Friday, January 16, 2015

The Planning Commission Appears To Do The Right Thing

Danny was out of town and couldn't attend.
I've come to the conclusion that the Planning Commission is like the City Council minus that illusive entertainment factor. They're smart and purposeful and all, and they sincerely want to do what is right for the community. Of that I have little doubt. But never having run for office (with the exception of crowd favorite Kevin Paschall), they just do not seem to see the need to bring things to any sort of an exciting conclusion. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, I guess. Planning isn't exactly Bingo. Or even Yahtzee.

But by the end of the meeting the crowd of 35 or so people that had shown up and did the right thing dwindled to less than ten by the conclusion of the evening's activities. Poor party planning perhaps. Or maybe the beer ran out. That will always clear a room.

Superficial and unnecessarily gratuitous complaints aside, I have to say that the Planning Commission seemed to do the right thing last night. Seemed to do the right thing because until we get a good look at the fully realized ordinance on February 5th, I can't be quite sure. You shouldn't be either. Certainly things are going to be much improved, but perhaps not quite as much as many in attendance had hoped. But who really knows for sure? As John Hutt noted, the devil is in the details.

One very good result is that a Conditional Use Permit (CUP for the acronymically inclined) will now be required for any hoped for home with a second story on it. Commissioner Matt Buckles was very good on this matter and brought it home. A tip of the Tattler hat. This is a great way to incentivize one story homes as any wannabe wickiup with a second story will now be subject to a required Planning Commission review, and all that it entails.

In my humble opinion this remedy is a direct result of the Camillo Road disaster. Had that two stories of fun been forced to undergo the scrutiny of the Planning Commission it is quite probable it would never have seen the light of day. Or the darkness of night, either. Certainly it deserved neither.

Future LULU projects such as Camillo Road would likely never survive the kind of thorough vetting a visit to Council Chambers on a Thursday evening will bring. This is a new and very important addition to community planning here.

Not quite as good, but not all that bad either, was the decision regarding how many square feet a house must be before going for a Planning Commission review. Right now the threshold is about 4,000 square feet, which is a large number. Many houses in this community (Camillo Road springs to mind again) came in at right around 3,999 square feet, and therefore escaped the scrutiny of the Planning Commission.

All the developer needed to do was shovel money over the counter at City Hall for permits, which is a whole other story.

Here's another point. Currently any news of a project coming in at 4,000-ish square feet does not have to be shared with the community. Meaning that you could wake up one unhappy day in the shade of two stories and 4,000 square feet of somebody else's mini-mansion glory, and never even knew it was coming. Some people in this town have, and were quite unpleasantly surprised.

That threshold number will now decrease to somewhere around 3,000 to 3,200 square feet. I use the term "around" because this is apparently to be a graduated scheme that will depend upon things like the size and width of the lot. Which means is that for a house to actually get built after this new system is put into place, and without being subjected to Planning Commission review, it will need to be less than (approximately) 3,000 to 3,200 square feet, and just one single story.

I am not sure our local McMansion lovers are going to be too much in love with that one. Throw in the new General Plan and "floor area ratio" calculations (also worked out last night to the benefit of this community), and what goes on in Arcadia will stay in Arcadia.

The way it incentivizes smaller houses is that people will try and stay below that size threshold so they don’t have to go through a rigorous and potentially costly Planning Commission review process. A smaller threshold (like 3,000 square feet, or 3,200 on bigger lots), along with that one story requirement, will help make for smaller houses.

There is no doubt that 3,200-ish square feet is plenty damn big enough. But many more projects will hit that now lower threshold and be required to come before the Planning Commission for approval. Which is the way it ought to be. No bodacious big barns should ever be built in Sierra Madre without having had to face the community first.

Formerly ignored neighbors will now be empowered, and property owner rights for people who actually live here fully restored and strengthened.

Commissioner Frierman-Hunt added a huge element to the mix when she pushed for and succeeded in getting a finding for strengthening neighborhood compatibility. Any new home coming before the Planning Commission for approval will now need to be deemed compatible with the surrounding neighborhood to win. A beautiful thing.

All in all some pretty good results. Not perfect, but not bad either. But like I said, let's wait until we get to look over the resulting new ordinance language on February 5th before getting out the Yahtzee board and funny hats. And if it isn't right then? We can always appeal the matter to the City Council. That's worked before.

