Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thus Spoke The Architect

So the Congregational Church is building something. Or they want to build something. Or they have built something but forgot to do the paperwork. And they're doing it downtown. But whatever it is that they are desirous of building there, apparently mere words as you or I would ordinarily express them do not apply to it. Because if you try to define what is contained in their Master Plan, it isn't what is in their Master Plan. It's in the Master Plan that isn't. The one we haven't seen. Yet. And the Master Plan that is, the one that had already been submitted to City Hall? But perhaps forgot they did? What's in that one? Well, apparently there was only one copy, and that was from 2 years ago. Or 3. And it was found hidden away in a cabinet somewhere in the back. But don't say anything too much about it, because it doesn't say what it says. It says what it used to say. At least for now.

Any of this make sense to you? I sure hope not, because it makes absolutely no sense to me. Maybe it's one of those "talking in tongues" things you hear so much about on AM radio talk shows? I certainly wouldn't know. I've never had more than one. Any more and things would get sloppy.

So in order to bring some clarity to all of this, because obviously that's what is so desperately needed here, a man of math and science was brought in. The master of a rational art. And that person was The Architect. The fellow currently working on the Congregational Church's Master Plan that isn't, but was. And he was brought in by the Mayor of Sierra Madre in hopes that once his viewpoint was given the sun would burst out brightly from behind the dark clouds that cast such a pall on the previous hearing on these matters. Matters that led to these things being discussed again. As apparently they will be once more the next time the elected leaders of this community hang out. There is a lot of confusion, after all. And all we really wanted was just a little bit of clarity.

The Mayor pointed out that on the Master Plan found in the back of the building, of which there was only one copy at the time, it states that the Congregational Church wants to build a Junior High School. That is what is written on it, so pointed out the Mayor. And that, according to the General Plan (not the Master Plan), is not what should be built on the lots located in the area in question. The General Plan says you can't do it that way. At least not yet. There's reasons for that. Good ones. And we haven't even begun to consider Measure V yet.

The architect spoke thusly (and I'm paraphrasing here):

"It says it's called a Junior High School, but it's not a Junior High School."

I shook my head. Somehow that statement frightened me. I always need to know where the horizon is or I get dizzy.

The Mayor again raised the question, but from a slightly different perspective. These would appear to be classrooms, right?

"They appear to be classrooms, but they're not really classrooms."

As Councilman Watts put it, "If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck ..."

The Architect went on to call this the design for a campus. But it isn't a campus as in the place where you go to get an education sort of way. It's for a Sunday School. A really big one. Which apparently isn't a school at all because it only meets on Sundays. People did report seeing kids at the New Life Center, on a weekday, but they were from another school. One that meets twice a month there, which isn't a school, either. And then there is the matter of a gym that will accommodate 600 souls at a single sitting, but they won't be sitting. They'll be playing basketball. Church pick up games with 300 on a side. After which they'll all turn into butter I suppose. Like tigers.

Obviously the man of math and science was listening to different birdies than the rest of us. I mean, why didn't he just come out and say that they want to build a school? Instead of saying it's a school on their plans but it isn't a school even if they do look like the plans for a school?

Oh. Because there is an episode that occurred before all of this? And now there is a kind of an unfortunate established precedent?

If I understand that near historical context correctly, the Planning Commission informed the Congregational Church that if they wanted to build an extension to their New Life Center, they would first have to obtain a General Plan Amendment from the City Council before its approval on the project was final. And certainly before the Church began construction on this New Life Center extension. Which they did anyway. All the way to completion and occupancy. At which time they asked for the General Plan amendment from the City Council. Who had never even heard of this building until then.

Which makes all of the above even more surreal.

I mean, if anybody can just build a building, and only then ask and receive from the City the needed approvals, why would anyone ever want to adhere to a General Plan? Do you just do what you want to do because you know that the pushovers at City Hall will collapse quicker than a cheap suitcase the second you confront them with your demands?

Therein, my friends, lies chaos.

Of course, you can find places that do it like that. They're mostly pretty far inland, and the people living in them don't make much money. And the towns they live in look like something out of Appalachia. Instead of like well-planned and orderly places, like Sierra Madre.

Do we need schools? Of course. And do we want people to live the kind of good and purposeful life that a sound religious understanding can bring? Without a doubt. And should people of good faith be allowed to help contribute to a better world through good works? Yes indeed.

But this is just not the way such things are done.


