Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Will the G4 City Council Cave In To A Favored Special Interest On The Canyon Zone Ordinance?

There are a vast number of items on tonight's City Council Agenda. Whoever plans on staying up to watch the whole shebang had better ready themselves for a very late evening. Some of the items truly are important, some comical, and many just by-the-book paperwork disguised as decision making.

For this post we decided that rather than taking on the entire list, we'd concentrate on just two items instead. The first because it is extraordinarily important, the other because it is both unintentionally hilarious and an entirely inadequate response to the situation it attempts to address.

Item #7 - Discussion: Proposed Canyon Zone. Recommendation that the City Council provide staff with direction and direct staff to return with any revisions to the proposed Canyon Zone at a noticed Public Hearing.

The Proposed Canyon Zone Ordinance has now been held up by a handful of local contractors/developers for several months over the following five points:

1) Permeable surface area for all parking pads.
2) What is counted as Building Floor Area.
3) Floor Area calculation (building floor area limit) for smaller lots.
4) Impact of the Angles Plane Height calculation for smaller lots, and
5) Exclusion of easement (flood control channel) from the computation of the floor area.

Here are some of the inconvenient facts that correct what are basically political tactics from a very small special interest group attempting to claim from the G4 City Council what they believe are debts owed to them for support and advocacy during the recent election.

Basically the maximum building floor area decreases as the lot gets smaller. Of the total 512 Canyon parcels, 338 parcels would be able to achieve the minimum building floor area of 1,250 square feet, or 64 percent of all Canyon parcels. Over half (67 percent) of the parcels in the canyon are 6,000 square feet or less. Over one-third of the Canyon parcels (34 percent - 174 parcels) are 3,570 square feet or less. The question is whether the 174 parcels (3,570 square feet in area or less) should be able to yield a greater building floor area limit. If so, an option is to allow a maximum building floor are limit of 1,250 square feet for all parcels that are 3,570 square feet or less.

Of the 512 Canyon lots, there are 58 lots that are 30 feet wide or less, 11% of all. The question that should be discussed is whether narrow lots, specifically 30 feet wide or less, should be permitted two-story construction, or whether lots that narrow should be limited to single story construction.

Of the 512 Canyon parcels the flood control easement passes through 60 parcels, or 12 percent of all Canyon Zone parcels. There are other examples throughout the City, outside of the Canyon Zone, where a County flood control channel runs through residential parcels, including many examples of access easements which are also excluded from the computation of allowable building floor area. The intent of this exclusion is that it is highly unlikely that a structure, more specifically, a habitable structure, would be built over a flood control channel or access easement. By inclusion of the flood control area in the computation of allowable building floor area, a larger structure would be permitted in a smaller space. The County has stated that a habitable structure would likely be denied should the property owner apply for a permit to build over the wash. A garage or bridge may be considered for approval and has been approved in the past, but each project application would be examined on a case-by-case basis. An example of how including the wash easement into the computation of floor area is:

Lot Size 3,240 square feet
Flood Control 940 square feet
Maximum Allowable Floor Area (excluding channel) 819 square feet
Maximum Allowable Floor Area (including channel) 1,134 square feet

For whatever reasons the City Council has been foot dragging over these last several months, seemingly debating the rights of the property owners to live in relative peace and safety with their neighbors versus the rights of realty people and builders to maximize their profits by building the largest possible structure on the smallest footprint. The proposed Canyon Zone Ordinance has the seal of approval from the Planning Commission. The Commission had been brought back into session before to justify their recommendations, and will once again be present during this discussion to give their reasons for coming down on the side of the residents.

11 percent of all Canyon lots, 12 percent of all Canyon Zone parcels, 200 additional square feet on a lot size of 3,240 square feet? 27 years, 5 previous Canyon Advisory Committees, none ever succeeded in adopting an Ordinance. Should cronyism prevail Canyon residents will again be denied their rights so that Glen Lambdin, Greg Prout and Tim Hayden can service their need to build in a manner that personally profits them most.

Item #8 - Discussion: Consideration Of Water Oversight Committee. Recommendations that the City Council provide staff with direction regarding the duties and responsibilities of a Water Oversight Committee, and the Committee appointment process.

