Friday, November 6, 2015

Henry A. Darling Mess: The Confusion At Last Night's Planning Commission Meeting

Accurate measurements optional.
Here are my notes from last night's meeting. There is not a whole lot to say except that this one was not quite ready for prime time.

And you do have to ask, what kind of planning staff brings forward a project to the Planning Commission without knowing the square footage of a project accurately? Most peculiar. There wasn't any decision last night, nor will there be, until the numbers are right. It was just a terrible waste of the Planning Commission's time. I am not sure I have seen confusion at quite this level before.

Commissioner Desai first brought up the discrepancies on the measuring square footage. All good catches on his part. Apparently the architect for the project did not know where and how to begin and end taking the measurements. That was a concern as gross floor area is very, very important. Especially when both the size of the project and the lot in question are pretty much the topic for the evening.

In case anyone was wondering, here is the topic and how it was worded.


Commissioner Hinton wanted clarification on why the minor CUP ends up not being required regarding the crawl space. Why don't we already have a definition for crawl space? Just hasn't been a critical thing before was the answer.

So why didn't staff know it was a critical matter before the meeting, and have their crawl space definition ready so that it could be discussed?

It all went south from there. Here are some comments from last night that pretty much describe how the rest of the evening went. Which was not very good.

Anonymous November 5, 2015 at 8:02 PM
The applicant. They currently live in a 1907 Craftsman on Montecito. Emotional signifigance to the town & they are mindful of that. The current owners reviewed all of the bad ideas the previous owners had tried to do. He just lost me - "We were not trying to build a huge house but we had to."

Anonymous November 5, 2015 at 8:10 PM
That was an unfortunate thing he said. Overall, he was ok. If he wants an ginormous house and the land can support it, oh well.

Anonymous November 5, 2015 at 8:09 PM
The architect is arguing to measure from the finished floor - but Desai is educating him that he has to measure from the existing grade. The architect is still arguing. Thank goodness for Desai!

Anonymous November 5, 2015 at 8:24 PM
He is great tonight - telling the applicant that the numbers are way out of whack. They are going to have to modify their plans based on accurate measurements.

Anonymous November 5, 2015 at 8:22 PM
Gina catching the balcony off the bedroom - more square footage not counted.

Anonymous November 5, 2015 at 8:27 PM
"Staff had a difficult time calculating the area." What?!? Director Gonzalez suggested approval for this project and he didn't do the math?

AnonymousNovember 5, 2015 at 8:30 PM
Looks like there was way too much confusion in measuring. Wouldn't ya think that would be the first thing an architect would do? Get the codes, get the rulers….

That is pretty much it, gang. The applicant and Director Gonzalez were sent back to the drawing board to see if they can't get the numbers right for the second go around.

I think in football this would be called a fumble.

Or something.

Great early morning comment

What a disaster. After what happened the first go around with the Henry A. Darling House, you'd think that everyone would have their i's dotted and t's crossed. Yet, City Staff recommended approving this project without doing their homework. This has been exactly the problem in the past and why people have so much distrust. Developers get cozy with City Staff because they are in there every day trying to get their project approved. And then we end up with projects that violate the General Plan and even violate our detailed Municipal Codes. Thanks god for Planning Commissioners like Desai. Don't forget, he was the same guy who stood his ground against some withering questions from Harabedian and Goss who fought against some the Planning Commission's improvements to the R-1 Code. Desai deserves a medal as far as I'm concerned.

Well said!

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

51 comments:

  1. Did we ever get an explanation from Elaine why Vince Gonzalez was hired over John Hutt?

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    1. I haven't heard an explanation but clearly the choice was made without regard to qualifications. If anything, Hutt was overqualified for the job and that represented a threat to Elaine. However, having John Hutt on the Planning Commission allows him to still do some great things for this City.

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    2. Mr.Hutt,Thank you for your service to the Citizens of Sierra Madre. Your independence ,knowledge and dedication to the task is a great benefit to us.

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    3. cause Vince would do what he's told

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    4. I think Hutt dodged a bullet. As much as I would have been grateful if he was in the Director's position, I think working with some of the other staff would have driven him mad. The guy has a sharp mind.