  1. Thanks for your report, Sir Eric. This issue is so confusing, the Congs didn't do a thing to clarify either.
    Sir Eric?
    I hope you report on Chief Diaz's report, on the business owner arrested for "cleaning up dog dirt" on the sidewalk. We previously had only heard one side of that story.
    I was shocked at Diaz's report. The paper's need to print the truth about what really happened. A lot of people rushed to judgement against the police.

  2. Just the facts mamMarch 11, 2009 at 7:51 AM

    Wow, reading your description of last nights council meeting was just like being there. There is no love in the hearts of those people. This is just like the Christian school that divided the town at One Carter, this community is still paying for that love thy neighbor fiasco. I can see more money being poured into another divided city, divided by those that want something from the residents who live here. And what is this going to cost us tax payers?

  3. Anybody get the impression that the architect fellow was
    kind of surprised that Kurt Zimmerman had those plans?
    Its the only possible explanation I can come up with for
    his odd remarks.

  4. Was it just me, or did I hear a far-away echo behind the architect's remarks of the RLUPA mess we went through with Maranatha? There seemed to be a moment when in the tussle between educational/religious definition, the architect claimed religious use with a hint of RLUPA. (Not sure of the acronym, but it begins Religious Land Use...)
    Even though RLUPA cases have not fared well in the courts, it is most decidedly an instrument by which some churches flex their financial muscles.
    Also, how about the connection between the architect's company, Onyx, and Greg Galletly/Maranatha?

  5. Onyx Architects, under Special Services - Ambassador West. Can't find SMCC.

  6. Good observations, Day.
    I recall that name being mentioned around the Measure V fight, Onyx was suppose to have originally been contracted by the Congs to do their grandiose expansion plans.
    I'm sure someone will give us the scoop on that?

  7. I have wings and fly above Sierra Madre at Hermosa and Sierra Madre Blvd..

    I am not a bird
    I am not a bee.
    I am not a plane.

    I am a pteranodan.
    Pteranodons were giant flying reptiles. The biggest was quetzalcoatlus, 43 feet wide! That's as wide as a fighter jet airplane!

  8. This issue distills to one of trust. SMCC is no more nor less entitled to a school on their site as St. Rita's, Ascension, or Bethany. What IS at issue is the disingenuous slip sliding around to fill the various commissions and councils with, for lack of a better term, duplicitous agents of deceit. If SMCC is so anxious to be a good neighbor and a messenger of the Word of God, they would do well to remember the commandment to not bear false witness.

  9. DAY:

    "Ms. Margaret McAustin, Ambassador West Development Team member speaking for the applicant, introduced Team representatives who were present from: Standard Pacific Homes (Steve Ross), Sunrise Senior Living (Wayne Sant), Onyx Architects (Dale Brown, Dorn Platz and Company (Laura Whelan), and Hahn and Hahn LLP (Scott Jenkins), who were present; and spoke in favor of the project.

  10. Lets stop with the jabber..The law was circumvented..Red Tag it and tear it down...!!

  11. 10:37

    I agree! RED TAG!

  12. just the facts mamMarch 11, 2009 at 11:12 AM

    marie rose you are so right on with that statement.

  13. Be sure to click on the picture of the Tower of Babel. It's very visual!

  14. Wasn't it odd that so many members of the Congregational Church were in the chambers, but so few spoke? A friend of mine with many decades of church experience said it was because the members were told to be there, but not to talk. If they spoke they would innocently report everything they knew - which could be damaging, legally.

  15. If the Council has the authority to have the new institutional building removed because the building was built in a commercial zone I hope they have the courage to do so. If they don't I will have lost all respect for all 5 members. The church is not above the law.

    The church knew exactly what they were doing since they use the same architect(ONYX) as Dorn Platz did for the Ambassador property.

  16. The World's Largest Blossoming PlantMarch 11, 2009 at 1:25 PM

    Would it be possible for a compromise to be reached here? How about the Church were to alowing the offending structure to be turned into low income housing, and in exchange the City would allow them to keep it? That would certainly be a win for everyone involved.

  17. WLBP, what a great idea! A wonderful actualization of the teachings of Jesus, too!

  18. The World's Largest Blossoming PlantMarch 11, 2009 at 1:46 PM

    Thank you. You do know that this coming weekend is very stressful for me. Not that I am not willing to make sacrifices for Sierra Madre, mind you. But this is never easy. Please keep me in your thoughts.

