Monday, May 23, 2011

Stonegate Redux: "The Huge Castle that has Fallen Out of the Sky"

Capital Source was back at it again at the May 19th Planning Commission meeting. And you almost had to feel sorry for these knuckleheads. Almost feel sorry, I said. Because year after year they keep running headfirst into a buzzsaw called Sierra Madre, and no matter how hard they try to get out from under the monstrous blunder they made here in our little town back in 2004, they just can't seem to get themselves off the hook.

But then again, what kind of karmic reward should an east coast money lender receive for having financed Dorn Platz? While at the same time enabling the destruction of one of the last pristine wildernesses left in Sierra Madre? There isn't anything they are getting that they don't richly deserve.

The shining new faces that Capital Source trotted out for the occasion had a mission that only they might have thought wasn't obvious. That being to get one single solitary McMansion built up on the ancient Indian burial ground now ridiculously misnamed "Stonegate at Sierra Madre." This land, sacred to some but accursed to those who despoiled it, has become a huge financial burden to Capital Source. They are rumored to have lost $10s of millions of dollars up there, and try as they might, they don't seem likely to reclaim much of it. Only a minority portion of these extremely costly lots have been sold, and nobody has yet to build one solitary home at Stonegate.

And that is their biggest problem right now. Without a single example of what can be built up there, no potential customer can see what might be possible. Take the Realtor tour today and all you will see are empty lots choked with weeds. Which is hardly the kind of thing that would attract the million or so bucks per lot that Capital Source needs to get to save their financial hide. They desperately need to build a McMansion. Just one McMansion to break the ice. Because without an example to reassure the marks that such a thing is possible, the place just doesn't justify the price.

So that is the background. And into the City Council chambers that evening sauntered the latest sacrificial victims, Brad Donaldson of Capital Source, and an architect straight out of Pasadena by the name of Adele Chang.

Adele Chang is an interesting specimen. A partner in the architectural firm of Lim Chang Rohling & Associates, Inc., she displayed an enormous range of attitudes that we will examine in a moment. If you go to her firm's website (here) you can see that they are indeed one of those kind of outfits. A portion of the gauche, oversized homes and mixed-use flat-topped generica that has littered the California landscape these last 20 years can be traced directly back to them.

That so much of what has now fallen into disfavor with California consumers can still be seen on their website would seem to indicate that somebody forgot to include LCR&A on the tacky alert e-mail list.

But what really endeared me to Adele was the two faces she brought with her into the room. The face she showed to the Planning Commission was one of solicitous concern and compassion for the great challenges they face. Yet to those residents who stood up to speak in defense of what we all think of as Sierra Madre, she was disrespectful and rude. At several points in the meeting actually rattling her papers as people she disapproved of dared to speak. It was as if Adele believed she was winning favor with the Planning Commission by dissing their neighbors. As if she and the PC were somehow on the same side, and shared a common enemy.

It was an incredible show of cluelessness on her part.

Brad Donaldson of Capital Source visibly withered under the questioning of the Planning Commission as the meeting went on. Brad boldly kicked it off with statements such as "We are looking to be a partner to the community," and "We want to integrate into the community." But by the end of the meeting a humbled Brad was down to little more than, "We certainly appreciate what you guys are saying," and "We really want to work with you guys." I don't know where Capital Source finds these fellows, but I swear they all end up folding like the exact same brand of cheap suitcase.

Around 20 Sierra Madre residents stood up to speak, and all made a strong case for not approving the looming McMansion Capital Source wants to build over our community. Here are 5 that really stood out.

Marguerite Schuster spoke of how the prospect of massive buildings jammed together in this way would obliterate the foothill views that are such an important part of life in this town. An example she gave of the consequences of such a debacle is La Vina. A Stonegate that would feature homes of the size Capital Source wants to build would be a lasting monument to our failure as a community. Marguerite warned the Planning Commission that to give an inch to these people would open the floodgates, and once one McMansion was built there would be nothing to stop the rest.

Carol Parker noted that this house would swallow up the neighborhood, casting a long shadow upon those unfortunate enough to live nearby. Carol quoted Adele Chang regarding the question of views being obscured by so large a house. "It depends on where you stand," is how Adele had tartly put it. To which Carol rhetorically replied, "We're all standing in Sierra Madre."