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  2. What a disaster. After what happened the first go around with the Henry A. Darling House, you'd think that everyone would have their i's dotted and t's crossed. Yet, City Staff recommended approving this project without doing their homework. This has been exactly the problem in the past and why people have so much distrust. Developers get cozy with City Staff because they are in there every day trying to get their project approved. And then we end up with projects that violate the General Plan and even violate our detailed Municipal Codes. Thanks god for Planning Commissioners like Desai. Don't forget, he was the same guy who stood his ground against some withering questions from Harabedian and Goss who fought against some the Planning Commission's improvements to the R-1 Code. Desai deserves a medal as far as I'm concerned.

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    1. Its hard to imagine how they could have been so sloppy. Sometimes developers are deliberately sloppy hoping to slip some extra square footage by the City. But there's no excuse for the City Staff not to have caught the mistakes. At least Desai takes his job seriously.

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    2. It's reasonable to me that people might not be fully prepared or exact, but that needs to be stated up front. Otherwise, it does seem like a hustle.

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    3. The bad part was how similar it seemed to some of things we have seen in the past. I am not sure this was done by mistake.

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  3. Gonzalez did not do his homework nor did the person who prepared the City Staff Report. These kind of things should have been discovered at the Staff level. Yet they actually recommended to approve the project as is. Thank God our Planning Commission was not asleep at the wheel. Great job Commissioners!

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    1. This is why we need the CUP process. So that projects can get the scrutiny of the Planning Commission as well as the neighbors. That's why I don't mind projects having to go through a CUP. Sure it costs the applicant a little more money, but that's how we all make sure we don't end up with bad projects that adversely impact on the neighbors and the community.

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    2. Maybe these were Goss's invisible residents who didn't want to go through the process - with good reason (for them)!

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    3. That is a very embarrassing recommendation for approval.
      Pig in a poke?
      Sure!

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    4. One of the neighbors was there and does support the project. I think I would too, if they get their act together and then shave off a few hundred square feet.

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    5. I just don't get how the staff can recommend approval without knowing all the details. Couldn't the staff report say something like Staff recommends returning at a later date?

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  4. The "community preservation" title needs to be switched over to the Planning Commission.

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    1. Huh?
      Like all other places, we once had a Planning Department. Then Bart Doyle, the Building Industry Association lawyer got on the council, and finagled the change to Developer Servicing. The return to the original with added emphasis has been great:
      Planning and Community Preservation

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  5. All of the PC are great. I was very proud of all of them. Where was Leticia in all of this? I never saw her make these kinds of mistakes. The reason Elaine gave for hiring Vincent over Hutt was that he had more city experience. There ya go!

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    1. Yeah. His city experience is in Pasadena where someone in his position is expected to get real cozy with big money developers. Especially the ones that donate money to certain city political candidates.

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    2. Leticia is usually on the ball. Somebody else must have been in charge of this one.

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    3. I am getting more concerned about Vincent Gonzalez. So far he has not impressed me but I will keep an open mind for a little while longer.

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    4. New face, same old crap.

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    5. I'll try to keep an open mind as well, 6:47.
      He seems like another municipal worker who wants to keep his job - but maybe he'll end up being a good enforcer of the city rules.

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  6. Have you ever noticed how vague numbers and reports come out at these meetings are? That's of course if they (planning Commission & Developers) want to sneak it past the smell test? Keep this in mind during holidays particularly November and December or January a flood off project rush in. that's because people are off celebrating those holidays during those months another sneaky method of moving a elephant in to the room and out again with out anyone noticing a thing. Keep a watchful eye on these self serving 'civil servants.'

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  7. The Planning Comissioners are all residents of Sierra Madre and, as well as the public at a hearing, have a profound interest in seeing that our planning laws are followed. Now we have to wonder why Leticia did not want to apply for this position? Is it too much under the "sub" direction of Elaine? Hum??

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  8. I think you guys are being overly critical of Vincent. He handled himself very well in an ugly situation, albeit one partially of his own making. Understand the background. Leticia does most of the project reports and is very good. This one was done by the new junior planner. Vincent apparently thought he could trust her as much as Leticia -- a mistake it turns out, but it's not like he messed up the calculations himself. At the meeting he acknowledged the mistake and said it needed to be fixed, without throwing the junior planner under the bus. This is what a good manager does.

