consultation aspect of this was a complete fiction. Don't forget to mention, Sir Eric, that the City paid $45,000 from Community Redevelopment Funds to a consultant who was to promote the DSP. I really question spending City funds on this whole project. Mis-use? Well, highly questionable on its best day. But worse, what was the possible justification for any of this? Why ever would a responsible city council member support such a scenario? I mean, really, Why?

  15. roia,
    I like the way your describe what happened!
    Your question, "why ever would a responsible city council member support such a scenario"?
    I know why, the three who did are not responsible council members.
    They be, Buchanan, Joffe and Mosca

  16. I find this article very odd, seeing as how I saw the DSP when it was first issued. As I recall it was available to the public. Wasn't this the plan for which there were rounds of public discussion available for anyone to participate in? WAs this not the plan over which there was so much discussion that it resulted in the Measure V election? Would that not indicate that it was available to the public?

  17. Anon @9:48, yes. The DSP was open to all and the more people who came the better, even if they did not recognize their input in the final product. What Sir Eric is referring to is the EIR for the DSP - that was not available to the public without a fight. Read the EIR and you'll see why.


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