  19. I think it's wise to expect an RLUIPA claim--it is the "silver bullet" that churches try to use when coming up for review. However, it was never going to win in the long run when raised by Maranatha--it's about applying existing laws in a discriminatory way--not about refusing to grant a change. That was what happened in One Carter--a refusal to grant a change of zone and that's what will happen in the downtown situation. Except for one small problem. There was never even an application for a change before the building was built. So how do you claim discrimination when you don't even apply for the basic permit? Is it discrimination because you think it might be? Would have been? This is exactly the kind of thinking that Sir Eric's column has described. Way worse that Alice in Wonderland, it means what I say it means. If the City has found that it has more money than expected, it might be a wise use of it for the purpose of protecting the integrity of our downtown plan and other zoning laws to treat it as a Measure V Defense Fund and hammer these people into compliance. Does the term Scofflaw mean anything to anybody?

  20. roia - Great point! Assuming community bias before it ever manifests itself is kind of a disturbing concept. You can only imagine the kinds of internal conversations that it would take to fuel a notion like that.

  21. I hear that Steamers Coffee Shop is closing and that the owners are going to be running a concession at the Library under another name. How did they get that concession. If it is at a public building, shouldn't the concession go out to public bidding? I raise that here because am I mistaken that this Steamers place is owned by the church or is it only the building or am I completely mistakend on all of it?

  22. Scofflaw:
    a contemptuous law violator

    Roia has defined the CONGS

  23. I understood that the SMCC leased the building that previously housed the R/C Modeler; Rick Simpson was the manager of Steamers, then another person was brought in to manage. The upstairs is for lease through Redstone (their sign in prominently displayed in Steamers' window). SMCC didn't own anything but a money pit. Original plans called for some sort of news stand, gift shop and an auditorium upstairs.

  24. Does anyone know who actually owns Steamers? What does their business license say?

  25. Steamers is closed, but you can find out online about a resident having been the new owner. He was at one time the manager. The Steamers website is still up:

  26. How does a plan get submitted which is bogus? Is there not a clearing house to say "NO, this is a waste of time, stop playing games?" Take it back and re-do it according to the LAW.

    Does the CC think they are invincible and all their members are SAINTS and can say and do any and every thing.

    Seems like they are above the law.

    It is like a bad Science Fiction movie that I cannot walk out of.......

  27. I used to design both schools and churches and for what it's worth, the terminology can be a little confusing, because the building code speaks of "classrooms" both ways:
    1. It calls a full day, 5 days a week, Kindergarten-12th grade, learn-your-3-R's type school an "E" (education) occupancy. This kind of education, when sponsored by a religious organization, is sometimes called a parochial school, but it's still an "E".
    2. The code calls a "Sunday School" (or Saturday sabbath or midweek youth group or whatever your religion is) a "religious education" A-3 (assembly) occupancy. Same kids, same ages.
    3. In BOTH occupancies, the same code refers to the meeting rooms as "CLASSROOMS" for exiting and life safety purposes. And people will also refer to Sunday School ages the same way as regular school, i.e. Kindergarten, primary, Jr. Hi, Sr. Hi, even college.

    The similarities usually end there. A weekday school, where kids are dropped off by their parents as they go to work, has much more intensive needs than a "Sunday School" accessory where the parents are in the building next door.

    It is definitely possible that a church plan labeled "Jr. Hi Classroom" or even "Jr. High School" might actually just be an ordinary Sunday School. It certainly would be worth it for the CC to clarify it for all of us.

    Meanwhile, a quick look at their master plan should easily tell us whether they really intend merely "Sunday School" Jr. Hi classrooms (A-3) or the more intensive weekday "3R's-school" classrooms:
    Does it have weekday school amenities such as a principal's office and nurses' office? Large bathrooms? Lunch shelter? Big outdoor playgrounds? (The State requires 75 square feet play area per child.) Does it have separate, fenced-off areas for different age groups? Does it have multiple long drive aisles for picking up and dropping off kids? If so, then it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck (a school).

    If it doesn't have these things, then there's no way they would be able to have a "3R's-school" classrooms. It would be Sunday School classrooms (or whatever it's called in a particular religion). It looks like a duck, but honks like a Canadian goose.

