Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Return to the Twin LULUs of Camillo Road

A couple of LULUs
We last posted something about the twin LULUs of Camillo Road (LULU being the acronym for "Locally Unwanted Land Uses") back on August 28th. They had become a matter of some concern both in that neighborhood and throughout the community, with many wondering how exactly such a thing could have happened in Sierra Madre. A community noted for its planning rigor when it comes to sore thumb architecture like those two structures. Some had written in to The Tattler about this, and in my opinion the situation was pretty much summed up by Carolyn Brown, who had this to say:

The two monstrosities being built on Camillo, one lot up from Grandview, did not go in front of the PC and Danny Castro did not give this a pass. The developer knew the city regulations and did everything as he was allowed. There were two lots of record and as someone earlier posted you can see from google earth the house and garage were very modest. The big mistake here was that the PC did not get the new regulations in place to stop this. We did in the new canyon zone building standards for the second story building envelope and the city now has this for the entire R-1 zone. I am not sure about R-2 and R-3. The second story has to fit in a pulled back area of 45 degrees from a line drawn up 8 ft from the property line. 

Sierra Madre resident Judy Gold wrote in to Danny Castro at City Hall to find out on her own what the rest of the story might be. Danny, formerly of Development Services (his portion of the Puzzle Palace is currently being renamed the much sunnier "Planning and Community Preservation"), quickly replied. Danny is pretty good that way, and he writes in a briskly pleasant and efficient style.

Here is how that initial exchange went:

Name: Judy Gold
Subject: Ordinances
Message: Mr. Castro,

I have had a difficult time finding building code ordinances on the website. I would like to see info regarding the allowable footage for a house, including setbacks, etc. also, I have questions about the horrible houses at 319 Camillo. These 2 houses are built to cover the entire lot. I can find nothing that allows this. Plus the architecture in no way fits the area as the city plan suggests. Any answers or direction would be appreciated. - Judy

From: Danny Castro
To: 'Judy Gold
Sent: Tue, Sep 2, 2014 11:04 am
Subject: RE: City of Sierra Madre: Ordinances

Hello Mrs. Gold, 
The City's Municipal Code is on the City's website.  Click on "Online Services", scroll down, click on "Municipal Code", on left side scroll down to "Title 17  Zoning - Chapter 17.20 R-1 One-Family Residential".  Click on it and the entire zoning ordinance is included, such as setback requirements, floor area, parking, lot coverage, etc.  This chapter was amended in May 2013.    

The houses that are being constructed at 319 and 321 Camillo are in compliance with the City's zoning code in effect at the time they were submitted to the Development Services Department for plan review, or what we call "plan check". Those plans were submitted in January 2013.  The City Council approved amendments to the R-1 zoning ordinance in May 2013, which included angle plane height requirements which push the second floors further away from the sides. Also, the calculation of floor area has been redefined to include all areas with a solid covered roof (except first floor porches facing the front of the house), regardless of enclosed walls or not.  Unfortunately, these new requirements did not apply to these homes because these rules were not in effect at that time.

The 319 Camillo house is 2,715 square feet in size, and the house at 321 Camillo is 3,136 square feet, both in compliance with the R-1  zoning ordinance in effect prior to May 2013.  

You are welcome to review the plans here at the Development Services counter. Please let me know and we can set the plans aside for you to review at your convenience.  

