Vargas: Liar Liar… Pants On Fire!

On Tuesday, September 5, Council finally had an opportunity to address the Constitutional Due Process issues in the Brea Municipal Code but, thanks to inadequate staff input and a major distraction from Council member Vargas, they were thwarted.

After a year of sidestepping the issue, City Manager Gallardo and City Attorney Markman continued trying to wriggling out of honestly facing the music by submitting conflicting statements to launch Council’s discussion.

Gallardo said he believed the Brea Municipal Code and Code of Conduct were in conflict (not the root issue), Markman disagreed completely… denying that any contradiction existed and doubling down on his assertion that there was no threat of Constitutional violation because termination of Commissioners and Committee members is made without cause.

The greatest roadblock to Council having an intelligent discussion was the almost incoherent ranting by Council member Vargas. He not only derailed the discussion, he added to his list of “causes” for dismissal which crushed Markman’s position. In addition, claims made by Vargas were fabrications… figments of his imagination.

Everyone in the room must have recognized that, especially Vargas. Assuming he hadn’t forgotten the truth, he must have known just how far he stretched it.

Ultimately, thanks to Council’s unwillingness to be intimidated and the Mayor’s taking control of the discussion, the decision was to continue the item until staff could provide additional information. Hopefully staff will also make some attempt to get on the same page with each other.

I’ll leave follow-up on the real issues until they hit Council’s agenda again and turn my attention now to poking holes in the spurious allegations and remarks being tossed about by Mr. Vargas.

The Letter of Dismissal

I’ll work my way through the “causes” cited by Vargas in the letter.

  1. “… our initial agreement was a two year assignment” – No such agreement was ever made. No member of Council has the authority to make such an agreement and, if they were authorized, the BMC would state so and the “deal” would obviously have to be disclosed when the nomination is made. Never happened.
  2. “… allow you some closure from past experiences as a Commissioner, unfortunately I am not in a position to continue the redemption any further” – A complete non sequitur. My seven year history as a Cultural Arts Commissioner, as Chair of this Commission and it’s representative on Art in Public Places and the Senior Citizen Advisory Board is extolled at length in the commendation I received from Mayor Roy Moore in 2011. I needed redemption for nothing.
  3. “… (for) 3 months, I have attempted to communicate with you on numerous occasions via text and phone calls” – Hogwash. Once or twice a month Vargas would call me as he headed home from work at Port Hueneme and we would talk about various matters until he typically said, “Well Clark, you got me home safe and sound again.”

The last time we spoke we discussed his plans to put Term Limits on the ballot as a proposition. He refused to consider discussing his plans with Council. I told him it was a stupid idea, that it was an obvious attack aimed solely at Council member Simonoff. Finally, he agreed to drop the idea and the discussion ended.

Four days later the City Council meeting erupted in heated, angry exchanges with Vargas when he announced his intention to collect signatures via a third party contractor for a ballot initiative on Term Limits. When Vargas called me after the meeting I was too angry to take the call and let it go to voicemail. I did the same with the other half dozen attempts Vargas made over the next hour or so.

He texted me once the next day asking why I was dodging his calls. I texted back that I hated getting lied to and would need a few days to let my anger subside. I never heard from him again until I received the letter of dismissal… 36 hours after almost everyone in Brea seemed to get it. Must have been a massive BCC list.

  1. “…your reluctance to keep me informed of pending issues does not allow me to provide effective service as a council member.” – So, Breans have been under represented for almost a year now. Good to know. Don’t cross your fingers for the Mayor Pro Tem’s seat and we all know what to do when the 2018 elections come around.

During the first year of Vargas’ current term, as I would come across articles online relevant to current or impending city matters, I would email a link to Vargas… who seemed to have neither the time nor skills to do his own research. I did this maybe once or twice a week. I was surprised to hear he was unable to “provide effective service” without my help.

Fast Forward Almost a Year.

I mentioned the rants Vargas inflicted on everyone at last week’s study session, that they were laced with the same sort of groundless statements as are found in the dismissal letter.

  1. Only after repeated badgering by members of Council and City Staff did he feel forced to dismiss me. – Vargas was immediately challenged on this by the Mayor as being complete nonsense. Never happened.
  2. Vargas claimed to have “cleared it with” Gallardo and Markman before he sent the dismissal letter… a weak attempt to imply their approval. Gallardo and Markman preserved their “plausible deniability” by answering Vargas’ email inquiry by phone. A common practice down at city hall. However, Gallardo told me later that he attempted to talk Vargas out of the dismissal but failed and that Markman merely confirmed the appropriate BMC reference.
  3. Vargas said he discussed health issues with me, asking me to resign, and was compelled to terminate me because I would not resign. A year ago my health was not an issue, we never had such a conversation. This is total b*llsh*t.
  4. Vargas stated that he appointed me because of my experience with affordable housing while working for Quaker City Bank. (No Steve, that was Ron Garcia, your first appointment to the Planning Commission in 1998.) We never discussed housing of any type prior to or following my appointment to the Planning Commission. I have never worked for Quaker City Bank, or any bank, but did handle branding and advertising for Landmark Bank in La Habra when it launched in 1979… 38 years ago.
  5. Vargas protested my use of the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to obtain information leading to my “due process” probe and aggressively demanded “cost accounting” from the City Clerk, City Manager, City Attorney and Director of Development for the staff time required to respond to my inquiries. He was summarily put in his place by Council member Simonoff who reminded him that it was wrong to chastise the public for the cost of complying with a public records request.
  6. Vargas accused Council of wasting time on an issue that only a “blogger” cared about. Really? Council’s oath of office swears to uphold State and Federal Constitutions! If there is even the slightest possibility that the BMC is in conflict they are bound to investigate regardless of where the challenge came from.

Council does what’s right.

Given all that occurred last Tuesday, Council did what was right. I trusted that they would and they didn’t let me down. They continued the item and tasked staff with bringing them additional relevant information.

This is far from over folks and no loose canon is going to dissuade me from pursuing the truth or bully Council into sweeping this under the rug.

vargas liar

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