Oh, and the Leticia Cardoso fan club continues to grow. She was prepared and fully in charge of all the material.

I'll bet she plays a mean game of poker.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

73 comments:

  1. Why was Danny Castro's name on the staff report? And do we even have a "Development Services Director" any more?

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    1. We do not! Bart Doyle's twisted christening of the Planning Department has finally run out. We have a Director of Planning and Community Preservation.

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    2. They need to fix the paperwork.

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  2. As someone who was not able to attend, it appears the Planning Commission made some good decisions in the direction of preserving this town. While it can be pretty dry stuff, there is no question about its importance. If the Tattler is correct in its summary and, as the Tattler points out, the end result stays the same, than it does strike a blow at McMansions in Sierra Madre.

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    1. I've been to many PC meetings over the years, and you're right that it is very dry stuff. It's a different kind of listening that residents have to do. That said, a well run meeting, with the chair drawing out comments from each commissioner, with more opportunities given for public comments after the commissioners have spoken, with better summarizing remarks, the meetings aren't so bad. More people would have stayed to the end if there had been more efficiency. And it would have ended sooner.

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    2. The Chairperson Desai DOES NOT know how to run a meeting period. Someone needs to tell him that he is the LAST commissioner to speak, not the first. Also he is not supposed to push his ideas, but summarize what everyone has said. He should watch a City Council meeting to see how our mayor runs a meeting. Desai is 100% to blame for the 1 Carter house being passed. He opened his mouth at the wrong time and made several recommendations for changes. He played right into the hands of the developer. If anyone knows him, please clue him in. We don't need six more months of him screwing up the meetings. There will be too many important things on the agenda.

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    3. I agree 12:11

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    4. Yes, we need Desai to run the meeting the way Harabedian does which is the correct way. He's needs to speak less and let the others talk. He just does not know how to conduct a meeting. If anybody knows him, maybe you can gently point that out. Its gets boring to hear him monopolize the conversation. That's why people start leaving. He needs to engage the other Planning Commission Members and engage the audience.

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  3. Does anyone know what happend to Bob Spears? He's missed a few critical meetings including the meeting that resulted int the ultimate of the One Carter projet. He's been a pretty strong preservationist and it would be nice to have him there when important decisions are made.

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    1. Good question, and an important one. Where is Bob? CETT's lawyer get him benched?

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    2. Commissioner Spears is sorely missed when he's not there. But I thought that Friedman-Hunt, Buckles and Paschall seemed to get what the community is asking for.

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    3. Yes. I did not know Mr. Buckles very well before last night. What a very pleasant surprise to hear him fighting to curb second story development!

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    4. Freierman-Hunt can always be counted on to have done her homework, and to speak for the majority of Sierra Madreans.

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    5. It is good to see her back up there. An independent and informed thinker.

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    6. We actually have a majority of excellent Planning Commissioners when they are all presents. Spears needs to attend more. Some of these meeting coming up are just too important to miss. Desai, Goldman is it and Pevsner are the ones that still hold on to a pro-development mentallity that is rapidly going away.

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  4. I'm glad to know that a CUP threshold will be required for all second stories. Almost every new home going up nowadays is a 2-story home. If that trend continues, there simply won't be any 1-story homes in Sierra Madre. 2-story homes have the most impact on hurting the neighbors' values, views, light and privacy. If my immediate neighbor needed to expand their 1-story home because of a gowing family, I would much rather have them go "out" rather than "up". Its not even a close call. Its the second stories that cause the problem. 1-story homes don't block views, light and privacy and don't adversely impact on the neighbor's value either. Whatever we can do to provide carrots and sticks to promote 1-story homes is going to help reverse the trend of now always building 2-story homes or adding that second story. Another incentive that can be used to promote 1-stories is with the floor area limits. Allow someone to build a little bigger home if they go 1-story rather than 2-story. Another benefit of all this, is that it keeps the peace. Nothing will cause a rift among neighbors faster than when one neighbor does something like build a 2-story that adversely implacts the value, views, light and privacy of the neighbors. Of course these incentives won't stop all 2-story homes and shouldn't because 2-story homes can be apprpriate in certain circumstances. But at least they can help level the playing field so that at least a portion of new homes or existing homes that want to expand are 1-story.