This is, of course, reminiscent of the UUT Oversight Committee that I served on a year or so back. The idea being that after having socked the tax payers of Sierra Madre with a huge utility tax increase to benefit the salaries and needs of the Sierra Madre Police Department, the affected would really feel better if five people spent an occasional evening at City Hall looking at paperwork filled with items, costs and corresponding numbers to make sure that nobody was spending these new funds on of kegs of beer or bags of donuts.

I can assure you that no beer or donuts were bought with UUT funds while I was watching.

Now that the Water Rate Increase has been, at least for the moment, voted into existence, this old donkey of a sop to the rate payers has been dragged out of the shed one more time. Proposed by Councilmember Josh Moran, we're supposed to feel empowered because 5 people will once again look at spreadsheets to make sure no beer or donuts have been bought on the afflicted water rate payers' dime.

But there is bit of a problem. Since the City Council has been so completely unclear on exactly what the water rate increase was actually for, how would this committee proceed? Is it water pipe repair costs they'd need to check? Bond debt servicing that they'll be looking over the books for? Maybe it depends what month it is.

I mean, pipe repair expenditures would be fairly easy to monitor because the hardware is finite and copper. But debt servicing on bonds?

If, as reality dictates, that it indeed is bond debt servicing despite all that the Fibbin' Four were putting out last spring, what exactly would this oversight committee be looking for? Checks to the folks holding our water bonds?

I'm not so sure this has been all that well thought out. But then again, maybe John Buchanan forgot to tell Josh that this particular water rate hike isn't about those rusty old pipes any more.



  1. Agenda Item 2- Canyon Zone

    Please, everyone! Please attend the meeting tonight and speak up for the adoption of the Canyon Zone Ordinance AS WRITTEN by;
    The Canyon Zone Committee:
    Caroline Brown
    Sherry Robison
    Jim Monachino
    Michael Howard
    John Herrmann
    These 5 people have worked very hard with city staff members, City Manager Elaine Aguilar, Danny Castro and the assistant attorney, Scott.
    They have been diligent and fair. They deserve, we the people deserve, to have the city council adopt this ordinance, as written.

    I urge the city council members to do the right thing and not cave into a few selfish people who have only one agenda - they make $$$ off of over development at the expense of their neighbors. Their arguments are fallacious and totally unfair (exept to them).

    Again, residents of the canyon and all of Sierra Madre, please support these honest neighbors of yours. Urge the council to adopt the ordinance. It's the only right thing to do.

    7:00 pm. City Hall Council Chambers.....BE THERE and SUPPORT the COMMITTEE and Staff members who worked hard to get this FINALLY done.

  2. The Gang of 4 has always had its special interests and cronies. They are here to help their friends and patrons make money in real estate and development. It is at the heart of everything they do. The thing to watch for tonight is whether the three people named in today's article really have the political heft here in town to make their case stick. My guess is the G4 (perhaps with the exception of the unctuous Mr. Moran) have much bigger fish to fry, and these 3 handymen will be tossed to the mob as a distraction.

  3. The missus was checking out a book from the library yesterday around 4:45 and noticed Toni Buckner and two business types, all sporting WHITE GLOVES, standing over a large table examining what to Mrs Colombo looked exactly like blueprints. She suspects that the John Buchanan Seven Million Dollar Memorial Library is in the works.

  4. The Library is on the Belva Plain Roadmap of Romantic Literary Greatness, so I imagine the city is under some pressure to build a monument worthy of such greatness.

  5. I noticed that the new Canyon Zone has four areas of big-time improvement for these small lots:

    Covered parking or garages--not required, you just have to have two dedicated on-site parking spaces;

    Through-lot frontages of double front-yard 25 foot set backs is eliminated (only one front lot can be determined) and now those lots more room to calculate for building;

    You can have a smaller house if you want one, 500 sq ft.--now it is required that you build at least a 1200 sq ft house;

    Front yard set back is reduced to 15 ft from the city-wide 25 ft. to match what is present from the historical use in the canyon.

  6. Kinda doubt that white gloves are being used on a document so perfunctory as building plans for a new library. Must have been the building plans for the old library, the one that predates this one, something from the archives.