Heather Allen made an observation that I found to be thought-provoking and wise. "It's almost as if you need a law to give open space the right to exist. What you don't build is as important as what you do." Heather noted the distressing trend in town of overly large houses on small lots. Such as the still unfinished castle on Grove.

John Hutt laid out a very good case for not going forward with Capital Source's project. He noted that the house was truly large and imposing for a site which, when you consider the troubled past of the One Carter debacle, would only fuel further distrust and anger in the community. John had studied the staff report and saw that what CS was complying with were the bare minimums required by the General Plan and Hillside Ordinances. The bulk and the massing in no way fitting in with the spirit and goals of either. As a former member, John told the Planning Commission that they do have the authority to ensure consistency with both the HMZ and General Plan.

The most effective speaker of the evening was Diane Scalzo. Living directly south of the proposed Cap Source project, she would be among those directly experiencing the effects of so large a structure. I have known Diane for a while as our kids play in Little League together, and I know that this did not come easily to her. It was a very courageous thing she did, and her forthright observations had a visible effect on the Planning Commission. To her this project indicated that no thought was given to the neighbors of Stonegate. And if the size of this house, the first to be built there, is any indication of what would follow, then it is a truly awful thing that these people have planned for us. "I can't believe that this can happen here," is how Diane put it.

Not a single speaker stood up to to defend Capital Source's plans for Stonegate.

The Planning Commission deliberated, and the good guys won Round One. The supercilious architect was directed back to the drawing board, her orders being to design something far smaller. A two car garage instead of a three car garage, and four bedrooms rather then five, were the goals set for her. The Commission understood the applicant's motives perfectly. If this first house were to get by as it was originally designed, all the others would then be built to look just like it.

The best description that evening of the Cap Source McMansion came from Commissioner Spears. "The huge castle that has fallen out of the sky."

It looks like it has landed, and with a thud.

The Mountain Views News and the Lawyers of Starbucks

In this week's installment of its usual journalistic befuddlement, the MVN published a list of all the nominees up for the 4th of July Parade Grand Marshal honors. Including folks who said they wouldn't accept it, and those that didn't even know they had been nominated.

Also included on the Mountain Views News list as nominees for Grand Marshal are "The Barristers of Starbucks." Now I have been a sucker for triple lattes' ever since I moved to the Golden State, so I have done my time in Starbucks. (Though, to tell you the truth, I much prefer Beantown.) But what I had never once picked up on in my visits to Starbucks is that I was being served by attorneys at law. This is a touch that you don't often get in coffee shops, or at least the ones that I frequent.

But I have to be straight with you. I think what we might actually be looking at here is a malapropism. You see, the folks who cook up the coffee beans at Starbucks are known as Baristas, which is Italian for bartender. Starbucks fancies a foreign sounding lingo, believing (I guess) that this makes them sound exotic and sophisticated. Which is also why they call their large drinks "Grande," and the jumbo-sized ones "Venti." Or so I suppose. A continental flair that you'd have to be from Seattle to appreciate, I guess.

The baristas of Starbucks are lawyers like Susan Henderson is a lawyer. The only difference here is that the helpful baristas down by Kersting Court have never claimed to be one.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

87 comments:

  1. Put them out of their miseryMay 23, 2011 at 6:46 AM

    These folks at Capital Source are no longer in the game to make a profit, it's purely an attempt to salvage a deal gone bad. When Dorn Platz was running the ball and the housing market was good, they had a chance to pull it off. The market for this McMansion crap has already died, it's not even a desirable product anymore, and the developers, as usual, are unable to look at other kinds of things to build.

    I would recommend that a land conservancy be brought in to purchase this property at a fire sale price and protect it forever. The City could contribute, as well, with those unspent CRA funds, if that's what they're determined to do. Something that actually benefits the community, wouldn't that be something?

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  2. This is perfect. Let the CRA buy the land build little one and two bedroom houses for the low income or moderate housing.
    This would leave Highland alone and reduce the size of the new homes to a reasonablew size that fit in with the character of Sierra Madre.

    Finally, something good done with that ugly CRA funds.