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    1. Happened to me in 1993. Blocked the valley view of four of us neighbors.

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    2. There are too many stories of people that happened to. I know of one where the couple had been there for 60 years, when a 2 story structure was built on a large lot behind them - exactly in the spot to block their view of the mountains. The new building could have gone many other places on the property.

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    3. I had a neighbor change a 1- story home into a 2-story on a rising slope above me which effectively made it a 3-story home from where I'm at. Horribly unfair. Ruined my views and my property value. Couldn't stop it. It was also under that 4,000 sq. ft. threshold for a CUP. Needless, to say that breached the relationship with the neighbor.

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    4. It would be very rare that a 1-story home causes any problems for the neighbors. As I walk around town I see the newer 2-story sandwiched between two 1-story homes and I just think "poor neighbors". They probably didn't expect that when they decided to buy their particular home.

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    5. I bet a lot of those neighbors were stunned to discover that their little city government didn't lift a finger to protect them. That is why we need Preserve Sierra Madre. It is like a union for home owners.

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    6. If Preserve Sierra Madre is like a union, it may be the first and only time I support one. There is no question of the power and influence that occurs when people band together. That combined with a great cause like preserving the last foothill village in the area. As Lincoln said, "Right makes might.".

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  5. What happens in Arcadia stays in Arcadia
    Good one Crawford.

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    1. HMZ does not stand for "Hillside Mistress Zone."

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  6. I hope the Planning Commission made some significant reductions to the Floor Area Limits (the size of a home you can build on a certain size lot). That's really the whole ball game. Developers make their profit from the spread between the cost to build per sq. ft. and the ulitmate value per sq. ft. Cost to build is generally about $200 to $300 per sq. ft. The value of the home's price per sq. ft. in Sierra Madre could be $500-$700 per square foot depending upon the size of the home. The only way a developer can tear down one of our historical treasures is if they can build a much bigger home. In other words, the only way to recoup that initial cost of tearing down a house is by building a much larger home that takes advantage of the difference between the cost to build per sq. ft. and the resulting value per sq. ft. When we put limits on the floor area, it simply becomes impossible to make a profit after tearing down a home. The result is that we have less teardowns of homes in Sierra Madre which is a good thing.

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    1. We must bang down those floor area limits. That is the whole thing. With the stroke of a pen, we can stop McMansions in Sierra Madre. They need to be bold in what they do.

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  7. Sierra Madre, the little city that talks back.

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    1. More people need to talk back.

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  8. We need to keep the momentum going. People can help by getting Preserve Sierra Madre email addresses of thoese who support the cause. The more people they have in their database, the easier they can contact people with their "News Alerts" about important meetings and threats to our vlillage in the foothillls. If everyone can add five friends to the database, we can triple it in a very short time. Email Preserve Sierra Madre at PreserveSierraMadreNow@gmail.com. or go to their website at PreserveSierraMadre.com

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  9. Preserve Sierra Madre has the website address www.PreserveSierraMadre.com but they were unable to get the email address PreserveSierraMadre@gmail.com. Does anybody know who has that or how we can take it away if no one is using it. Right now the Preserve Sierra Madre email address is PreserveSierraMadreNow@gmail.com. If any tech experts or Tattlerites can offer any help in this regard, let us know. It would be nice to have the website address and email address be consistent. Thank you

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  10. I have three comments. When I first started going to pc meetings, the first thing I watched was this planning commission giving permission for Mur Sol to build condos on Mariposa. Wow the bulk and size of that is overwhelming. No view left for the people across the street. Talk about stretched to each corner of the lot! Last night, I saw a roll of the eyes when Paschal went against Dusai. I also noticed that Dusai was not pleased That his decision was over turned by city council. I also saw that he really tried to push his own agenda. So we have gained a slight compromise, but Mr. Hutt is so right. See the proof first, then decide.

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    1. I agree with your descriptions 7:52. Add to them the fact that Desai was the chair for the meeting when the commission was nudged into approving the first Carter big box. He kept assuring the applicant's representatives (we never have seen the actual applicant, ever) that they could do it. Wonder if that decision would have gone differently with different leadership.

