The rule of thumb in Sierra Madre is that if the discussion of housing construction comes up, you should immediately know that we're actually talking about money. Saudi Arabia has oil, Las Vegas has gambling, and moderately corrupt L.A. County has redevelopment projects. It's just the way things are. And you know that when that kind of money is involved people will do or say just about anything to get it.
Now this meeting had all the elements of redevelopment bamboozlement. There might have been a plausible sounding reason for it happening, and it certainly included a carefully crafted ploy designed to play upon the better natures of those attending, but after reading between the lines it was easy to see that this was just the same old shuck and jive in a nice new dress. It's unfortunate that this affair wasn't held on April Fools Day rather than the evening before.
So anyway, last Tuesday night's confab was something grandly entitled "The Community Workshop On Sierra Madre's Housing Element." The purpose, at least on paper, was to open up the conversation on our "Regional Housing Needs Assessment" (RHNA) numbers to the public. You might recall similar dog and pony shows back when "Downtown Development" was first being peddled to the good citizens of Sierra Madre. Back in the bad old days before Measure V was passed.
A little background here. Our RHNA numbers were forced down the collective throats of Sierra Madre by a rather noxious group of folks who go by the ugly collective name of SCAG (Southern California Area Governments). SCAG, as many of you know, is made up of Lo-Cal local government types eager to impress both Sacramento and building trades lobbyists there with their willingness to do the central bureaucracy's bidding. The handmaidens of housing elements, so to speak. RHNA numbers are basically the amount of new housing we are being ordered to cram into our already cramped little town, whether we like it or not. The idea being that lots of people want to move to California, therefore we must destroy the place in order to accommodate them. And if we don't do what Sacramento says they will either make us hang out with SCAG members (no greater cruelty exists), or take away all of our future state grant money. Which is funny since they don't have any money to fund anything these days.
Another reason for building these new RHNA/SCAG multiple occupancy high density things is to create inexpensive housing here for people who can't afford our lovely mountain views and quaint downtown shopping village. Inexpensive housing being something that will probably happen naturally if people just wait long enough. Houses here becoming more affordable every day.
Now according to the presentation handout distributed at this meeting, our RHNA number has actually dropped quite a bit since it was first foisted upon us by the SCAG types. Because we have developed creative ways to find housing for the less provident, our number has dropped from 138 units, to 72 units, to our present number of 26! And if you think that this is good news, you are right. Unless, of course, you are either among those hoping to cash in on this housing boomlet, or one of their functionaries. Then you are probably not so happy about it.
An example of someone who thinks this is a bad thing would be our consultant on these matters, Karen Warner. Karen, whose vast wisdom we apparently pay dearly for, seems to be stuck with ideas that are a bit outdated for this community. First, she seems to be in some sort of denial about our radically lowered RHNA number and the creative methods by which we accomplished that feat. And at this meeting she repeatedly insisted that our number is far closer to the original 138. And she also advocated a resurrection of our long discredited DSP (the very expensive City plan that would have turned our downtown into Glendale had we allowed it), insisting that only by making this Frankenstein's Monster walk again would we be spared the wrath of Sacramento and its geeky henchmen. That this DSP (Downtown Specific Plan) called for the creation of 325 high density condos when our current RHNA number is less than a fifteenth of that didn't seem to discourage the sponteneity-challenged Ms. Warner in the least.
However, Karen Warner did concede that resurrecting the DSP might be a dicey proposition given the unfortunate fact that a majority of the voters here put a stake through its diabolical heart by passing Measure V. So she then suggested something that sent a wave of horror through the room. She proposed the building of low income multiple dwelling housing in our residential neighborhoods! This was not well received.
Now picture this level of mayhem. The Queen of Sierra Madre Real Estate, Judy Webb-Martin, the doyenne of the DSP, downtown development, and a major conspirator in the fight gainst Measure V, joining forces with Mayor Kurt Zimmerman, the slow growth crusader and preservationist that helped to defeat everything Judy hoped for not that long ago. An unlikely alliance? Sure. But Karen Warner, at this meeting, miraculously brought them together.
Judy, of course, abhors the building of low income housing in our residential neighborhoods because of what it would do to already challenged home values. Kurt, who feels that we already have enough potential existing homes to deal with the RHNA burden, is opposed to the arbitrarily forced building of new low income multiple family housing anywhere in Sierra Madre.
The dirty secret is this. In order to build the low income housing Sacramento and their toadies in SCAG are demanding, you're going to need somewhere to build it. And since this town is already built out to the limit, you're not going to find anywhere to do this deed without first tearing down already existing single family homes. And the only way to do that would be to seize houses through Eminent Domain and evict the families already living there. After all, isn't that what "redevelopment" is all about? Tearing down things that already exist and redeveloping the vacated properties?
And that, friends, is the ugly side of the picture that Karen Warner, along with John Buchanan and Joe Mosca, do not want you to dwell upon too much.
We'll tie this all up with Part 2 soon.