Reboot Brea Place!

Last Thursday, March 17, Brea’s Planning Commission received a memorandum from Community Development Director David Crabtree, written by City Planner Jennifer Lilley, in short titled, CEQA Process Clarifications.

While it’s intent was to counter the growing public objection to the department’s bypassing much of the customary process CEQA provides to properly assess environmental issues it was little more than a last ditched effort to 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 informing the public beyond the legal minimum.”

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?

Why 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.”

I 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.

(Subsequent to this point I discovered documents proving public opinion is rooted in the truth, that documents were withheld from the Commissioners and destroyed in direct violation of city records retention policy. See blog post published on April 7.)

Finding the missing link.

My last 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 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!

What, 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.

Traffic: 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?

You’ll hate the final… Why.

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, nor does the City have to open a formal public review process, allow the public sufficient time to review the environmental documents, and record and respond to any concerns the public has about the impacts that it 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.

The City Planner has tried to pass the buck to Kimley-Horn and stifle any meaningful public input. Rather than admitting error and putting it right, a memorandum is sent to the Planning Commissioners, a “Hail Mary” attempt to further cover things up.

What should the Brea Planning Commission do now?

Just because something is permissible, doesn’t mean it is prudent. Falling back on 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 only way to put the Brea Place project back on track is for the Planning Commission to immediately continue the item when it comes up on the agenda. Don’t waste time on that Hines dog-and-pony show or further public comment.

Cut to the chase. Instruct staff to issue a legitimate RFP for an Initial Study, to hold proper scoping meetings, and only then determine whether a new EIR should be done or not.

And for crying out loud try and do a decent job of maintaining a credible, accessible public record.

Brea 92821

Planning Commission Dives Into Brea Place.

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

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

Standing room only.

Stepping into the Council chambers, the Commission was confronted with an SRO crowd that probably made the Fire Marshal a bit 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.

Director of Development David Crabtree opened with a site history lesson that, for most if not all in the room, 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 necessary 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 in the information packet 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). Aside from the fact that this was an obvious coverup to mask the inappropriate, if not illegal, reliance upon 14 year old data, Mr. Flower’s sideshow was 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 the 2003 EIR. A clever ploy to bypass an Initial Study and avoid a public comment period where resident’s questions and concerns must be included in the public record and answered in writing.

Next stop, Fantasyland.

A conglomerate of preemptive rationale supporting reliance upon a General Plan long overdue for an update and a companion Environmental Impact Report (EIR) from 2003, the Staff Report was singularly unconvincing.

Planning mumbo jumbo from beginning to end. It was less what one might expect as a rationale behind recommendations to the Commission as it was an attempt to prep everyone in the room to swallow the idea that there are no environmental impacts in the Hines project requiring serious 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 better than average public hearing. Of the 27 who stepped to the podium, only two supported the project and one 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 and doesn’t come close to fitting into their small town environment.

The remaining 11.4% are split between a questionable support for the project and the inability to take a stance that night.

The Brea Chamber weighs in.

Something to ponder. Heidi Gallegos, Brea Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer, brought 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 Communications, is the local consultant to Hines on the Brea Place project and is taking home a big fat paycheck as a result.

Also speaking in favor of Brea Place was the Chambers 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 sharing 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 chiding the audience about paying more attention to leaking roofs and swimming pools sliding downhill, he inferred that the district would receive enough funds to handle to 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. Not going to hold my breath however. The big fat rumor du jour is that Hall is eyeing a seat on Council in 2018.

Sorry Bill. Your dubious record on the BOUSD Board, including failed attempts to sensibly finance the district and the deplorable condition of Brea schools is more than enough reason to banish you to Clean Sweepville. You have no business on Council.

The people speak.

Twenty-three bona fide, unaffiliated residents of 9282, addressed the commission. They raised a lengthy, well articulated, civilly delivered litany of objections pointing out contradictions, inaccuracies, unsupported claims and utter falsehoods in the staff report and related attachments.

Hats off to Ken, Art, 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 had a prior commitment. Others commenting with a clear understanding of the details were Ken Salizar who shared…

“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.”

Also Art Natera who added…

“The proposed Addendum does not consider specific cumulative impacts from other recent projects, such as La Floresta and Central Park Village, concluding 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…

“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.”

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.

Brea 92821