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    2. Somebody has to help Desai and explain to him that the chair is supposed to speak last, and summarize what everyone else has said!

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    3. Yes Desai is not quite the preservationist we need. They should put a 3-minute clock on him.

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    4. Yes 9:33!
      Actually, as it's the Planning Commission, it's a 4 minute clock.
      The guy definitely needs to curtail the length of time he speaks.

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    5. Mur-Sol and the Grohs brothers are responsible for alot of the McMansions that you see in Arcadia and now Sierra Madre. The project on Mariposa is a monster. There were no limits on them. They destroyed the views of the neighbors to the south. Mur-Sol is working with the City and local realtors to destroy our town.

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  11. Leticia should be the permanent Development Dept. Director. Let's all write to Elaine and encourage her to make Leticia permanent

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    1. Planner Cardoso is always in command of the material she's responsible for. We would be very lucky if she would be the Planning Director.

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    2. Too bad she wasn't the one to run the meeting.

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    3. The comments above are very important .It proves that Tattler people are not always anti-City Staff.
      Please don't underestimate the dark forces that attempt to corrupt and pervert a decent, competent City employee.Just ask Steve Pock.
      Let's do our best to keep the best and dump the rest ! Elaine Aguillar has to go!

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    4. Most people are very anxious to love this city's government. It is just that so many times in the past it has worked for interests that are antithetical to those of the taxpayers that sustain it. When the packed room Tuesday evening rose and gave the City Council a standing ovation, it was a telling moment. City hall had actually done the right thing, and people were overjoyed. It is sad to think that this was an exception and not the rule.

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    5. That's right 9:38. People really appreciate when the City Government and our representatives are actually looking out for us. Letecia is a jewel. But, believe it our not, Elaine has been pretty helpful to the preservation cause and to Preserve Sierra Madre. We also have to give credit to our City Attorney who worked behind the scenes to finalize a staff report that provided legal cover for the City Council's decision. They all worked on our behalf this time. We need to give credit where credit is due.

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    6. I'm confused about the city attorney's role in the Carter mess. She obviously coached the planning commission to give in, and then she's helpful to the council to overturn that surrender?

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    7. Mood swing management.

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  12. I thought Desai was way out of line last night. He did most of the talking to the point where other Commissioners had to interrupt him to be heard. He had his list all cobbled up before the start of the meeting and kept referring back to it to keep the other commissioners from being more openly involved in the real discussion. Fierman-Hunt, Buckles and Paschall kept on with their understanding of what the city wanted and got applause from the small group of stalwarts that were in the audience. You can find that all of Desai's ponderings, not being led by the chair but being directed by him, were constantly returning to the larger end of the building spectrum. Good that they ended where they did but it was not clear it was heading that direction for most of the meeting.

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    1. Yes, Desai is a problem. When does his term expire. He has his own agenda and its now out of sync with the vast majority of Sierra Madre residents. He actually only wanted to lower the CUP threshold from 4,000 sq. ft to 3800 sq. ft. Thank goodness Gina was there to tell him that's still too high. That alone shows you how out of touch he is. We have a great City Council right now. If only we had as strong a Planning Commission.

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    2. Well said 9:24 and 9:36.
      The chair was so busy pushing his own agenda that he completely neglected the duties of his appointment. He also came out clearly as an advocate for the building industry.
      So who got to him, or was he always like that and it just didn't show as much before?
      His term isn't over til 2016. At least Love-those-big-houses Pevsner is termed out this year.

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    3. Pevsner is probably the most pro-McMansion person on the Planning Commission with Desai a close second. Last night Desai proposed that the CUP threshold be lowered only to 3,800 sq. ft from the current 4,000 sq. ft. which would not have caused a dent in McMansion building and teardowns. I'm depressed that he's there until 2016. He ought to be sacked if that's possible particularly after the One Carter debacle in which let CETT off the hook with some softball compliance requirements. If that ever goes to court, you can bet that CETT and their attorney will use the Planining Commissions "expert" approval of the project against us. Desai needs to keep his mouth shut and think before he talks and as importantly, let others talk.

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  13. Maybe the unusual number of residents in attendance threw the commission.

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  14. (Got this post from Don Watts on another article. Thought I should move it up here so more people will see it.)