    I find that it would be the first time that something good came from Bob Spears mouth. He is a very rude, condenscending individual and needs to be replaced by someone with compassion. so it is nice to see some type of contribution.

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  3. Great idea 6:46, but I think the CRA funds can only be used for the downtown.
    I agree with your thinking. Capital Source needs to throw in the towel, take out all those pads, reseed the place with some native plants, and donate the area to the city, getting all the benefit it can from a "charitable" action.

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  4. Where is the breaking point between what Capital Source would get from selling the lots to what they would gain in tax write offs from donating the property to the community for a nature preserve? Whatever that breaking point might be, they certainly must be getting close by now.

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  5. The Planning Commission conducts itself like a thoughtful deliberating body that takes its responsibilities seriously. Sort of the opposite of the CC-1.

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  6. Put them out of their misery NOWMay 23, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    I think the definition of "blight" would definitely apply to the Stonegate site by now, that seems to be the only excuse anybody needs for grabbing CRA funds. What's good for the goose is good for the gander!

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  7. I was at the meeting and the speakers did us proud. There were some people in the audience that they did not speak, and they were speculated to be property owners of the lots up there. If so, they didn't say a word. Not one person in the audience spoke in favor of the mansion.

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  8. The difference is the Planning Commission serves the people of this community, while the G4 City Council looks for angles that benefit others.

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  9. Capital Source probably expected just what they got.
    They know that Stonegate (Carter) is "troubled"
    Look out for round 2.

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  10. Why is it called Stonegate? What's with the name change?

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  11. 8:03 - It is a requirement that all McMansion plantations have a bourgie and pretentious sounding name.

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  12. Wowie zowie, went on the architect's link and looked at the custom homes. 30,000 square feet???? With a subterranean 12 car garage. Then another place, more modestly, 10,000 square feet? 7,000 square feet? What a comedown for them to be here.You have to wonder - is there a deal for them to do more than one home?

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  13. If Capital Source cannot get their McMansion designs approved, what becomes of those who already purchased lots at Stonegate? Were they told about this situation?

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  14. Why would people who want to build these huge homes pick this town?
    I just don't see the fit.

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  15. 8:03 am.
    Great question.
    I always thought when "gate" was added to the end of something, it meant something illegal or involving a scandal.
    Oh yeah, that makes sense, "stoneGate" is both.
    So is OneCraterGATE.

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  16. 8:03, I'll bet you there's a manual somewhere, "What to do when your bank gets stuck with bad real estate" and that step one is to change the name. Shake off all the bad ju-ju and avoid the search engine responses that would come up on the old name. The Tattler has no doubt been frustrating in that regard.

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  17. 8:20, OneCraterGate is a good tongue twister.

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  18. One Crater is the most heavily rebranded property in Sierra Madre. And none of them have worked.

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  19. I figured they called it Stonegate because of Stonehouse. They're trying to merge the two projects in the mind of the community. What they don't get is that the community does not want to merge with these symbols of what we have lost.

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  20. The Planning Commission leads with their brains, the City Council majority leads with their egos.

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  21. It is strange to think that neither Joe Mosca, Nancy Walsh or Josh Moran would ever be thought of as being intellectually capable of serving on the planning commission. Yet they hold veto power over those that do.

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  22. Ah Henderson's latest malaprop is kinda cute. It is by no means her first, a quality she shares with Joe Mosca. But with this one, maybe she even thought the term was accurate, ya know, that the baristas were like lawyers at the bar (coffee), before the judge (Susan). Puts an interesting light on her fraudulent claim to have studied law at Cal.

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  23. A Freudian slip on Susan's part is my guess.

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  24. The PC did the right thing. When Leticia Cardoza(staff) recommended approval of the house on Camillo last fall, she said there other over sized houses in the area. Cap Source was just trying to open the floodgate for the disaster that would follow.

    Thanks commissioners and speakers. I wish the CC-1 was as protective of our City as you are.

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  25. The Camillo lot is up for sale. Did the architect/owner give up and go away?

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  26. Beware the back room deal. This CC has no qualms about cutting a deal out of the view of the public.

