The General Plan Update Steering Committee met Tuesday evening, in the process welcoming their 4 new members. Which means they now have enough people on board to fully staff a baseball team. But somehow they can't find a suitable name to call that team. Are they the Sierra Madre Residents, or the Sierra Madre Consultants? The Small City Advocates, or the Big Corporate Interest Guys? The GPUSC had now become a microcosm of the political divide that splits this town in two.
The problem Tuesday evening, however, wasn't really who's on first. Rather it was that this committee, which apparently must be watched over very carefully, and at all times, cannot meet without Danny Castro and Elaine Aguilar in attendance. Both of whom have a very full dance card despite Mayor Mosca's edict that the work of this committee must be completed in a relatively short period of time. So they only get to meet once a month, but then only if their minders don't have something better to do. Next month's meeting having already been canceled because Danny double-booked himself into a seminar somewhere.
Of course, there was also that fairly recent stretch of three months in a row where GPUSC meetings had to be canceled altogether because these irreplaceable City Staffers were unable to find the time in their busy evening schedules.
Here is an example of just how difficult City Staff has become in this matter. The guiding light of the GPUSC, Denise Delmar, has been tasked by the Mayor to offer some kind of a timeline that will bring the General Plan to completion within two years. Joe Mosca, a man who has no problem repeating himself, has probably mentioned this 40 times now. It is something that will require the committee to meet often as there are many things to do. Tuesday evening Denise asked the now nine members who would be willing to meet twice a month. All nine hands eagerly shot up. But Elaine Aguilar claimed that this simply cannot be done. You can ask the City Council to allow this, she said, but when they ask us we will say no, staff cannot do it. We're just too busy claimed she. Oh, and the City Council Chamber isn't available very much, and you can only meet there. Plus Brown Act considerations. Et cetera.
John Hutt, attending his first meeting and therefore not yet aware of how inconvenient his presence is to Staff, asked why the City doesn't hire someone to help essential planner person Danny Castro with his busy workload. To which MaryAnn MacGillivray replied, "We already have!" But apparently to no avail. Danny is only available for one GPUSC meeting a month, but then only if there isn't a seminar. Or something.
Hard to believe, but these are the kinds of things that take up valuable time at GPUSC meetings. There is considerable pressure from the Mayor to establish his two year timeline, and we have a committee that wants to work hard and meet that goal. But we also have a City Staff that apparently will do just about anything to prevent that work from taking place. The GPUSC is being whipsawed, and you can only wonder why.
So what are the causes of City Staff's scheduling conflicts. Do they have a heavy bowling schedule? Bridge club? Aerobics class? What exactly are their priorities?
Of course, the "two year timeline" issue is a contrivance designed to create controversy where none need exist. And an awful lot of time gets wasted on the issue of getting things done on time. The purpose of Mayor Mosca's obvious red herring is to be able to proclaim that this citizen staffed committee, put in place by the previous City Council, just isn't working out. Why? Because they can't provide or meet his timeline. And therefore, and with a heavy heart I'm sure, he will be required to hire the very expensive consultants he'd always wanted for this work. Something that will cost Sierra Madre's taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars that otherwise wouldn't need to be spent. The only real purpose Mosca sees for the GPUSC is to rubberstamp his big money wishes.
None of this is actually rocket science, either. But then again, how would Joe know?
I promised you a big secret, and here it is!
Cities in California are required to update only two parts of their General Plan every five years. The rest of it can be updated if a city so chooses, but it isn't really necessary. Most small cities can neither afford to revamp the whole thing that often, nor do they really need to. Things just don't change that much, which is what most towns prefer. Their General Plans just don't need to be entirely rewritten twice every decade, and Sacramento recognizes this.
The two sections that Sacramento says must be updated every five years are these:
1) The Housing Element
2) The Environmental Impact Report
Now our Housing Element is actually already done. Someone by the name of Karen Warner, along with her fabulous Associates, pocketed around $50,000 and finished that one up for us two years ago. It is a handsome report filled with nice color pictures, graphs, charts, text, and the addresses of single family residences that can be turned into multi-unit affordable housing and sold for three times what it says there. Think of how surprised you'd be if you lived at one of those addresses.
The second required element, the Environmental Impact Report (or EIR), is already budgeted for and could be cookie cut into something suitable in a relatively brief amount of time by whatever consultant is hired. This highly technical report, which Danny Castro took great pains to inform all present Tuesday evening, can only properly be executed by experts. Or so they say. The $50,000 set aside to do this bad boy up right is sitting there just waiting to be spent.
And that is it. Finish the second of these two elements, tweak the rest a little bit for appearances sake, and the General Plan would be finished in no time. But don't take my word for this, here it is word for word from the introduction to the current General Plan. Just like Sacramento wants it.
A General Plan does not expire and is not required to have a specified time frame pursuant to State law ... The EIR for the General Plan must be evaluated every 5 years ... The Housing Element must be reviewed and updated every 5 years according to the planning cycle established by the State.
If Mayor Mosca was being straight with us about getting the General Plan done quickly, it wouldn't take the two years he is asking to do it. It could be finished in even less time than that arbitrary number would indicate. City Staff willing, of course. But that is not what is really going on here. I'm certain Joe could actually care less about his two year issues.
What Joe Mosca, John Buchanan, and the Downtown Investors Club want overhauled, and to their exacting specifications, is the Land Use Element of the General Plan. This is the crown jewel, and unless it is carved in just the right way, the large scale mixed use Pasadena-style development they and their corporate patrons want to bring to Sierra Madre cannot be accomplished. And the last thing they want are slow growther types getting their mitts on it. They're jonesing to hire a compliant consultant for this, one that will incorporate all of the elements necessary for maximizing the investments of the financially motivated interests they really care about.
And, as I am sure you already know, the Land Use Element is where Measure V resides. Do not forget that.
One of the moments of low comedy Tuesday evening happened shortly after the four new members were seated. Being freshly admitted to the ball team they really couldn't be aware of what work had already been done, or just how things have been structured. But they had a solution ready anyway. And what was that? Hire consultants. They just couldn't stop talking about it.
But that is the thing about being a bobblehead. You don't really have to know anything to provide the answers you are expected to give. After the meeting was over Joe Mosca, who had arrived late and said very little up until that point, walked up to John Hutt and Wendy Davis and shook their hands.
And the three of them smiled. The fix is in.