  28. The Congs have plenty of money in their "war chests" to throw RLUIPA suits at anyone who dare challenge their plans for expansion, be it a High School at the top of Baldwin or taking over half the downtown area with their TAX FREE buildings. The Congs have plenty of money to build anything they choose to.
    They obviously do so without regard for city zoning laws and/or building laws.
    I don't give a damn what they call their schools, etc, because the the only thing the Congs are ever economical with is the TRUTH.
    City Council! If you let them get away with this, there is no stopping them, and no stopping any other developer from breaking our zoning laws.
    The extra money you found in reserve? How about earmarking it for a city defense fund to battle the Cong's lawsuits or threats of lawsuits or any other developer who wants to violate our zoning laws.
    I would like to see the Congs OUT of Sierra Madre, they are a detriment to this town.
    If let off the hook here....they will turn Sierra Madre into that small town in West Texas that went completely bankrupt, because EVERY BUSINESS in town was a non-profit.
    Red tag the illegal building!
    There is a home that was built illegally at the top of Sycamore and Las Rocas...never been occupied, because it was built illegally and red tagged.
    Again, City Council....RED TAG THE CONG BUILDING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. Big Church Run Buildings Are Bad News for Neighbors and the City just lets it happen

    Case 1: Alverno
    Are any of you guys also aware Alverno just a few blocks away from Church Cong has been driving its neighbors nuts for years by renting out Villa Alverno for parties and wedding on the weekends in violation of its conditional use permit? They even advertise it for rent (do a search for Villa Alverno or Villa del Oro or something like that).

    Those parties bring noise, trash and disturbance, serve alcohol and nothing has been done to stop them. Then the neighbors have all the school activities, traffic and events, filming and organizations using Alverno too.

    In the past, neighbors call police and nothing happens. Sometimes off duty SMPD are the security so that seems like a conflict. I don’t know if that still goes on or not. Alverno was even sued for noise and nuisance by some Pasadena side neighbors years ago and agreed to abide by a settlement agreement but it is still noisy into the wee hours.

    Now Alverno wants to put a huge gym/auditorium, a soccer field (can we expect night lighting, AYSO and adult soccer league to be far behind? Alverno also wants an outdoor amphitheater on that property. So we'll have two noise megaphones on the West side of town, the Cong Church and Alverno if the City Council passes it. What will Church Cong do given half a chance?

    And the City has fronted a bunch of money for the Alverno EIR (just like they did on Maranatha and didn't Maranatha stiff them on that money). Did anyone even do an EIR on Church Cong? Alverno neighbors oppose this huge increase of use because the school will rent it all out just like the Villa. Seen those signs at the West end of town asking Alverno to consider its neighbors and not increase usage?

    Case 2 La Salle

    La Salle put in a football field claiming they had permission and then huge night lights were put up over the protests of the down hill neighbors. Now they have weekend events and night games to the point you can’t get into Albertsons and they have to block off roads leading into Hastings Ranch and lower Hastings Ranch (not to mention Albertsons).

    Some of those lower Hastings Ranch neighbors now have huge bright lights shining in their bedrooms and can't stay home on event nights because of the din of noise. Those neighbors got no consideration from Pasadena (can you imagine being stuck there without being able to sell your home in this economy). They have sued and their council representative works at La Salle I think.

    Case 3
    Maranatha was a complete nightmare and ended up costing a bunch of money and they didn't care one bit about what they did to neighbors, the town -- just wanted greedy amounts of money and/or their own way.

    Case 4.
    I read in Pasadena Star News that enrollment in these private religious schools is way down – why do we need bigger, more, more more?

    Is there nothing we can do without hearing RLUPA? Don’t regular folks have a right to live in peace and enjoy their property?

    I say red tag it and fight the Alverno stuff too!

  30. Been there, done thatMarch 13, 2009 at 8:41 AM

    Dear March 12 @ 2:31,
    Living in peace and enjoying property is a fiction for many people in our area.
    More Cases: the neighborhoods around the reservoirs, and the neighborhoods around Carter (and Stonehouse, but they don't know it yet). If I were in those positions, I would skip the whole civic process - it's a waste of time. Just band together with some like minded folks, pool your money, and hire an attorney. That is what the expansionists do, and that's why they force their wills on all around them.

  31. Sue Alverno?
    Sue the Cong Church?
    Sue the City?

  32. Been there, done thatMarch 17, 2009 at 6:44 PM

    March 13, 10:45,

  33. OMG... let me get this straight:
    Alverno - a former villa - is having villa-style parties?
    And La Salle High School is having football games? night???!!!
    Hey, this isn't whay I moved to a small town.

  34. Been there, done thatMarch 19, 2009 at 5:32 PM

    March 18, 8 p.m., it's clear you did not read the post that brought up the problems.
    See Anon, March 12, 2:31 - that is if you want to look at the real issues.