Brea Envisions: Tour de Farce.

EnvisionsBrea Envisions will be holding a joint “working session” with City Council this evening, Thursday, June 22 at 6:30 in Community Rooms A & B on the second floor of the Civic Center. When the news broke yesterday (no one saw any public notice) there was widespread confusion.

First of all, what the heck is a “working session” and after over two years, why is this such a rush? How much work is left to be done? The project is seven or eight months behind schedule and now there’s a panic to wrap it up?

Council information packet.

If you have the energy, you can download the attachments (126 pages) that are in Council’s information packet here: ENVISIONS or, let me share with you what I found when I went through everything, page by page, last night and early this morning.

Here’s what you’ll find.

Appendix A – Phase 1 Open Ended Data Tables: A 25 page disjointed document that tries to capture the anecdotal comments in the original online survey. Remember, it was available in one form or another for over two years.

Originally budgeted/funded in December 2014, the online Envisions website survey ran from early 2015 through May 26, 2017… almost 26 months. The Envisions website survey collected 716 participants. They were presented with 20 multiple choice questions and a variety of anecdotal opportunities.

The average response to the multiple choice questions was 307, or roughly 43%. Over half of those taking the survey, 57%, chose not to answer many of the questions! Consequently, with a response well below any credible statistically projectable number, Envisions makes no effort to tabulate or analyze them.

Appendix A’s fractured, unwieldy design renders it virtually impossible to review or understand the anecdotal half of the survey. Suffice it to say Appendix A is neither data nor is it particularly useful. No wonder the consultant budgeted at $200,000 was dismissed, replaced by other staff driven alternatives.

Remember those Envisions workshops?

It seemed that at every other Council meeting there was some strange “progress report” from Envisions, not that any progress was actually being made. They always ended with an invitation to drop by their next exciting open house to “join the conversation.”

Appendix B – Think Out Loud and Open House Results: 28 pages of brief comments collected at nine table-top events. On two occasions the number of participants were reported as 10 and 6 respectively, no tally was provided for any other events. Here’s the list of exciting workshops.

  • Think Out Loud Thursday (July 28, 2016) – 10 Respondents
  • National Night Out Data (August 2, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • Think Out Loud Thursday (August 4, 2016) – 6 Respondents
  • Open Houses at Community Center (August 4 and 25, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • Open Houses at Sports Park (August 11, 2016) and City Hall Plaza (August 25, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • Brea Fest (August 19, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • National Night Out Data (October 14, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.

Again, not data but a collection of bullet points captured on post-it notes under a wide range of topical questions. As with Appendix A, the information is not presented in a manner that makes it easy to absorb or understand.

Batting cleanup: True North Research.

Early last month an email from City Manager Bill Gallardo circulated to random Brea residents. It ask recipients to go to an online website and complete a new survey. Envisions was not mentioned at all, which is strange considering how they plastered the city with their stuff.

Here’s the almost funny part. The project, done with True North Research, was a Planning Department effort and they never ask for the City Manager’s review or approval. When ask about it, the City Manager had no clue what I was talking about. (Some ears are burnin’ down at city hall right about now.)

EnvisionsYou’ll remember True North from those glowing report cards Tim O’Donnell sent to himself every time he wanted to lean on Council for another raise.

The similarities between the 2011 Report Card and the 2017 Envisions Summary Report borders upon plagiarism except True North is copying themselves.

They did all the hard work years ago and now just do a “save as” and plug in new numbers. A couple hours of creative editing and voila! A whole new report! I hope we got a huge discount on their fees.

Appendix C – Top Line Results: A breakdown of 730 survey responses gathered by True North Research using two methods, 1) Online survey promoted with email from City Manager and 2) random telephone surveys. I’m sure they had to add the phone surveys because the web survey drew such minimal response.

EnvisionsEnviionsInformation gathered covered Basic Demographics, Quality of Life, Strategic Civic Issues, Land Use and City Communications.

