Brea Place Needs To Be Rebooted!

Brea Place Damage Control: Last Thursday, March 17, the Planning Commission received a memorandum from Community Development Director David Crabtree, written by City Planner Jennifer Lilley, deceptively titled, CEQA Process Clarifications…

Brea PlaceOn the surface its intent was to counter the growing public objection to the department’s bypassing much of the customary processes provided by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to assess environmental issues it was little more than a last-ditch effort to further mislead the Planning Commissioners.

Here’s an excerpt, “In summary, the environmental checklist process, the requirement for new and updated technical studies to assess impacts and the expanded review process for the Hines application serve to respect the legal requirements of CEQA as well as the City’s commitment to blah blah blah blah…”

Anyone wishing to wade through the complete incomprehensible jargon filled document can click here: Hogwash.

What is the real question?

No matter how many times I plowed through the mountain of documents supporting the Staff Report, 1,553 pages, I kept coming back to the simple question… Why?

Brea PlaceWhy has the City Planner chosen to conduct CEQA in this manner? To keep the public from becoming formally involved? Why is there all this circular logic to defend the use of an Addendum by citing the Addendum itself?

I get it that CEQA requires new development projects to consider previous EIRs, that the city should consider whether the project is compatible with the General Plan.

What is not clear is why the City Planner considers Brea Place as a part of the 2003 Brea General Plan and not a standalone project. It seems little more than an excuse to back into the General Plan’s EIR as well.

So what if the corner of Birch Street and St. College was already broadly analyzed as a possible site for a mixed use infill project. The GPAC and authors of the General Plan didn’t close their eyes in 2003 and imagine the Hines project!

Brea Place is unique, a specific project with quantifiable impacts of its own!

CPRA + CEQA = NONE

I’ve submitted several CPRA requests seeking copies of correspondence, memos and documents providing details about how this process has evolved since it was launched by Hines in 2015. Requests, for the most part, come back with the stock answer, “After conducting a search of the City’s records we found no records responsive to your request.”

Brea PlaceI challenged this with City Manager Bill Gallardo who described the planning process as a protracted, complex undertaking that doesn’t occur in a vacuum. That being said, I asked him… so, where is the paperwork?

No emails, no letters, no records of communication, no plans, no decisions. Nothing. He agreed that was a little strange and promised to get back to me.

Finding the missing link.

My last CPRA request ask for the following:

  • RFP to conduct an Initial Study of the Hines Brea Place project.
  • Proposal from Kimley-Horn Associates (KMA) to produce an Initial Study.
  • List of all parties invited and/or noticed to participate in Scoping meeting(s), including affected agencies.
  • Copies of invitation, notice and list of attendees at all Scoping meeting(s).
  • The final Initial Study, environmental analysis and review of the proposed Hines project, produced by Kimley-Horn Associates (KMA).

The only thing I got was Kimley-Horn’s proposal to write the addendum (click here for a copy) and a link to the city website where I found “Report 2” which was 1,211 pages released before… jammed into a single document. None of these was responsive to my request!

Brea PlaceWhat, no RFP? The Kimley-Horn proposal estimated 258 hours to complete the project at a cost of $59,981.00! Was this done on a handshake? Were no other firms invited to submit proposals? Where is the documentation?

Worse yet, the proposal begins, “This Scope of Work assumes an Addendum to the Brea General Plan Final Environmental Impact Report (Final EIR) would be prepared…”

Really? Damn! Tell me how Kimley-Horn can assume anything without having had some communication outlining the scope of work being sought by the city? Wouldn’t that be included in an RFP?

Again, the simple question… Why?

An Initial Study… was it done or not?

The Staff Report released for the last Planning Commission meeting on 02/28 clearly states…

“After project submittal to the City, staff contracted with the consulting firm Kimley-Horn Associates (KMA) to perform an Initial Study and subsequent environmental analysis and review of the proposed Hines project. In it’s capacity, KMA serves as the City’s resource for environmental review…

An Initial Study was performed by KMA, and analysis and discussion performed with City staff and our legal counsel and identified that an Addendum to the General Plan EIR adopted in 2003 would be the proper environmental review tool to consider potential for environmental impacts…”

Okay, whoa. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Either an Initial Study was done… or it wasn’t. If it was done, I want a damned copy of it posted on the city website immediately! If it wasn’t, staff better revise the staff report to reflect the truth and admit no study was done.

And they’ve ignored cumulative impacts!