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    1. I'm sorry, but a good manager would have checked that work before the meeting and made certain it was right. Blaming the help just doesn't fly.

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    2. Funny. 7:38 praised Vincent for not throwing an underling under the bus. But then does that very thing himself.

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    3. Nah, he should have started the evening saying "We are not working with accurate measurements."

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    4. 7:38 - you mean to say Vincent did not check everything before the meeting? Rather he just assumed a low level employee got it all right? One that he did not supervise when all of this important material was being put together? This is what a "good" manager does? Really?

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    5. It wasn't a good night for the staff, for the Director, for the architect.
      And the commissioners are good sports to have gone over everything so carefully, when it obviously wasn't ready for them.

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  9. Is there any doubt that we need a new City Manager?

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    1. Here's proof - good people do not want to work directly for/with Elaine.
      Why else does Vincent have that job .And why does his 'job ' even exist ?
      Utterly the wrong priority for the Citizens -perfect for Elaine Aguilar's Empire Building.
      Wake up CC

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  10. Everything in construction/real estate is based on numbers - everything. All the codes and zones and all, based on the numbers.
    How is it possible that the most fundamental principle of the activity was not the first consideration?

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  11. Vinnie Gonzalez is nothing but a puppet boy for Elaine. Pro development and has no place in our town's city hall. A disaster everywhere he has been! Last night proves he is not the man for the job.
    Great job Planning Commission you make us proud.

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  12. If the residents are not vigilant the city will do as it pleases no matter what the General Plan might say.

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  13. Some may dismiss this math problem as a difficult technicality -like the Architect.Others -like Vincent ,never bothered to check the math.Both are incompetent. Worse ,they are devious.
    As a homeowner doing my own remodel, the City is mindlessly nit picking about the smallest detail of measurement,lot coverage ,heights,set backs - and they should be. But it seems not in all cases. PFFT ! There goes their credibility as stewards of this issue.Sloppy at best.Sloppy only with their buddies?
    Square footage calculations are about the simplest form of math .Who are we hiring who fails at this low threshold of competence?

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    1. The architect kept saying he measured from the finished floor, and Commissioner Desai kept telling him that our codes call for measuring from the grade, not the finished floor. Not sure I got the terminology right, but it was very clear that the architect was using a different standard than the one on our books.
      PFFT indeed.

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  14. Isn't measuring stuff what they do?

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  15. Apparently not very well.
    They miss things - like the balcony
    They can't add up
    They can't read -crawlspace.
    Sad for the new owners. They seemed decent people just caught be an arrogant Architect(Surprise!) and incompetent City Staff(Surprise!)

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    1. The architect and city staff hopefully learned a lesson last night. And if I was the owner I would be very angry at those people he trusted to make this happen. Obviously the owner was misled.

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  16. I agree with 7:38. Vincent made a mistake and he dealt with it. I'm very confident that the floor area calculations will be fixed. Expecting perfection is unrealistic. We've all made mistakes. I know I've made the mistake of over-delegating to a subordinate. It's a different story if we start to see a pattern of errors, but that's not the case so far.

    I've been very impressed with Vincent's performance. Many thorough project reviews with only one noticeable mistake. Sound and timely advice in response to commissioner questions. Proactive management of PC agendas so that we are actually addressing problems in our antiquated zoning code that have languished for years under prior directors. I don't have firsthand experience of his interactions with other staff members, but the fact that he didn't throw Monica under the bus to make himself look better shows that he's a good leader.

    I only applied for the director position because the City had no qualified applicants after the first round of recruiting. It's not my lifelong desire to be a city bureaucrat. So I was relieved and pleased when I heard that Vincent was hired for the position, and I am much happier as a member of the PC. I think that the current composition of the PC and planning staff is one of the best the City has had in years, and the CC is good as well. Instead of making mountains out of mole hills, we should be thankful the town is in much better shape on the planning front than Arcadia and similar cities.

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    1. Great post. Thanks.

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    2. All that said, it was the Planning Commission that caught the mistake. And it is a good thing they did.

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    3. You go, John! I will not base my opinion on Vincent on one mistake. But I will watch! Thank you for being you!

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    4. City Hall has to be watched closely.

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  17. and he has beautiful hair.

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    1. Thats the best you can do?

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  18. Vince Gonzalez, another one of Elaine's pathetic moves.

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