For each question responses are tabulated using a percentage of responses format for which there is no guide for extrapolating relevance.

Anyone attempting to review the report would only be able to speculate what the responses meant.

The ever popular strategic plan.

Brea Envisions Community Strategic Plan (Draft June 22, 2017): This is the only document mentioning the Brea Envisions Committee (page 27), 16 members of the community tasked by City Council to oversee the execution of the information gathering process and production of a final strategic plan.

As has been noted from the beginning, the Envisions process was orchestrated by the Planning Department with occasional review and approval by the committee. Brea Envision was, without question, a Planning Department project with limited committee input.

If the committee were actually carrying out Council’s mandate, they would have selected a chairperson, kept minutes and reported more regularly to Council. Didn’t happen.

They were discouraged from taking full responsibility because Planning was reluctant to give up control.

The document is anything but a strategic plan. Most of the first half of the document is devoted to validating the project and it’s execution.

The balance is founded on perpetuating Envisions information gathering in perpetuity. Defined as an “outreach culture facilitating the continuous flow of information among all parts of the community” they want to stick us with the Envisions concept forever.

While a wide variety of broad guidelines and recommendations are provided in this document, there is no resemblance to any strategic plan I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the “who cares” part.

If the level of response Envisions has attracted over the last two years is any indication, the only folks who give a rip about this sort of fool’s errand are the handful that drank the Kool-Aid on day one and those of you that have read this far down the page.

Envisions has been classic GIGO, garbage in, garbage out, project. The good news is we probably spent a lot less than the $200,000 originally estimated. The bad news is we’ve put off updating the General Plan and several other truly strategic operating policies for two years.

Whether it’s job security, resume or pension padding, overtime, busywork, inefficiency, inexperience or incompetence… this sort of thing needs to stop. We can’t afford to direct funds away from critical human services and pubic safety just to do happy projects and focus groups.

Envisions

Televised, broadcast, archived?

While Council chambers underwent remodeling, meetings were held in Community Rooms A & B… where tonight’s meeting will be held. I can think of no reason or excuse why the meeting will not be on cable and streaming live tonight. This may be a “special” meeting but it certainly isn’t an emergency.

Hines: A Tale Of Two Cities.

HinesIt was the worst of times… period. We’re fighting a war on two fronts and threatened with losing both. On one side Breans are going head-to-head with Hines Properties, a megacorp hell bent on building a hulking monstrosity on St. College north of Birch. On the other we have a runaway Planning department who seems to consider themselves above the law, repeatedly overreaching their authority.

Neither situation bodes well for the people of Brea. The fact that both are connected makes the threat exponentially larger. As the policy and procedural issues can only be addressed by City Council I’ll leave that for another blog and focus on the development issues that need to be solved by the Planning Commission.

Reining in Hines.

At their April meeting, under the less than subtle steering of Chairman McGrade, the Planning Commission ended up desperately trying to patch one small element of the Brea Place project and calling it done.

Commissioner Schlotterbeck made the observation that the project fell short, by about 20%, of complying with our 14 year old General Plan’s maximum density guideline. Next thing you know the much larger southern building and the hotel were tucked aside, seemingly approved and focus was turned to the northern building… Building B.

In a miraculous demonstration of redesigning-on-the-fly, the Hines architect made most of the fourth floor disappear and reduced the building’s density by almost 20%. That’s 22 apartments for those who nitpick numbers. Commissioner Schlotterbeck was quick to point out that the disappearing act also removed parking for 38 units, throwing the building into noncompliance with the 1.78 spaces per unit parking requirement.

Maximum vs. minimum standards.

So, the push seems to be to stay within maximum allowed density while meeting a minimum parking standard. Ok, I’ll say what you’re thinking. What the hell? This is like getting open heart surgery done on a low bid basis.

Why do these city planners think the best policy is to always operate at the fringes of acceptability? Why is building as close as possible to the maximum allowable density the best idea? Why are parking conditions always targeting the fewest number of spaces that might accommodate the demand?