Thanks,
Danny
DANNY CASTRO | DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT SERVICES
City of Sierra Madre | Development Services Department

Judy Gold had one more question for Mr. Castro, and she wrote her follow-up this way:

From: Judy Gold 
Sent: Tuesday, September 02, 2014 11:52 AM
To: Danny Castro
Subject: 319 & 321 Camillo

Dear Mr. Castro:

I found the codes. Thank you for your help. I have another question or two. If the plans for these 2 structures were submitted today for a plan check, would they be approved? If not approved can you tell me why? - Judith Gold

Here is Danny's rather tragic reply:

From: Danny Castro
To: Judy Gold
Sent: Tue, Sep 2, 2014 12:03 pm
Subject: RE: 319 & 321 Camillo

Dear Mrs. Gold,
If the plans for these two structures at 319 and 321 Camillo were submitted today they could not be approved.  It is obvious that they would not meet the angle plane height requirements (building setback areas along the sides) and we would be calculating additional floor area for all covered roof areas like the carports, but not sure if the additional floor area would result in exceeding what’s allowable for the lot sizes in today’s zoning code.
Danny  

There you go. The developer of the Camillo LULUs obviously had a passing fair knowledge of what was permissible in Sierra Madre at the time, and took full advantage of that situation. At least as far as the applicable zoning codes and ordinances went.

So I've been mulling over the name change at Development Services, and I have come to the conclusion that the exchanges above between Judy Gold and Danny Castro could be called a Development Services kind of conversation. Applicable codes and ordinances were discussed, and then cited as the definitive reasons why things happened as they did. The conclusion being that this is how things are, the LULUs happened because of that, end of story.

So what will the difference be now that Danny's suzerainty within the Puzzle Palace has been renamed Planning and Community Preservation? Or, and as some once troubled children of the late 20th Century might appreciate, PCP?

And my conclusion is that the PCP would not have rolled with these ordinances and codes alone, but would also have brought the General Plan into play as well. In this particular LULU case the 1996 General Plan would have been applicable since it was, and at least for now still is, the one that establishes how this community is supposed to look. Among other things.

Here are the passages from the 1996 General Plan that could have been applied to the Twin LULUs of Camillo Road. The new one will have better protections, but as we've noted it isn't in effect yet. However, if the relevant portions from the "Old '96" GP had been enforced, the necessary protections were there.

From the 1996 GP Introduction:

Page 17 Overview of Land Use PolicyThe fundamental principle behind the land use policy of the General Plan is to maintain the existing low-density, village character of Sierra Madre in the same urban development pattern that exists today.

Page 17 - Residents are able to identify structures which “fit” in Sierra Madre versus those which do not.

Page 18 - Ensuring that new development is compatible in its design with older established development in stable neighborhoods …

I am not sure any residents were consulted when the Camillo LULUs were in their planning stages, which is unfortunate. There is also this from the portion of the 1996 General Plan titled RESIDENTIAL LOW DENSITY:

Page 21 - Require that new development mitigates impacts on the City’s open space, infrastructure, transit services, and other public needs.

Page 21  - Objective L6:  Ensure that the massing and scale of new infill construction, additions and alterations to new structures be consistent with that of the existing block.

Page 21 - Policy L6.3: Limit new buildings in height to reflect the prevailing height patterns on the street and within the Sierra Madre community.

So maybe that will be what distinguishes the old Development Services satrapy from the new Planning and Community Preservation model. That is, the General Plan will also be consulted, along with the kinds of codes and ordinances that were the sole guidance used when the Camillo LULUs were being hatched.

Because if the current General Plan had been brought into play, as it should have, neither of those LULU structures would exist today. And we wouldn't have needed to have this conversation.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

42 comments:

  1. No employee appreciation party this month! If employees cared, they would go that extra mile to make sure the citizens got what they desired. I'll bet no for sale signs go up on these monstrosities. And they can't say the homes were built especially for customers. Who wants a custom house smaller or larger but identical to its neighbor?did mr. Castro bother to look at the architecture? Or did it just fall under that " it falls under 4000 feet" so I am the king of decision making?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The tasteless boobs who buy these houses will be whispered of by their neighbors and be able to tell their friends they live in our foothill village's ugliest homes!

    ReplyDelete
  3. So our highly paid director of Development services was asleep at the wheel, I know he is so busy, I think a lawsuit against the city and revoking the permits is in order.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Where was the planning commision when this happened?
    This looks like it violated the general plan in so many ways.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They weren't in the mix.
      It was Castro's call.