Amongst the many things Initial Studies consider are what’s called cumulative impacts. If they’re of sufficient magnitude they will force a new EIR to be done. With the Hines project, two cumulative impacts jump right out.

Recreation: CEQA requires the analysis of impacts on parks and recreational facilities and the potential for a new development to increase use of parks to a point where the facilities would be degraded. Although the Addendum states that there would be a direct connection from the Tracks at Brea Trail to Brea Place, there is no mention in the recreational analysis of the impact of this increased direct access and use by approximately 2,000 more people.

Brea PlaceTraffic: Also, none of the analysis in the Addendum appears to consider the cumulative addition of the Brea Place project’s impacts to other identified project impacts from developments like La Floresta and Central Park Village. The Addendum says that Brea Place would add 7,000+ daily trips to the roadway network and that this would not cause a significant impact. But the Central Park Village project, proposing about 5,700 additional trips, states in its EIR that it would have a significant and unavoidable impact at the intersection of State College and Lambert.

There are many, many more reasons to doubt the Addendum sufficiently analyzed the Brea Place project’s impacts. Is the City Planner attempting to hide behind the allowable Addendum process? Why?

Why should we trust that any of the analysis in the Addendum is a true and thorough representation of the project’s impacts?

Hines gets the gold, Brea gets the shaft.

By choosing to use an Addendum, the City Planner is graciously allowing the public to make comments during the public hearings for the project, but there is no requirement for the City to consider, and respond in writing to, these comments.

With an Addendum, the City is not required to develop an Initial Study and to conduct the public scoping meetings required with an Initial Study. The City doesn’t have to open a formal public review or allow the public sufficient time to review the environmental documents. How the hell are we supposed to record our concerns about the impacts that we would have to endure?

With an Addendum, the public can’t propose alternatives or mitigation measures and force the City to seriously consider and respond to those suggestions.

This is little else but damage control designed to quell the growing, citywide objection to the circular logic staff employs to justify their abandonment of the letter and spirit of CEQA.

It is poor debate strategy to rely upon language within the document you created, the Addendum, to justify your choice to reject broadly accepted CEQA process to create the Addendum instead.

Just because something is permissible, does not mean it is prudent.

Brea PlaceCreating the Addendum is a perfect example. A loophole may make that approach permissible but it is obviously not prudent. If there was ever any project due for a reboot, it’s Brea Place.

I believe the most constructive way to put the Hines Brea Place project back on track is for the Planning Commission, the people who should have been in charge all along, to immediately continue the item when it comes up on the agenda.

Don’t waste time on the Hines presentation or further public comment, like the time already, tragically, we’ve all invested in hours of unnecessary study.

Continue the item and instruct staff to begin again, issuing a legitimate RFP for an Initial Study, holding proper scoping meetings, and only then will you, the Planning Commission, be equipped to determine whether a new EIR should be done or not.
Brea Place

And for crying out loud, this time try to do a decent job of documenting the process and maintaining a complete, accessible public record.

 

 

Commission Tackles Hines Brea Place.

commissionPlanning Commission Study Session was the calm before the storm. Chairman James McGrade clarified options for the public hearing and meeting closure. Commissioner Jim Grosse commented on how little time they had to digest such a large and complex volume of documentation.

It quickly became  obvious that the Hines matter could need at least another 3 or 4 meetings before the Commission’s final deliberation might be possible.

Standing room only.

Stepping into the Council chambers, the Commission faced an SRO crowd that probably made the Fire Marshal nervous. It was a sea of red and a handful of suits sporting bright green, thumbs up, pinned on, mini signs.

Following the obligatory invocation and flag salute plus a well earned commendation to outgoing Commissioner George Ullrich, the meeting headed straight into the Staff Report on the Hines project.

commissionDirector of Development David Crabtree opened with a site history lesson that, for most of us, was unnecessary. Eager to get to the real issues, twenty minutes of anecdotes seemed a bit much. Considering Brea is celebrating its Centennial this year it could have been worse.

Associate Planner Star Haro followed with a longer than needed overview of project details, all of which were common knowledge to everyone in the room. If the 99 page 240 MB PDF of the full project plans is any indication, Hines has a major dog-and-pony show queued up to present at the next meeting.

Next, Assistant City Attorney Stephen Flower was called upon to bail through the legalese related to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Another 30 minutes none of us will never get back. Given the nature of what was shared, how it was shared, this was clearly building a foundation to justify using an addendum to a 14 year old EIR.