How about building comfortably below the maximum density and designing a parking plan that would actually meet peak demand? What a novel damned idea.

Speaking of minimum standards.

While we’re on the subject, it’s this same unsupportable mentality that led to adopting an addendum to a 14 year old General Plan EIR as the best way to comply with CEQA. Again, operating at the very fringe.

Going with the addendum is the weakest, least defensible means of minimizing or mitigating environmental impact. Hell, the addendum claims there isn’t sufficient environmental impact to warrant doing a new EIR. Circular logic. Inexcusable.

Once again staff dances on the edge of rational choices. Why? To cut public comment out of the conversation? To fast track the project and save Hines the $1.5 million cost of an EIR so staff could extort it later to help defray the cost of some politician’s pipe dream or rock garden?

Drawing a line in the sand.

HinesHey… Commissioners, Planners and Mr. Ninty-Five Billion Dollar Out-of-town Developer… we’re putting you on notice. Nothing less than a blanket 20% reduction in density across the entire project is acceptable. Nada. Nothing.

And that’s the starting line… not the finish line. We still need to talk traffic, parking, building mass and setbacks, in lieu fees and retail that won’t cannibalize local business.

You walked out of the April meeting fist bumping and trading high fives. Listen carefully, you never count your money when sitting’ at the table, there’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

Markman & Flower

 

Poking Holes In Markman & Flower

Markman & FlowerOn April 13, the City Attorneys Markman & Flower released a memorandum attempting to refute some of the claims I have made on this blog.

What followed was eight pages of prickly language arguing against claims that were never made.

(1) that the City’s hiring of Kimley-Horn Associates was inconsistent with the legal requirements of CEQA. (2) that ICF proposed to prepare a subsequent or supplemental EIR to the 2003 General Plan EIR.

A cursory review of my previous blog will remind any careful reader that I did not make these claims, and I’m not sure why Markman & Flower think I did. I challenged the City’s hiring practices with regard to proposal and records retention processes as a whole, and ICF’s proposal explicitly stated that a subsequent/supplemental EIR or addendum were not the way to go to properly follow the CEQA process.

These facts didn’t stop Markman & Flower from furiously defending their irrelevant positions with disparaging language peppered with legal citations that did nothing to refute my original claims.

Markman & Flower’s opening statement, a blatant and unwarranted ad hominem attack against the character of those opposing the Hines project, underscores their complete failure with all allegations and arguments they made.

Further, Markman & Flower’s characterization of public comments and opinions regarding City Staff’s behavior as “spurious” and “reckless” are insulting, dismissive and unacceptable.

By continually saying things like “claims recently made on social media” they undertake to dehumanize us. We are real people after all, residents of this community who enjoy rights that allow for the free expression of our opinions.

We are not “social media.” We are taxpayers, citizens of Brea, and we do not appreciate any insinuation that our opinions are akin to “fake news.”

The eight pages of blustery, “Well, I never!” pearl-clutching arguments in the Markman & Flower memorandum are largely empty and don’t address the accusations we’ve made.

Markman & Flower may well have overstepped their authority by commenting outside establishing what they believe to be the legal standing of the city’s attempt to comply with CEQA. Their authority does not extend to commenting upon intent or purpose behind public comment, mine or from the general public. Jim… Stephen… if you feel compelled to publish snarky, baseless remarks like those in your memo to the City Manager… create a blog.

Memorandum misses the point.

Markman & Flower charge that we have made, “… unsupported claims… that the City Staffs decision to prepare an addendum to the 2003 General Plan Environmental Impact Report… violates the California Environmental Quality Act.

Obviously, Markman & Flower only skimmed “social media” and never read the (originally deleted, recently recovered) ICF proposal to reach this conclusion. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. I pointed out in my last blog post that while some things may be legal it does not follow that they are prudent.

