|Illustration provided by the Sierra Madre Society for the Preservation of 1950s California Homes|
Pretty serious stuff. And as is usually the case at City Council meetings, special or otherwise, Barry Gold rose from his seat, walked over to the public comment podium, and said what needed to be said. Which is good because Barry was the only public commenter we had at that point. Here is what he shared last night:
The developers who want to build McMansions here in Sierra Madre know that after 4 years we are about one more year away from implementing the revised General Plan and updating the municipal code.
During this next year they will try to build as many oversized houses as they can.
This City Council, unlike some before it, has diligently worked on preserving Sierra Madre's uniqueness. You unanimously passed the building and water hook-up moratoriums and implemented Phase 3 of the water conservation program.
You have held several special City Council meetings devoted to finalizing the General Plan, and you have made significant changes to the revised General Plan to improve the preservation of our Village of the Foothills.
Your efforts to preserve a cherished way of life here in Sierra Madre are truly appreciated.
Tonight you have an opportunity to further the preservation process by adopting a Demolition Moratorium. It has been suggested that this moratorium cover homes over 45 years old where 50% or more of the floor area or value is being demolished. I think 40 years and 35% would be better, but I leave it to you to make those decisions. The goal is to reduce the amount of construction until the General Plan is put into place. I urge you all to vote for this moratorium.
This will not stop the developers from finding other ways to build their monstrosities. But it will noticeably reduce the number that they can build. Consequently other interim measures may be needed. In this regard it would be helpful to know what permits are being requested.
Such a list is not available to the public. If I request permit information on a specific address Development Services will give me the information at a reasonable charge. The problem is that I have to know the address where a permit is being requested.
I am so worried about another Camillo Road happening that Development Services should have available to the public a " Projects Planning List" similar to the one in the December 5th City Manager's Report.
This will let us know what projects are being proposed. We can then, if needed, bring to your attention other interim measures for you to consider. Please have Development Services make such a list available.
Cutting to the chase, City Staff and the City Attorney were instructed by the entire City Council (with varying levels of enthusiasm) to get busy and create a home demolition ordinance for them to dig into. This newborn tear down moratorium ordinance will then be finalized at the January 27th meeting.
There will be blank spaces left for Councilmembers to fill in themselves. Length of the moratorium's existence (since the longest that it can legally exist is two years), and the percentages of how much of a residential structure can be mulched, to be determined. Also a distinction between interior and exterior demolitions, bearing walls vs. non-bearing walls, outside appearances of wickiups, stuff like that.
The devil is in the details, as they say.
It wasn't all clear sailing. Gene Goss got complicated at one point. I am not quite certain what it is he was concerned about, but I suspect in the end he will move towards the light. Something about people who might want to do home improvements and not just tear the place down to build a McMansion being hurt. Elaine Aguilar, bless her heart, gently advised against over-thinking and counseled the Council a bit on the perils of too much complication. At least in this instance.
Mayor Harabedian also got a little abstruse, especially about the provenance of the homes to be protected. He at one point favored a freshness dating of the 1940s and earlier, and several times derided this town's many happy hogans built in the 1950s. Which, in a lot of ways, are the most affordable in the community and a last refuge for Sierra Madre's at risk less than uppah middle class constituency. You know, where people whose kids go to public school rather than the Gooden live?
Before I fled screaming east I lived in just such a home and it did keep the rain out and gave the kids a place to sleep that was superior to the backseat of the family car. And even after the real estate staging sprite had the place painted an odd light green and brown combination, making the place look a little bit like an ice cream sandwich, it was something that a person of my era could love.
Perhaps it is a generational bias? Could be. Maybe somebody with otherworldly powers could arrange for the troubled spirits of Bob Keeshan, Howdy Doody and Woody Woodpecker (or maybe even Gerald McBoing Boing) to pay the Mayor a late night visit and school him on the subtle glories of the Eisenhower era? A little 1950s sensitivity training could go a long ways here.
These are not serious complaints, however. I believe this moratorium will pass unanimously on the 27th. However, and just in case, you might not want to leave all of the heavy lifting to Mr. Gold. As capable as he is I do believe others ought to be there to express their concerns as well.
I'm just saying.
The General Plan was then pored over and processed upon by the City Council. Several of the members of the General Plan Update Steering Committee came to speak on their areas of expertise, and were as eloquent and informative as always. They really are some of the smartest and best informed people in town.
The Los Angeles Times shockingly suggests that developers do not always keep their promises
This appeared in yesterday's edition and was forwarded to me by Judy Gold.
In L.A., conditions placed on developers go unheeded (link) - Worried about how new shops, bars and apartments might affect Los Angeles neighborhoods, community groups and city officials have tried to tie strings to local development.
They have demanded parking spots to ease the crunch on crowded streets, sought to limit the hours businesses can stay open, and even insisted on community perks such as a senior center. But many neighborhood activists complain that once the city gives the green light for development, those promises are overlooked.
For example, in the Fairfax area, the Grove was supposed to include a 500-square-foot employment office along with its gleaming shops and buzzing restaurants, according to planning documents. Yet last year — more than a decade after the mall opened — the city planning department found that no such job center existed.
The Grove developer, Caruso Affiliated, created a new online portal for hiring and said it was providing job postings and applications at its concierge desk, steps that satisfied the planning department. But that happened only after years of hectoring by a local consultant, who remains unconvinced that the developer and property owner Gilmore Co. fulfilled their promises.
"It bothers me that the community was taken advantage of," said land use consultant Robert Cherno. "I'm not asking them to do anything they're not supposed to do."
Another case recently landed the city in court: The developer of a 22-story apartment building in Hollywood was required by the planning department to preserve the facade of the Old Spaghetti Factory, a restaurant building on the site. Yet two years ago, the developer obtained a permit from another city agency to raze the entire structure. A similar facade was built in its place.
In an internal email, one city official called it a "demo permit fiasco." A judge invalidated construction permits for the building last year, throwing its future into question.
And in yet another case, city planners required the 526-unit Da Vinci apartment project alongside the 110 Freeway to have a ventilation system with higher-strength air filters to capture some of the particles produced from vehicle exhaust. Developer G.H. Palmer Associates did not take steps to install the proper equipment until after The Times began asking city officials about the requirement, a Building and Safety spokesman said.
Something to keep in mind. Oftentimes these guys do whatever they like anyway. And as helpful as the planning guidance of a City government might be at times, out there on the streets the story is often very different.