This whole process is a clever ploy to bypass an Initial Study and avoid public comment where resident’s questions and concerns must be included in the public record and answered in writing.

Next stop, Fantasyland.

A conglomerate of preemptive contorted logic supporting using a General Plan long overdue for an update and it’s companion Environmental Impact Report (EIR) from 2003, the Staff Report was completely unconvincing. Planning mumbo jumbo from start to finish.

Far from being a reasonable set of recommendations to the Commission, the Staff Report was an attempt to prep everyone in the room to swallow the big lie… that there are no significant environmental impacts in the Hines project that would require additional review.

How gullible and ignorant does the City Planner think we are? Did she think the heavily inflated 2,000 pages of documentation would overwhelm the Commissioners and general public, discouraging them from digging for the truth?

Obviously, hearing the public comments, that ploy didn’t work. Personally I found Ms. Lilley’s incessant little smirks as one after another stepped to the podium and thoroughly challenged the veracity of the Staff Report, arrogant and dismissive.

A public hearing worth hearing.

If you missed it you missed a better than average public hearing. Of the 27 bold enough to speak, only 2 supported the project and 1 other was essentially neutral.

If I use the convoluted algorithm Brea Envisions uses to project public opinion, 88.8% of Brea residents oppose the Hines project.

They object to the unconscionable distortion of the development process and are angry that they are being systematically excluded from having meaningful input. They believe it’s too big, too dense, generates a huge traffic nightmare and doesn’t come close to fitting into their view of a small town environment.

The remaining 11.4% are split between a potentially unethical support for the project and an inability to take a stand that night.

The Brea Chamber weighs in.

Something to ponder. Heidi Gallegos, Brea Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer, delivered a message of support last night for the Hines project.

She said the Chamber voted their support on August 21, 2016… six months before the subject of an addendum was mentioned or the massive pile of documents relating to the project were released.

What could have been their source of information?

I wonder if the Chamber’s Chairman of the Board, John Koos, might have played a role? After all, his company, Core Development Services, is the local consultant to Hines on the Brea Place project and I doubt they took the project pro bono.

Also speaking in favor of Brea Place was the Chamber’s Vice Chair of Finance and Operations, Bill Murray with Edward Jones Investments. Maybe the Chamber should revisit how they define a conflict of interest and what their relationship is with the folks of Brea.

Bill Hall straddles the fence.

Bill Hall, BOUSD Board Member, after exchanging some insider humor with Commission Chair McGrade, told everyone not to worry about Brea schools being unable to handle a student influx from the Brea Place project.

Apparently they can accommodate 367 more kids in elementary school, 39 in the Junior High and 590 at the High School.

After whining to the audience about paying more attention to pealing paint, leaky roofs and swimming pools sliding downhill, he inferred that the district would receive enough funds to handle the increase in enrollment.

On one hand, this is a discussion better suited for the school board meetings. On the other hand, if folks have reservations regarding impact on Brea schools, shouldn’t this get a fair hearing with the Planning Commission as well?

In the future, I would love to see a little more transparency from the Brea Chamber of Commerce and the BOUSD Board of Directors.

The people speak.

24 bona fide, unaffiliated residents of 92821, addressed the commission.

They raised a lengthy, well articulated, civilly delivered list of objections pointing out contradictions, inaccuracies, unsupported claims and utter falsehoods in the staff report and related attachments.

Hats off to Ken, Juan, Ron, Sharon, Barry, David, Robert, Jason, Jackie, Chris, James, Keith, John, Eric, Bill, Rosemary, Zim, Arthur, Brian, Alicia, Maka, Denise, Bill and Blake.

Sharon Beauman shared a communication from her husband John, former Council member and Mayor, who was kept away by a prior commitment. You’ll find John’s statement here, “Dear Ms. Lilley.

commissionThe public comment opened with Ken Salizar demonstrating a clear understanding of the details…

“By preparing an Addendum instead of a standalone environmental study, the City Planner attempts to use consistency with the General Plan EIR as a substitute for fully identifying and disclosing the Brea Place project’s impacts.

We are not opposed to development in the city but we do demand that it be done in a responsible and collaborative manner and in compliance with existing environmental laws.”

Juan Natera added his objections to the addendum…

commission“The proposed Addendum does not consider specific cumulative impacts from other recent projects, such as La Floresta and Central Park Village, which concluded significant air quality and traffic impacts.

By using an Addendum rather than a standalone environmental analysis, the City Planner is avoiding looking at specific project impacts and the aggregate effects combined with the many nearby projects.”