      Delete
    2. Under a city hall run by Elaine Aguilar, the only consideration that counts there is what brings in money. She's running a pension and bennie funding operation over there. We're being sold out. She needs to go.

      Delete
  5. LA can stop construction, but we can't?
    http://www.latimes.com/local/westside/la-me-0911-belair-permits-revoked-20140912-story.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you see any differences in the two instances here: a 30,000 sq ft house looming over a 4000 sf house, destablalizing a hillside and our greedy developer with the cunning of taking two lots of record to their max with the exisiting R-1 regulations for Camillo?

      Delete
    2. 7:09, how about the complete ignoring of the General Plan in the Camillo case? Not relevant?

      Delete
  6. What good is the planning commision? Do they only review a project when there is a variance?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are threshold requirements for a project to be kicked up to the planning commission.
      But the department of planning and preservation, and development servicing, is supposed to enforce the rules before that.
      According to the general plan (see above), they didn't.
      The Camillo "houses" are their responsibility.

      Delete
  7. The Planning Commission only reviews Conditional Use Permits and Variances. Like Danny said, this project was compliant with the code AT THE TIME (the loopholes have since been closed). Remember: Just because it's ugly, doesn't mean it's illegal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Abiding by the General Plan, Development Services should not have allowed these thingss to be built.

      Delete
  8. Another LULU you all need to look at is on North Lima, not sure the address, east side. Nouveau chateau, stucco, portico and lotline to lotline look if there ever was one. But only one. Just imagine if there had been two lots there! Twin uglys at North Camillo is nothing new in this town. There are twin uglies that went up on Sycamore, east side, before street squeezes into Los Rocas. These were build 20 some years ago by Tiimmes builders (sp.?) and there is a singleton of his design or maybe twins west on Highland or Montecito, just before Sunnyside. So darn many it is hard to do this from memory. The main miss here is:

    Page 21 - Objective L6: Ensure that the massing and scale of new infill construction, additions and alterations to new structures be consistent with that of the existing block.

    Page 21 - Policy L6.3: Limit new buildings in height to reflect the prevailing height patterns on the street and within the Sierra Madre community.

    Now with Danny's new title this should be formost in his over the counter analysis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 190 N. Lima
      The Timmons: 660 W Montecito, 368 Sycamore (and next door). Then see what you think of 350 Acacia. This huge house on a huge lot, is nowhere near "consistent" with the neighborhood. It would be interesting to see if that was a lot amalgamation.
      Then 363 Camillo has been torn down, the construction fence barely hides the bit left over. In the past the weasels I mean builders, would keep one wall up and then rebuilt the rest of the project into a new house. One of the worst examples of that was on Brookside, where the house was jacked up, and a basement added underneath, then the house was lowered down and by golly it collapsed. Brand new huge house, expanded beyond its original footprint and today no one would be the wiser unless you lived through that nightmare. That is the real trouble: community memory or lack of.

      Delete
  9. What is the role of the General Plan in situations like this? Does it have weight, or is it just a greeting card?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a greeting card for sure. And one that never gets read.

      Delete
    2. That must change. The city ignoring the General Plan is a very serious problem.

      Delete
  10. I would like to know who the architect was. Clever devil.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A wink and a nod from certain city personnel would have been all he needed.

      Delete
    2. Apparently at city hall the front desk is also a back door.

      Delete
  11. I thought that the General Plan was a big fancy schmancy expensive document that was legal - but it's really optional?

    ReplyDelete
  12. So has the revised General Plan been submitted and approved? Doesn't matter how relevant it is if it hasn't been approve... Demand that the City Council vote on the General Plan!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed, but even so, the old one would have prevented those houses if it had been paid attention to.

      Delete
    2. How did it get ignored like that? This is infuriating.

      Delete
  13. Why would we pay some consultant $500,000 to help make up a General Plan if it didn't mean anything??

