What an interesting evening at the City Council meeting. I have to say it, John Harabedian and John Capoccia stepped up their game considerably and stood tall for the laws, ordinances and codes of Sierra Madre. Not to mention the wishes of the people these two so ably served last night, many of whom were on hand for the action. You can only wonder what would have happened had our 2004 City Council, the one that effectively turned One Carter over to an incompetent developer incapable of doing much more than cutting down ancient trees and killing the wildlife, showed some similar backbone. We likely wouldn't still be going through any of this today.
However, I do feel that we need to bring the elephant in the room out into the open so everyone can appreciate it properly. If you strip away all of the polite planning jargon about massing, square footage, curb cuts, along with most everything else gets said in those circles, and then boil it all down to its core essence, the view becomes much clearer. What we are talking about here are some very large and quite ostentatiously designed houses.
I call it Adele Chang's Dilemma. How do you build McMansions that don't look like McMansions? You can't. No matter what the design style, or where you place the garage, or how you reconfigure the roof, or bedeck the place with curlicues and cornices, or shuffle the massing, or even bring in a small gaggle of winged gargoyles and lawn gnomes, the result is still going to be one heck of a big barn.
Adele Chang's absurd and vaguely patronizing cosmetic design changes won't ever make a bit of difference. Nor will her describing these things using words such as "understated" or "cottages." No matter how many times the plans are redone, we will still end up either allowing these jumbo boxes to be built on one of the most visible hillsides in town, or we won't.
And that is where we are going with this. While it is pleasant enough that everything was remanded back to the Planning Commission for some sort of future subcommittee architectural review, the end result will eventually be the same. Do we allow McMansions at Stonegate or not? Do we deal with the hard questions realistically, or do we just continue this increasingly absurd process?
Will we ever actually just say no?
If you want to get a little politically incorrect, let's see if you can live with this. We are talking about a clash between two differing cultures here. On the one hand you have the traditional version of Sierra Madre. A place where people are comfortable with what they have today and don't view house size as a measure of their personal or spiritual worth.
The culture Adele Chang and her CETT bosses cater to, on the other hand, is a nouveau riche arriviste' sort crowd who somehow believe that building a vanity castle on the side of an open hillside will be recognized by all of those living below as a sign of an innate personal superiority. It is a form of unchecked clodhopper consumerism that most people living here today do not respect or care to live beside.
I do not believe there really is any room for compromise here. CETT wants to sell McMansions to its boorish clientele. For them it is where the big money is. Most of the people now living in Sierra Madre do not want that here. Remanding things to the Planning Commission is really little more than a delayed date with reality, and in the end this will all likely end up in the Courts anyway.
That is, of course, if our city government doesn't eventually capitulate first. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that happened.
The funniest moment of the evening came when John Capoccia was pressing Adele on why these houses have to be so big, or so lavishly endowed with lavatories. He took the 5.5 bathroom riff a step further by asking if the people who might buy these McMansions could handle the long walk having only three rest stations in the house might cause. Something that was met with considerable laughter in the room.
To Adele's defense up jumped CETT's somewhat starchy attorney, Lawsuit Richie MacDonald. Pushing his way to the podium, Lawsuit Richie sternly rebuked John Capoccia for bringing those comically overpopulated bathrooms into the mix. Apparently in his mind this was in conflict with the serious tone of the evening.
Which is, of course, the real issue here. If Adele the Architect and her CETT overlords would just shrink these houses down to a reasonable size, they would quickly get their approvals and be able to start building them shortly after that.
But they can't do that. It will not result in the highly profitable McMansions that they believe their potential customers will pay lots of money to live in.
In other words, they are never going to compromise on anything. And some fine day the City of Sierra Madre is just going to have to tell them no.