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  27. I was at the planning commission when the owner and the architect tried to get a variance to put a McMansion on Camillo. Half-way through the hearing, the architect said in a very sarcastic tone, "I just love Sierra Madre". That and many snide remarks later, one of the Commissioners suggested to the owner, to perhaps take his plan to Arcadia where the house might be more appropriate. They didn't get their variance.

    Sadly, the Carter One property is not in the CRA zone, so the monies cannot be used to build our required housing. The conservancy might have had enough money to buy at least some of the property if it were not for the fact that the city took the money saved for open space and spent it on that lemon of a YAC and a dying teen program.

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  28. Instead of calling it Stonegate they should have taken a clue from the fast food industry and called it "Super Size Me Estates."

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  29. Big houses are fine on big lots. But houses like the proposed ones on Camillo and Stonegate are too big for the lots and the surroundings. It's a proportion thing.

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  30. There are regulations about lot size in relation to house size in place for the developments. For Stonehouse, each lot has to be 2 acres. Unfortunately for Stonegate, the land was divided for maximum profit, on paper. On the ground, after walking through the site, the building pads seem weirdly small because the lots are chopped up in ways that include unbuildable space.
    A merging of the lots would help the project go forward. Combine 2 or 3 of the lots and you'd be able to build a big house that wouldn't look like it fell from the sky.

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  31. 2 or 3 lots? At Stonecrater prices that would come to about a quarter million dollars!

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  32. It is called Stonegate or Stone House or Stone whatever because the City Administration has been Stone Walling the citizen of Sierra Madre since the conception.

    Remember: the Planning Commission is appointed by the City Council; They are "lieing" in bed together.
    Including one or more members that are apart of the Down Town Dirt.

    Beware!!!

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  33. If Capital Source wants to go forward with a house there, they will, and the Planning Commission will help them accomplish that. That's their job. But as they showed at the last meeting, the house has to fit within the conditions of approval, ordinances and general plan of the city of Sierra Madre.
    It will be interesting to see how quickly the architect bounces back. But what a choice the bank made in hiring a firm that specialized in monster homes and proud of it. Another bad move.

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  34. Capital Source is like the monkey with his paw in the jar, holding on to the piece of fruit but unable to withdraw the paw and keep the fruit.

    Change the configuration, drop the prices, let go of that fruit, and you can get your hand out of the jar and get out of this town that no doubt has caused you a lot of grief.

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  35. Does anyone know how many lot owners it requires to have a Home Owners Association?
    Caroline Brown brought up the HOA and it's duties of brush clearance, etc.
    Can Capital Source even get off the hook unless the HOA gets on?

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  36. Supersize Me Estates doesn't work for me. I prefer Dupe Plantation.

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  37. Why didn't the bank hire a Sierra Madre architect who knows the community?

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  38. The Hills are alive with discontent. An archetect showing her teeth is just the beginning, Our Planning Commission will need all the support and backing we can deliver. Camello makes a point that must be made over and over again. And if our City Council sees its interests different than that of the Planning Conmmision....All Hell Needs to Break Loose!

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  39. The revenge of the hillsides.

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  40. As I recall the Planning Commission voted against One Carter back when it was One Carter. It was the City Council that prevailed on appeal.

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  41. I was not in favor of the developments at either Stonehouse or Carter, Stonegate, but there could be houses there that suit the landscape. They need to be single story, and marked by a lack of ostentation.

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  42. That is what we need to be worried about. It isn't the planning commission, it is the G4. Do Gooder thinks he makes hard decisions. Which should be translated as meaning decisions that the residents hate, but pay off for his patrons.

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  43. Right you are 11:18.

    The commission was opposed to the design of Galletly's plan, and they were right.

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  44. Oh yes, 11:18. Let's just name the culprits!

    ROB (questionable Dorn Platz loan) STOCKLEY
    JOHN (questionable bond scam/water rate scam) Buchanan.
    TONJA (another third rate attorney like Mosca who was a plant by Bart Doyle)TORRES.
    ENID (GOLDBERG PARKGATE) JOFFE.

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  45. channel 3 watcherMay 23, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    The city attorney at the planning commission meeting told the commission and the audience that you can't say "No big houses because we don't like big houses." It can't be arbitrary like that.
    I get the point, but why not?
    Why can't a city pass an ordinance that says if you want a big, big house you have to have a big, big lot.