  7. Columbo?
    Next time the Mrs needs to take a picture.

  8. oh great, Josh Moran gets to appoint a couple more of his friends or supporters to another committee.

    At least his ethics are consistently unethical.

    Why in the world do we need a new library...unless a new 7 million dollar library as secretly proosed and lied about by John Buchanan is a sales perk for the new 12,000 residents proposed by SCAG and Mosca.

  9. Best nickname so far - the fibbin' four.

  10. I'm Not Really a DetectiveFebruary 8, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    Just passing on what my wife told me. Our theory of the crime is that it's not just Buchanan who has grandiose ideas of a Taj Madrahal--then you see blueprints being examined by people in suits--and we don't think "historical preservation," we think dangerous and exorbitant flights of fancy at the taxpayers' expense. DSP; LIBRARY; MONTECITO, et cetera.

  11. undersight committeeFebruary 8, 2011 at 9:06 AM

    So I guess the main requirements for the water oversight committee are that they are not good at math, know nothing about bonds or plumbing, are legally blind and can bob their heads up and down in agreement with staff and council?
    Oh yes, they must also believe a 100 ft well actually produces water because "Rusty pipe" Inman says so.

  12. As with the warrants that are approved at Council every two weeks, as was/is the case with the UUT Oversight Committee, the Water Oversight Committee will not approve expenditures/expenses before they are made but after they are incurred and have been paid. It's a formality so that when they get to court the Council and staff can say, "But the Water Oversight Committee approved it."

    Be wary little WOCs, you may be carrying more water than you signed up for.

  13. That's for sure, 9:17 am.

    Be very careful Water Oversight Committee, you don't want to disgrace yourselves for the gang of 4. It's not worth it.

  14. The joke of an oversite committee is they only read how the money was spent. They have no say about how the money will be spent. Kind of like closing the barn door after your horse ran away.

    Just another Committee to waste staff time.

  15. What's amazing about the opposition to the Canyon Code is how small it really is. Small numbers, small minded.

  16. Small numbers, small minded, small potatoes contractors and realtors, but not enough capital to build a real project. Small is as small does.

  17. http://www.pbws.com/
    PBWS, projects, institutional, page 6.
    Tattler, can you post the link to that?
    Everybody can get a look at the dream library.

  18. The water rate heist oversight committee will be handed balance sheets that look good, and facts that match up. The dirty deed has already been done.

  19. White gloves sound to me like historical document care, not modern blueprints.
    But then again, I just fell off the turnip truck.

  20. I agree with Lillywhite. They'll toss the canyon hammer
    jockeys under the bus.

  21. Not only are the development pigs a very unattractive and unpleasant bunch, they are very disliked by most of the canyon residents.
    More importantly? They are just plain WRONG about all their bs spin on the Canyon Zone Committee, Planning Commission, and city staff's findings and their recommending approval!
    Pass the ordinance as is, Gang of 4. It would be disgraceful if you go along with this small group of thugs.

  22. The discussion now about the code needs to just stick to the facts.
    The objections have been raised and the answers to those objections have been given. Clearly the code will benefit the canyon residents and it's past time to put it into place.

  23. 27 years in the making.
    Thoroughly researched and carefully created.
    Something the whole city can be proud of.

  24. This is a case of chickens coming home to roost. Mr. Hayden has been a supporter of Mosca from the get go, including generous campaign contributions. Hayden is also a member of the Buc Buddies circle of realtors and hammer jockeys (I do like that description) and was overheard being wished "good luck on your project" as he stumbled out the door just last week. The project? Certainly his illegal three story remodel of a garage at 41 Vista Circle without a permit and under the noses of the Building Official and the Code Enforcement Officer who can't do a thing because he hasn't taken out a permit. Time to cut him loose, Joe.

  25. MY GOD the library looks like a gigantic Taco Bell !!!

  26. I learned early on to love my country and to take the ideals that created it seriously.

    I am offended that there is any quid pro quo in these little local elections.
    How dare they.

    We are small enough and neighborly enough to live up to the best expectations.