    I have heard the news, and have nothing but pride in Our Town. Over the years I have seen many residents who had "drunk the Koolaid " dished out by the "Development Uber Alles people" who had said the right things but once elected pushed thoughtless development the city simply does not want. This time no one was fooled.

    A lot of residents deserve praise, too many to mention, who had bravely stood up to this threat. I want to congratulate you all, but be vigilant. These people are still around, and there is a lot of money around ready to entice development. interests.

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    1. Right on Don. Any chance we can pull him out of retirement.

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    2. Don is in Albania serving with the Peace Corps. Don walks the walk.

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  15. For the time being lets just concentrate on getting the best from this very good city council. Rachelle will be able to be involved in all the discussions on changes to the zoning standards to keep "Arcadia in Arcadia." Stay off the City Manager for the time being, else wise the attacks on her make her into an underdog and people always feel sorry for the underdog and go to the defense by default. We don't want the City Council to be distracted by have to go to her defense.

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    1. I agree. Elaine has done good things lately. I'd say lay off her.

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    2. I can tell you first-hand that Elaine has been very cooperative and helpful with the people at Preserve Sierra Madre. As someone said above, our City Attorney also did an excellent job in providing the legal cover for our City Council to overturn the Planning Commission's decision. Our City Council has been sterling when it comes to preservation. Its nice to know that if the Planning Commission fails us, we still have the City Council to correct the mistakes.

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  16. Leticia stated Tuesday night that her efforts were not hers alone. She said it was a joint effort. I hope Elaine sees Leticia's abilities andmake her the department head. It would go a long way to improving her reputation. Also. the pc needs to be pushed like the city council was pushed. There is no room for a single agenda from the pc. DeSai needs to follow the rules, take note of how Mr. Harabedian runs a meeting, and follow suit. If I hear him one more time, say he's an architect, I will vomit.

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    1. Desai needs to run a better meeting and we do need to start trying to have the Planning Commission understand that their job is not merely to try to help make projects "work" but to insure compliance with the General Plan and Hilliside Management Zone. I wonder how many have even read those documents.

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  17. Elaine and Bruce need to be given their walking papers. Both of them have dirty hands. We got rid of that horrible Nancy led CC, now it's time to finish the job.

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    1. Thanks for the correction. I meant to say, bled...

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    2. I'm going to have to disagree. Elaine has been very helpful to the preservation movement. Not everybody knows what she does behind the scenes. I think we need to give her another chance. Keep in mind that she had to answer and do the bidding of a lousy city council before. Now that she works for a great city council, I suspect she will do great things as well for our city.

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  18. May I say the "...Nancy led CC..." is a misnomer of gargantuan proportions? Nancy driven would be more appropriate if it could be stated even more strongly..

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    1. Driven as in "driven into the ditch"?

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    2. My guess is that while Walsh was mayor, the town was led by whomever flattered her the most at any given moment.
      Often that would have been Aguilar.

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    3. It'll be the same when Capoccia is Mayor next year. He and the City Mgr. are BFFs.

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    4. Capoccia does seem to listen to Elaine more than most, but he has a mind of his own, and will stand up to her in a nano-sec if she disagrees with him.

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    5. I agree 2:25. But I wish someone would clue him in to some of her lies. Just so he knows for sure.

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    6. She needs to go! She makes too much money. They'll say that they'll need to add more staff to review all those new CUP's... Developers have deep pockets. City residents that want to remodel or make an addition will have to pay through their teeth.

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    7. The commissioners talked about how the increase in the CUPs would affect everything. Paschall said it was what they were there for, and Buckels said it would slow down things, which wasn't bad.
      Nobody talked about needing staff increases.

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    8. Johm Capoccia will come through when it counts. I loved the way he called out that attorney on Tuesday night. When he's on the right side of an issue, he can be a very effective advocate. He seems to support the preservation movement and for that he should be commended.

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    9. Elaine had to work for some very bad city councils. When she is the one forced to implement their decisions, she gets tarnished by that. Let's see how she does with this City Council and with some of these important issues. My guess is that her stock is going to rise along with the great City Council we now have in place.

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    10. Elaine has taken every side of every issue that has ever existed. Beware.

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    11. I don't trust her or film flam Inman.

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