    ReplyDelete
  14. You people have way to much time on your hands. The architecture may not be to your liking but its a legal development project. I wonder how you would feel if people came over to your homes and criticized your tastes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welcome to a functioning democracy. Violations of the General Plan are taken seriously here. That it might have been enabled by persons employed by us is an equally serious matter. If you don't like it, try North Korea. There everyone is kept busy.

      Delete
    2. 9;20 is probably the same kind of person who would paint his house pink and put pink flamingos in front and say screw you if you think its an eyesore in the neighborhood. Nobody wants to micromanage anybody's project. We're talking here about off the charts bad.

      Delete
    3. 9:20, the point of the whole discussion is that it's not legal according to the General Plan.

      Delete
    4. Thank you. I think that could be what 9:20 is concerned about.

      Delete
    5. 9:20 interpreted - "Everybody shut up and only say things I want to hear!!"

      Delete
  15. The transformation of Sierra Madre will not happen over-night. Arcadia didn't suddenly change over-night particularly the southern part. It happens one bad project at a time and before you know it, its over. You can't go back and reverse these things just like you can't reverse the Camillo disaster. We need to stop it now. We have one chance to do so. Whatever time we put in now to eliminate all loopholes will not only save Sierra Madre, it will also mean we don't have to spend so much time down the road dealing with these kinds of problems.

    ReplyDelete
  16. We care about Sierra Madre and the impact of development on the city. If one monstrosity had been built on the lot, we probably would have just shook the collective head. (As long as it wasn't boundary to boundary on the lot, however it would have to to the PC). Everyone realizes the developer did his homework and everyone realizes that, maybe, just maybe, a little more thought to what citizens (unlike you) in the community feel is best. I don't know where you live, but if on either side of you, you had houses that looked down into your house and yard, violating your privacy, you would be overjoyed. That's what it's about here. Homes. Old fashioned homes. Not the population density wanted by other cities for the money.

    ReplyDelete
  17. We need to form a citizen's watch dog committee to make sure all of the needed protections for development are written into the General Plan, codes, and ordinances. We can't trust this to staff.

    ReplyDelete
  18. What exactly does a city employee have to do to get fired? What is the threshold? Murder? Sell drugs out of the trunk of a police cruiser? I really want to know. Because it looks like they can do any old thing they please and face no consequences.

    ReplyDelete
  19. City managers gone bad:
    http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-ex-upland-city-manager-jail-20140909-story.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not exactly a running with scissors offense.

      Delete
  20. There was a point in time, before Measure V, when "development services" was happy to abide to the likes of Mur-Sol.
    Just have a look at the two homes built on the split lot in the 500 block of Santa Anita Court. The original lot had many palm trees that were bulldozed down, a swimming pool, and a nice green belt that faced the street, and also included the original Grove House of the areas lemon and orange grove. It was a beautiful property that was turned into Arcadia like. Now tell me how these two homes fit the look of the neighborhood. Thank heavens we passed Measure V.








    ReplyDelete
  21. There is a Police Officers Handbook which sets the pattern for City Managers and governmental employees. In essence it fits a loose legal application to their jobs. They know how to get away with it, how the law will be applied to their actions, and what lawyer to call to apply pressure in their behalf. They intimidate the honestly elected officials with all kinds of subterfuge. The real action takes place when discussing Salaries, Benefits, and Pensions.
    with the Council. A house and twin built way out of character with the neighborhood received a yawn and maybe a joke or two. They knew exactly what they were doing. Ms Aguilar is a master of deception and the "wink and nod" management style. : )

    ReplyDelete
  22. Oh, so now Elaine does plan checking too? I knew she micro managed, but not to that extent.

    ReplyDelete
  23. http://claremontca.blogspot.com/2008/03/yorba-linda-shows-tammy-door.html

    Former City Manager here in Sierra Madre, although the blog does not mention this, moved to Yorba LInda and not long afterward was fired!

    ReplyDelete