Markman & FlowerICF’s proposal declared, “We understand that the City’s goal is to tier from the 2003 General Plan Final EIR and the 2005 Negative Declaration for the establishment of the Mixed-Use Zoning Districts to the extent feasible. However, the baseline conditions for the project-level analysis for the current environmental document will need to be existing conditions…, rather than the previously approved land use entitlements. Thus, we do not necessarily believe that tiering from these documents is the best option for CEQA compliance.” [emphasis added]

In what world does “not the best option for CEQA compliance” mean “violates CEQA” — it doesn’t. Markman & Flower, in their rush to discredit public opposition to the project and to fend off allegations of staff misconduct, seem to have accomplished neither.

Markman & Flower self destruct.

In response to Markman & Flower’s professionally myopic comment, “ICF is not a law firm equipped to offer legal opinions on CEQA.” I offer this, ICF employs legal staff well experienced in environmental law, and the proposal was developed and submitted by a principal with 22 years of experience in environmental consulting and CEQA documents.

The conclusions reached by ICF were provided at the request of City Staff. It is fair to assume that ICF was invited to submit their opinions because their expertise exceeded that available on City Staff.

If the City did not feel that ICF was equipped to offer legal opinions on CEQA, why was its proposal sought at all? Discarding ICF’s recommendations without first giving the Planning Commission an opportunity to offer their opinion is ludicrous.

Are Markman & Flower masters of disinformation?

Markman & Flower have little choice but to offer this to avoid any suggestion of treading upon our First Amendment rights, “Members of the public may rightly have strong opinions regarding the merits of the Project and are free to express those opinions through available means, including social media.” Then they immediately return to their ad hominem attack.

They next proffer, “Spurious [fraudulent for those without a thesaurus handy] claims of official misconduct are a different matter, however.” This assumes, without substantiation, that the public’s claims are fraudulent. Until proven otherwise, our claims remain protected speech.

Markman & Flower persist, offering another unconfirmed allegation, “There is no evidence to support claims of collusion or corruption by any City official and we can only conclude such claims are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law, bad faith, or both.

Evidence has been provided, in abundance. If Markman & Flower had invested a fraction of the time “we the people” have put into digging up the truth, they would have avoided these sort of bogus statements.

Further, the blog’s headline “Corruption’s Partner Is Our Own Indifference.” is the only use of the word corruption in the entire piece. It is obviously a reproof to readers not to become indifferent… a call to end apathy. Nowhere was staff accused of corruption.

Never poke a tiger with a short stick.

Markman & FlowerIn recent years the voting, taxpaying public has paid closer and closer attention to how their community was being run and by whom. As the process of reviewing and approving the Hines project progressed, irregularities became apparent. Unfortunately, all attempts to get to the bottom of what appeared to be dodgy business was thwarted at every turn.

Documents were deleted, information requests turned up little or nothing. The City Council and Planning Commissioners were kept in the dark right along with the rest of us. Contrary to the disparaging criticisms peppering Markman & Flower’s eight page memorandum, all observations pointed to staff’s performance as questionable.

This behavior could be corruption, an indication of collusion or simply reflect a systemic case of incompetence.

Now what?

I’ve shared enough by now to make it clear that I believe the Planning Commission and all concerned can round file, toss out, jettison, dump, ditch or deep-six Markman & Flower’s memorandum and get back to weighing the facts.

Fact: Records were improperly disposed of. Solution: Correct loopholes that allowed these documents to be deleted without proper oversight and beg ICF to send another copy of their proposal so the record can be restored.

Fact: Important documents have been withheld from the Planning Commission. Solution: Make sure the missing documents are included in their information packet for the April meeting.

Fact: Whether deliberately or accidentally, the Planning Department has not conducted a transparent process with the Brea Place project. Solution: Start over and invite the Planning Commission and the citizens of Brea into the process and the commenting and collaboration opportunities such a process presents.

Markman & Flower