|God's Builder: Cameron Thornton|
I thought this blog would be as good a place as any to discuss this matter since it was here that questions regarding secret meetings between Mater Dolorosa's pro-development management, New Urban West (the actual developer), and paid staff members from Sierra Madre City Hall, first arose. And judging by Mr. Thornton's reaction, such questions have not been received very well in his corner of the information exchange, and he felt he needed to let his objections be heard.
The initial source for questions regarding a first secret meeting was Elaine Aguilar, the City Manager of Sierra Madre. Here is what she revealed in the May 23rd, 2014 version of her weekly report to our City Council:
UPDATE REGARDING MATER DOLOROSA PASSIONIST RETREAT CENTER: Jerry Pearson, Cameron Thornton, and representatives from New Urban West met with City staff this week regarding their future plans for the development of the lower portion of the Mater Dolorosa property into single-family residential development. They informed staff that an agreement has been signed with New Urban West to develop the site, and that New Urban West will begin “due diligence” starting in June, and will begin community outreach in June - meeting with neighbors door-to-door, contacting stakeholders as well as Planning Commissioners and City Councilmembers to introduce themselves. New Urban West anticipates an application submittal by Fall of this year.
Now this meeting was not announced to the public, no notices for it were published in Sierra Madre's adjudicated newspaper, The Mountain Views News, nor were invitations issued to any of the many concerned parties in this community. Or even those parties that are not concerned. It was, for all intents and purposes, private, unannounced, and therefore by definition, secret.
Does this make it a bad thing? Not necessarily. Just because this meeting was held in private doesn't mean great evil was done. Or not done, for that matter. It's just that nobody knew when or where (or if) this was happening except the specially invited parties.
But here's some more news. According to what I have been hearing, and from reliable sources, other secret meetings have taken place as well. Including meetings with New Urban West, Cameron Thornton, City Staff and individual City Councilmembers. If this is true, and I have so far been given no good reason to believe it isn't, then the only people who have not met with the developer and the people running the monastery these days are the residents.
Private meetings between advocates for unpopular development projects and our city officials happen more often than they should here. It is the stuff of local legend. But it doesn't mean that these particular meetings were a cabal of evil. It could be that these confabs were merely secret, and nothing else.
But for whatever the reason, Mr. Thornton discusses the matter in his press release as if secrecy is a bad thing. Which might say much more about him personally then it does the nature of the meetings he purportedly participated in. Here is the press release, and in what I am assuming are Cameron's own words:
The point about whether 60 homes will be built on the Mater Dolorosa site or not should have been directed to Sierra Madre Development Services Director Danny Castro. That controversial EIR to the General Plan he is working on seems to have been the source for this one. Not that anyone should take too much comfort in the "less than 50" spoken of in Thornton's press release.
But again, questions about secret meetings came about because secret meetings (by definition) did take place. We have that account of a first one in City Manager Elaine Aguilar's own words.
If Mr. Thornton finds the "secret meeting" charge to be offensive or troubling, then perhaps he shouldn't have held the ones he apparently did. Hopefully he won't want to participate in any more of them. And blaming the messengers will hardly improve things. That never does.
My advice to Mr. Thornton is, going forward, invite the public to everything he does that pertains to his Mater Dolorosa development project. There is no more effective balm for misunderstanding than the clean fresh air of transparency. Throw open those doors and let all hear what you and your business associates have to say.
People have a right to know. It is their community, after all.
Mr. Thornton should also discuss the considerable sacrifices he will soon ask the people of Sierra Madre to make. After all, it isn't his house that all of those trucks and land movers will be rumbling past for the next few years. And it isn't Cameron, who works out of an office in Burbank, that will be inhaling diesel exhaust and construction dust for the next few years.
However, our children will.
Here is my invitation to Mr. Thornton. Send me your notes from the meetings you have held in private with City Staff and City Councilmembers. I will then print them here and what happened will no longer be a secret.
Pretty good deal, right?