Dear Mayor Joe Mosca, Mayor Pro Tem John Buchanan and Councilmembers MaryAnn MacGillivray, Josh Moran and Nancy Walsh,
At the October 12th City Council meeting, during your initial discussion with community input on the Canyon Residential Zone, Agenda Item #2, many points were made that Caroline Brown, John Hermann and Mike Howard, members of the appointed committee in attendance chose not to comment on at the time.
However, we do not wish to let some of these comments go unchallenged now that you have had your joint meeting with the Planning Commission, as some of the comments were misstatements, intentional misinterpretations and misinformation that was repeated again at your joint meeting.
First, we want to compliment you on your observations that led you to ask staff for further clarification and the fact that you want a joint meeting on this important issue with the Planning Commission. Also, we want to compliment Development Services Director Danny Castro on his PowerPoint presentation, as we are sure you all noted the facts of this presentation against that of the intentional misinterpretations of those who spoke against the adoption of this zone change for the municipal code.
Also we want to thank Councilmember MaryAnn MacGillivray for being at the study sessions of the Canyon Zone Committee. She is knowledgeable as to the truth of the comments that will follow here. Councilmember Josh Moran who, as liaison to the Planning Commission, knows of this body's exacting deliberation over the document that the Canyon Zone Committee presents to them.
The following allegations are not supported by the facts:
1) At the Canyon Residential Zone committee meetings, there never was anyone gaveled down and not allowed to speak for any length of time that they wished to talk at the meetings. No one was ever told that they have only four minutes to speak (Tom Hammond). The Planning Commission hearings did try to adhere to their 4 minute time limit and I do believe that the Vice-chair, Kevin Paschall, asked one member of the audience, Attorney Dan Slater, to complete his last point in a timely manner as he was long over the time limit.
2) There was a repeated complaint over the make-up of the committee and how it was appointed. The committee was appointed by the elected City Council in 2009. It was comprised of residents and property owners in the canyon. Others who had applied, one of whom later repeatedly objected to the make-up of the committee, withdrew their applications. Those being Glenn Lambdin and Tim Hayden. It may have been later determined that they would not have been able to serve due to conflict of interest as they were both working on a project on Middle Brookside Lane (Tim Hayden).
3) That the committee was at the outset of a mindset to create a document that did not allow for future building in the canyon. With the matrix that the planning staff presented you can see the many areas where the R-1-15,000 standards are relaxed, making it easier to build to historical realities without having to pay expensive fees for variances (Greg Prout).
4) That the committee did not have members of the upper canyon or a cross section of builders, architects, realtors, planners, people with knowledge of building permits, etc. This committee worked with DRAFT #4, which was completed by a committee in 2003 that included three residents/property owners from the upper canyon: architect Tom Pendelbury, realtor Katie Orth, and college professor Ron Henderson as well as people from other backgrounds that made up the earlier committee (Greg Prout).
5) That the committee unfairly targeted property owners who have canyon wash as an easement across their property which is disallowed as square footage calculations for buildings. Easements are not allowed to be calculated anywhere in the city - the committee made this recommendation based on information from staff. The Planning Commission agreed with this position. The cities of Monrovia, Arcadia and Pasadena were quoted as to how they allow easements to be calculated. This is false - Monrovia does not allow homes that back up to the wash to use that area for calculation unless the homeowner buys the lot from the LA Department of Flood Control. Pasadena does not allow easements to be calculated for properties in the hillside area. Arcadia does not have any building circumstances for reasonable comparison. There are no direct comparisons from these three cities quoted. The Planning Commission spent quite a lot of time on this, they did not discount the objections from the speakers who made the same arguments at the Planning Commission's hearing, but they still chose to make their decisions to exclude the wash easements from the lot coverage calculation against these arguments - which as I have stated are misleading in their comparisons (Tom Hammond and Greg Prout).
6) That a resident, Jeff Levy, who wanted to know what would be the considerations for expanding his residence to accommodate his growing family was told by a committee member that he would have to move, and has moved (Tom Hammond). Caroline was asked this question by Mr. Levy in the summer of 2009 and did not attempt to give him an answer. Caroline suggested that he talk with Danny Castro about his plans for expansion of his canyon home given the ongoing development of the Canyon Residential Zone. Mr. Levy lived on a hillside with no yard for children to play in, with one parking space on the busy corner of Woodland Drive and lower Brookside Drive. There may be more than one reason why Mr. Levy decided to relocate his family. According to a neighbor Caroline spoke with a week before the Oct 12 City Council meeting, the Levy family satisfactorily relocated to a neighboring city and their canyon property has been rented out.
7) One member of the audience stated that he and his wife left the canyon and their small cabin for a larger home on Grandview when their two young sons needed more room to grow up in. This was set up for ridicule when the comment was made that families could not live in the canyon if they could not expand their homes beyond what the new zoning was allowing, which is reasonable expansion on the historic small lots in the canyon. Every family is different and many people have raised families in small homes in the canyon. The speaker did not know what the other needs of this family might have been in addition to the size of their home (Tom Hammond). Caroline spoke with this family and learned that at the time (40 years ago!) they could not have expanded this small cabin under any condition except for a complete tear down. They could have done so under the old zone or the proposed (R-C) zone but chose not to. They even went so far as to combine two adjacent lots to the one the cabin was on so, with three lots, there was plenty of land for a new home. However, much to their dismay they learned that banks were not lending on property in the canyon.
8) That the committee was biased against development in the canyon as some members opposed Mr. Prout's project in the canyon (Greg Prout). Two members of the committee did speak against some variances that were requested for Mr. Prout's project. Some of which would not be needed given the new standards for building sensitively on small canyon lots in the proposed Canyon Residential Zone. Particularly the objections leveled against the project were in regards to protected trees. Once the project was redesigned to work sensitively with the trees and the topography of the site, there were no objections to the home that was built there.
9) One resident on Madre Street, while approving the idea of protecting the quiet, rustic nature of the canyon was concerned that she could not build a needed dining room addition. CUPs are allowed if a case can be made for the suitability of the project. This resident stated that she had a 2,888 sq foot lot with a small house and there was just six feet of clearance in her side yards. She was concerned that if her carport would be counted as floor space that her aggregate lot coverage would have been met and she could not add this needed dining room. The restrictions for counting carports or double high ceilings and attics is to prevent people from converting these areas into living space after their building permits are signed off, thereby creating a further impact on land usage in the canyon.
10) The angle slope plane was a technical point brought to the committee by staff as we discussed the difficulty of maintaining privacy when second story additions loom over the property line. The Planning Commission has been looking to this instrument for application throughout the city for the same reason that it would solve privacy problems in the canyon. Arguments were made that this makes it impossible to build a second story in almost every instance.
Keeping adequate distance between homes with set backs at the ground level and on the second story in an area of canyon topography and in the Wildfire Urban Interface (the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone) is a topic of utmost importance to canyon dwellers. The Planning Commission had the advantage of hearing further discussion on this from one of heir members, Volunteer Fireman Bob Spears. As did the Canyon Residential Zone Committee from the presentation by Fire Marshal Richard Snyder.
You all are knowledgeable about the process of open meetings and the fact hat the Canyon Zone Committee met monthly for one year, holding a walking tour of the canyon and two outreach meetings before forwarding on to the Planning Commission the combined Draft of the Canyon Residential Zone. It is important for you to have these additional comments that we are certain will help to clarify even further some of the comments and claims made at the City Council meeting on October 12, 2010.
We would be happy to answer any additional questions you may have of us as members of the 2009-2010 Canyon Residential Zone Committee and longtime residents of the Canyon.
Caroline Brown & John Hermann