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.