At one point during last night's City Council meeting the following somewhat liberating thought occurred to me. What if things were to change so much for the better in the City of Sierra Madre that my gadfly of a blog was no longer necessary? After all, it is the somewhat obstreperous child of a certain tumultuous period in the history of our favorite town, and certainly at that troubled moment this nightly exercise in typing became a quite necessary thing. Or at least I and my handful of beloved accomplices have always thought so.
But what if that time should finally pass into history, and something far more caring and protective of Sierra Madre take its place? For one thing I wouldn't have to be sitting at the kitchen table at midnight writing stuff like this. Instead I'd be sleeping. Which honestly I'd much prefer to be doing at this moment. Though the bagel and iced tea I just made for myself taste pretty good.
However, while we are probably not quite at that point just yet, last night's City Council meeting did give me at least an indication that the luminescent glow on the horizon might actually be a sunrise. Rather than just another late night hillside brush fire, or somebody surreptitiously burning their trash.
So how good were last night's deliberations on the General Plan? Very good. I'm going to list here four or five of those finer moments and even wiser decisions. You might have noted a couple of them that I passed over, and I'd be grateful if you added your favorite moments here as well. I can't remember everything, you know.
But before we do that, let me just say that the Slow Growth Movement (in capitals because why not?) of this town won some very big victories last night. I am not certain anybody five years ago would have ever believed that such a thing could happen. We were all so underground back then. Anonymous, as it were. But apparently this did happen. Others called and confirmed it for me.
Matt Bryant, one of the leading lights in the newly formed Preserve Sierra Madre group, and a guy who knows his way around a microphone, gave what I thought was a pretty brilliant speech. But not only did he talk about some of the things that many of us have long hoped for, he actually made four of them stick. And by that I mean the City Council agreed with him, and then shuffled those notions straight into the General Plan deck where they'll do the most good.
1) Language is important. Somewhere along the line (it might have been the Planning Commission at a time when they really should have taken that coffee break) replaced the word "ensure" with "encourage" in their version of the updated General Plan. As in, "We need to encourage little Bobby not to hit the neighbor's puppy with a stick." Which is wrong. We need to ensure that Bobby doesn't hit the puppy because bratty little kids (and most developers) don't respond very well to encouragement. They need to be forced to behave. Matt Bryant asked that the word "ensure" be returned to the General Plan. The City Council said sure, why not. And then did it.
3) Height restrictions had somehow vanished from the General Plan mix. Otherwise known as L7.3 (I was called an L7 in high school more than once), it had hopefully kept the forces of darkness from building looming two story shadow makers in neighborhoods where everything else is a sunny and very Sierra Madre single story. L7.3 was returned to the fold and the General Plan will now prevent so grievous a thing from ever happening again.
The next item is rather remarkable. It really is. I thought I should say that first.
4) Institute a Design Review Committee. What is a design review committee you might ask? It would be a group of people who would ensure (and not merely encourage) that the wisdom contained within the General Plan be applied to all new projects in town. Housing and otherwise. This is, in my opinion, a direct response to what happened with those two damned things being built on Camillo Road. The soon to depart Director Danny, of what was once unfortunately known as Development Services, claimed that these twin monsters met the legalistic requirements of that time, and therefore he had to give that crass idiot of a developer the approvals he wanted. But this was (to put it as nicely as possible) an error. The 1996 General Plan was not consulted, with the result being folks on Camillo Road will now forever suffer those twin monuments to City Hall faithlessness.
Other things happened, of course. Heather Allen noted that someone had slipped into the General Plan the term "largely built out." This in regards to the downtown area specifically, but might also be applied to the rest of the town as well. Heather wanted that changed to simply say "built out." Which is what was originally there. The City Council did that. Language counts, and we need to ensure (not just encourage) that the proper words are used. Otherwise the weasels will escape from their hutches and eat the chickens.
Mayor John Harabedian needs to be commended for the way he ran this meeting. The three minute clock was ignored, as was the Joe Mosca joy button. People went up to the podium whenever they felt the need to do so, had their say, and got a respectful response. The artificial border between City Council and concerned resident somehow melted away, and this truly became a community discussion.
Just neighbors talking to neighbors about how they want to see planning and land use done in this town, with little of that stupid and phony hauteur so prevalent during some of our previous Mayoral administrations. Nobody was told to sit down or threatened with being "taken out."
Quite a night. Now if we can get City Hall to live within its means (or should I say our means), while also instituting the proposed governmental reforms that are so obviously needed here, there could be some hope for this place yet.
Perhaps then I could retire this blog. Or better yet, just change the name to The California Tattler and go after the rest of the state. Lord knows that they deserve it.
We'll have to see. Like I said, we're not there yet. But closer than we were last month.