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  46. Capital Source may be eager to get the Homeowners Association in place before FIRE season picks up.

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  47. We all know who the city attorney works for.

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  48. Absolutely, 11:35, and they had better address the curse of the "triangle of death" at One Cartergate and Stonegate.
    FIRE, FLOOD and EARTHQUAKE ARE REAL AND PRESENT DANGERS!

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  49. Really there should be a commemorative plaque to those four council members who caused the destruction of those beautiful trees and wildlife that was once there. Maybe it could say Don't Do Like These People Did.

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  50. South Pas neighborMay 23, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    This same anti-McMansion sentiment is playing out all over towns in California.
    It's only with a passive public that local governmental bodies can get away with these monuments to conspicuous consumption.
    The mood of the public right now is not all that forgiving to the homes that are being built in order to display wealth.

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  51. New name Stonegate means erase memory of Dorn Platts and all One Carter problems including the murder that took place on the property.

    I hope when Stonegate is googled, the One Carter information comes up too!

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  52. I am grateful to all the many, many Sierra Madreans who over the years, have worked on getting protections in place. They couldn't foresee a city council that would agree to go into business with a scam artist, a city council that didn't care about preserving the mountains. But what they accomplished is really remarkable. And worth fighting for.

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  53. I sure hope all the people of Sierra Madre that do not want monster commercial buildings will come and speak June 2 against the planned 13,000 sq foot building that Alverno wants to build for their night club catering business. That is 10 times the size of the average home surrounding the school. Let them have a gym/auditorium building for the students, not a party place for the world. A full size NCAA basketball court is only 4,700 sq feet!

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  54. What was Capital Source thinking?
    Here they have a real PR problem, so they go out an hire an architectural firm that designs exactly the kind of houses the community does not want.

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  55. To the Developer oriented Council. Your City Attorney just sucks! Big Houses do not belong on our Hillsides!! In view of her "you can't just say no", the Commission should just say no. Let them sue and we can fight our Council and their pro developer "Mansionaires" in Court. The people can have backbones even if our CC does not.

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  56. 12:35, the city attorney who assists the Planning Commissioners is a he. Same firm, different lawyer. And he did a great job on the Canyon Zone committee.

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  57. According to the city website, there will be a playback of this meeting tonight, starting at 5:30. The Capital Source public comment will begin about an hour after that. We can check up on Sir Eric's accuracy in reporting.

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  58. Disclosure, disclosure, disclosure.
    Real Estate agents are required to tell prospective buyers what they will need to do, in full.
    I am personally very relieved that house on Camillo didn't make it, but feel bad for whoever bought it, only to find that they couldn't build what they wanted.
    That is the realtor's fault.

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  59. So if people bought McMansion lots at the crater yet they can't build McMansions, what gives?

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  60. Hard to make a sale when you have to disclose fifty reasons why a buyer should find something better someplace else.

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  61. 1:47, they can build McMansions. It's just that the McMansions have to conform to some this and thats. So maybe not the McMansions of their dreams. Enter the lawyers.

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  62. susan henderson is just plain bat ship crazeee

    and an embellzer to boot

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  63. The planning commission has done a great job in protecting Sierra Madre from various developers. It is the city council who have overruled them (Carter recently)that should take the fall. Should the planning commission deny the plan for the Stonegate project, watch out for the City Council.

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  64. Ha 1:47, Fifty Ways to Leave Stonegate

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  65. On the city council agenda for tomorrow night, there's an item about the acceptance of the One Carter water rights.Shouldn't that be the Stonegate water rights?

    The city was to retain the water up there and at Stonehouse, but you've got to wonder what the timing of this means.

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  66. I don't think the city does its serious business in public anymore. I think we
    now have a secret government that does
    not tell us what us going on. The water
    rate increase was one great example. But
    there are others as well. Like why are we
    suddenly buying our city hall back from
    the cra? Does the city actually think we
    are going to believe that Sacramento is
    goping to take city hall away. In what, a
    dump truck? Lots of weird stuff going on.

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  67. 3:30, could you elaborate on the buying back city hall from the CRA?