And Zim Walker concluded…

commission“I’m a resident of the Avocado neighborhood and a retired law enforcement officer. As an officer one of my duties was to gather evidence in order to determine if a crime had been committed. Also, I have a long history of community policing.

I am keenly aware of the critical importance of real public engagement. How else would I gather the evidence for making my determinations?

I also recognize a smoking gun when I see one.

I’m afraid that the City knew how much interest there would be in the Brea Place project and specifically jumped to the Addendum process to avoid proper public involvement.”

To read a complete transcription of the comments from Ken, Art and Zim click this link “Comments.

Until next time.

As many expected, the Planning Commission unanimously voted to continue the item until their next meeting on March 28th. Hines will make their full project presentation and additional time for public comment will be allowed again.

Frankly, I cannot imagine what motives might be driving Planning to twist facts beyond recognition in an attempt to justify dodging CEQA, a new EIR and public scrutiny.

Nothing I could conjure up would possibly come close to justifying the charade being perpetrated upon the citizens of Brea.

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Understanding CEQA.

Understanding the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a lot like navigating a minefield blindfolded. Given the importance of it’s relationship to current discussions regarding the Hines Brea Place project I felt breaking it down to the basics, in lay terms, would prove helpful.

What follows is the product of a collaboration with several others whose professional background and experience in the field of municipal planning far exceed my own. The exercise helped me a lot and I hope it helps you too.

A little CEQA history.

With the passage of the Clean Air and Water Acts in the early ‘70’s, the Federal government set legal standards to protect human health and improve the natural environment. Concurrently, the State of California followed suit by enacting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in 1970 to protect the physical, biological, and human environment.

In simple terms, CEQA Guidelines require that every project undertaken by a state or local agency, Brea is a local agency, must include analysis of the potential impacts on the environment and mitigate (lessen) any negative effects that are considered significant. CEQA Guidelines apply to public and private projects and nearly all projects in California undergo CEQA analysis.

What’s in it for you?

A vital part of the CEQA process is public involvement. Thanks to CEQA, the general public must have an opportunity to comment on any project that could potentially affect them.

CEQA also requires that the lead agency, Brea’s Planning Department, respond to public comments in writing, providing evidence for their responses and addressing all comments related to the environmental document and any issues within it.

CEQAStrike one!

The first step in an environmental review is the initial study, which helps the lead agency determine a broad estimate of impacts that may occur. There is no evidence that the Planning Department conducted an initial study for the Brea Place project. Without this crucial first step, the Planning Department essentially eliminated all meaningful public involvement opportunities from the project.

CEQAStrike two!

The Brea Place project, at more than 500 dwelling units, requires the Planning Department to conduct at least one scoping meeting where it formally invites the public, representatives from neighboring cities and counties, responsible agencies, and public agencies with jurisdiction to learn about the project, express their concerns, and comment on environmental impacts or suggest alternatives.

CEQAStrike three!

Normally, a lead agency (the Brea Planning Department) would send out a request for proposals for environmental analysis documents beginning with an initial study and continuing on to the appropriate level of documentation.

In the case of the Brea Place project, the Planning Department decided instead that it would prepare an Addendum to the 2003 General Plan environmental impact report (EIR), dodging the requirements for an initial study and leaving the public out of the process. In other words, the public has no opportunity for involvement in a project that could significantly affect them.

Adding insult to injury.

As if this behavior weren’t bad enough, it is abundantly clear that the Planning Department has usurped the oversight, guidance and authority of the Planning Commission.

It is inconceivable that the Commission, assuming they were provided full and timely information, would have allowed such an unwarranted deviation from accepted best practices… from a proven process of environmental stewardship that is inclusive of the public, the very people they serve.

By short-cutting this process for the Hines project, the Planning Department is evading this important step and increasing the potential for the project to have significant impacts that will affect Breans for generations.

CEQAThis is not game over.

We need to demand that the Planning Commission put on the brakes, voting to continue further review of the Hines project, instructing the Planning Department to go back to the beginning of the environmental analysis process and properly follow the CEQA Guidelines.

We need to demand an adequate environmental review and public opportunities to comment on its conclusions. Through the public review and comment period, we’ll have a legitimate chance to collaborate with the Planning Commission, the City Planner and Hines to design a project that will address residents’ concerns, produce a project consistent with the surrounding community and provide the developer with a fair and reasonable return on their investment.

If we can fix the process, we can fix the project.