  27. This has been kinda a hot potato:
    From item 8, "and the Committee appointment process." Haven't there been tussles about who gets to appoint whom?
    And now it's all the mayor's prerogative? I remember Mosca's first round of saying, Thank you for your input, and now here's who's gonna do it. Little cat swallowed the canary smile on his face.
    Ahhh it's irrelevant anyway.
    That committee will just be given information that will be very rubber stampable.
    We need foresight committees, not so much oversight ones.

  28. Hayden tries to make the local crafts folks think they're going to get a taste of his new building projects if they just play ball. Even Lambdin quit Tim's Brookside project when he found out about the undersized studs being used in framing the house. During the most recent rains the basement of that house flooded because the water coming off the barn roof to the north found a path to its basement -- the retaining wall was under engineered. Mechanicals, plumbing, and HVAC all under water. The owner who was foolish enough to hire Hayden still hasn't gotten an Occupancy Permit because she refuses to pay the $40K infrastructure permit for new construction. Hyden is a disaster looking for a project to deconstruct.

  29. Important facts of the canyon zone requirements are being posted here. Hope there will be many citizens who will quote these facts at the council meeting tonight. To just badmouth citizens here on the blog will not get the job done. Come and let the council know about the facts. None of you will drop dead instantly by speaking out in public. It's your turn to step up.

  30. Committees such as the one Mr. Moran proposes are for public relations only. This enables persons such as himself to proclaim that all is well when instead the water rate hike was coercive in nature from the get go. If anyone has a complaint about any of it they can respond, "Well the oversight committee says everything is just fine."

  31. "5) Exclusion of easement (flood control channel) from the computation of the floor area."

    Want to claim the wash easement in your square footage calculation? Two things:

    1) Own BOTH side of the wash and
    2) Include an approved LACnty Flood Control permit and show proof of payment

    There you have it! If you're going to try to claim it, pay for it!

  32. Count bond payments? Now who wouldn't line up for a prestige job
    like that? Pick me Johnny!

  33. curiouser and curiouserFebruary 8, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    This water rate increase to pay bonds ought to have a committee with a different title. It's not so much an oversight committee as it is the Councils' Bad Decisions Validation Committee.

  34. 1:40, how about the Closing the Barn Door after the Horses are Gone comm.?

    Still, a comm. has to be there.

    Imagine the shenanigans if no one were watching!

  35. Henceforth, all oversight committees should be known as part of the
    Shenanigan Prevention Task Force, or what Sierra Madre residents must do on a regular basis.

  36. Tonights agenda is packed with pitfalls and hazards. Try to stay up long enough to watch the last item on the agenda about assessment districts. This is a tax payers nightmare waiting to happen that we knew would be on the agenda sometime this year - Mosca asked for it in April 2010. Why it is coming up tonight is anyones guess, but it could be they are hoping no one will pay attention to it since there is so much other stuff happening. In the near future we may have another 218 situation except this one will require ballots to be mailed and a majority of yes votes to raise your property taxes.

  37. So for the Water Oversight Committee do you thing they will have the huevos

    To vote for San Gabriel Valley Water Director Tom Love.

    That way they can pay directly to
    His employer and by pass the residents

  38. Right you are 3:22. Many slippery things have happened late at night in council meetings.
    But surely even this council has figured out that the tax payers are seriously angry.

  39. The mayor is running out of time to have much influence on the proceedings.

  40. People now watch City Council meetings to find the screw ups. It has become a city wide sport and the reason most people tune in.

  41. The council member reports at the beginning ought to be eliminated from the meetings. They are supposed to be about council member activities relating to city business. With one appreciated and notable exception, the reports have become a recitation of which social events the members attended. Not City business. Complete waste of time, and adds length on to a meeting that is overloaded already. What an embarrassment.

  42. The Last item on the Agenda trumps all others in importance.

    You are right about the Tax Assessment Districts.
    Currently we pay taxes to cover services. We pay the Hightest UUT for Police, Fire, and Paramedics. Remember you are charged extra if you need to use the paramedics even though you pay for them. Water rates were increased to pay for bond debt. Now Mosca and Company was to add assessment districts to pay for:
    There has been talk to find another source for the Library. This would be another tax or assessment district.
    What do our taxes go for???
    Salaries and pensions.

  43. Crawford will love item 3 - it's the state's "adjustments" to the California Environmental Quality Act, to facilitate projects that are transit oriented.


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