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  68. When you have a mayor like John Bonds Buchanan who genuinely believes he knows what is best for you, and that his opinion counts more than anyone elses's, you get lots of decisions made behind closed doors.

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  69. Actually, Bill Coburn has the staff report on this item up on his site. It's worth a read. I think there is far more to this than we're being told but according to various folks I've talked with it's quite possible the CRA could sell the property if bonds are in default. We definitely need to know more? Crawford?

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  70. Way to go Mrs. Scalzo!May 23, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    The name should give credit where credit is due: BUCHANNAN ESTATES

    If you look at the web site they have matched the size of each Buchannan Estate to the size of the lot. However, the lot size includes hillsides that can't be developed. So we get that monstrous 4500 sq. ft. house on that tiny pad. Why can't we force them to build tastful ranch homes on nice lots as in the lovely Highland Oaks community?

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  71. 1:02 the builder never bought the lot.
    Everything was contingent on the PC approving
    the monster house. Cap Source is still the owner.

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  72. Anonymous @ 9:42--the Sierra Madre Mountain Conservancy did buy 40 acres of 1 Carter with Proposition A money, and was in the process of acquiring a $20,000 grant from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for a slope density/hillside management zone study when the CC voted to give Maranatha Estates (Greg Galletly's project) their tract map when facing their law suit.

    There were two other open space projects in the planning stages that were undermined by the transfer of the rest of the Proposition A money from the Conservancy's efforts to that of expanding the YAC.

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  73. 12:46 He...She makes no difference. Coluntano (sic.), Levin, and a "he". all have played the same tune in the past and drag out the same notes for the present and future. Attorneys and their Law Firms make their money keeping the controversy balls rolling. Fortunately or unfortunately for Sierra Madre, depending on how the balls bounce we still have a disaster if the Planning Commission is not the final say.

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  74. 1972 bond debt, and a 1988 bond refinance is what this CRA/City Hall transfer is all about. Sierra Madre is awash in bind debt of all kinds. The yammering you read in the Mtn Views News this weekend was just a distraction for the fools. The story wouldn't have been there otherwise. This is very big.

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  75. Bill Coburn has a staff report on a controversial development on his website, but the city website does not?

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  76. Any time both Coburn and Henderson have a story up on the same issue, you know it is City Hall spinning something.

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  77. Tattler, the Capital Source architect seemed to be clueless about a lot, especially the development as a whole, and the town it was in.

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  78. 4:44, the city site NEVER has staff reports; that's the beef. In order to get a staff report you must go to the counter or the library and pay .15 cents a copy. Patch has a blurb that says it now has a policy of posting the WHOLE agenda packet in .pdf but it wasn't up when I checked.

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  79. The staff report in question gives no information of the bond debt load on City Hall, or the bldgs where the PD and FD are. It is a white wash.

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  80. Just like the water rate increase...

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  81. Also noted in the list nominated for the Grand Marshal in the MVN, is Don Taylor of Taylor meets, Arlene Wolfe 20 member of 4th of July Committee (she meant 20 year member) and she left off De and Pat Alcorn which probably means that she thinks they got entirely too much publicity this week anyway.

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  82. Doesn't anybody proof read that paper? Good Lord!

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  83. There hasn't been an accurate proofreader at the Mountain Views News since it became a rudderless rag, i.e. since it stopped being the very fine Mt. Wilson Observer.

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  84. 1:02...the hell it is!

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  85. The real irony is that the majority of lots that have sold at Stonegate have been bought by realtors. They bought thinking that they would be a huge "rush" to buy these pieces of dirt..now they can't unload them. This development was put into place to be a high end community without kids. Check out the HOA bylaws...that will give everyone a good chuckle. Looks like we might just get the last laugh...

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  86. All but 2 of the sold lots were bought, what, over a year ago?
    I remember a guy who had worked on the property saying he couldn't understand why people would buy spec lots, and not build.
    Is it hesitation because of liability - Capital Source is liable for the whole thing until the Homeowners Association forms up and takes over, yeah?
    That's a big bunch of land to be responsible for.
    The water rights transfer that's scheduled for the council tonight is Condition of Approval 183. The transfer has to be made before the first water hook-up happens.

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