Planning Commission Blindsides Breans.

commission meetingI am still dumbfounded. With Chairman McGrade at the helm, carefully steering the Planning Commission towards an all too obvious destination, there was no hint of addressing the larger issues.

As people gathered for last night’s meeting, Director of Community Development David Crabtree was asked how he expected things would go. He smiled and responded, “It’s in the Commission’s hands now.”

Where did that confidence come from? What might he have known that the rest of us, on pins and needles, failed to understand?

My opinion? He knew the Commission had been prepped that process issues were not their responsibility, but Council’s. I think Commissioners realized that if they challenged process issues the City Attorney would have interjected and shut them down.

Consequently, there wasn’t a whisper about document destruction, the Records Retention schedule, arbitrary limitation of what the Commission was allowed to see or using an addendum to restrict public input.

Also my opinion, Chairman McGrade began his path to orchestrating the flow of discussion last night in January 2016, when he interjected himself into the selection process for Vice Chair.

Coincidently, this occurred at the exact same time that Planning Staff was rejecting the ICF proposal, deleting it from public record and moving forward with the addendum to the 2003 General Plan EIR.

Back to the meeting.

Dejected but still hopeful, a half dozen folks addressed the Commission during Matters from the Audience. They restated their concerns over density, building mass, traffic and parking — the big four.

The standout comments came from Dwight Manley. He shared a legal opinion from an environmental attorney clearly pointing out the gross error in using a General Plan EIR, which is a program level document, to assess a specific project… 14 years after the fact.

Right as rain, Dwight’s comments fell on deaf ears and Chairman McGrade moved on, without comment, and opened deliberation.

First to speak, Chairman McGrade set the tone by establishing his support for the project and his belief that everything was above board and legal.

Next up, Commissioner Schlotterbeck who went to great lengths to share the impressive extent of her due diligence. She reviewed thousands upon thousands of pages of highly technical and legal documents.

She also remarked that the public, whom she cared deeply about, had only a very limited understanding of CEQA. She cited specifics from the California Public Resource Code that proved there was nothing in the Hines project that violated law.

She also suggested that the project only complied with about 80% of the General Plan but failed to offer how to mitigate that shortfall. That’s like a transplant surgeon telling you that your new heart will work really well 80% of the time.

There are two solutions. Amend the General plan to accommodate the project so it is 100% in compliance or alter the project. Neither was done or even suggested last night.

Commissioner Schlotterbeck also raised the possibility that building “B” on the north lot might best be changed to condo/townhome product to lower density and add a very needed type of housing to Brea’s inventory. Other than weak applause from a few residents, the idea went nowhere. Why?

I’m wondering if changing from apartments to single family homes would trigger the need to change the zoning from Mixed Use to Residential. Such being the case, a new EIR would be automatically required. Not what Staff or Hines wanted.

Commission hits an impasse.

Chairman McGrade suggested a short break for Hines to discuss what options they were comfortable with moving forward. With Building “A” and the Hotel apparently in the bag, all that remained was to fix the density complaint for Building “B”.

Interjection: There is no way in hell Building “A” and the Hotel should have been given a free ride at this point! Everything should have remained on the table 

The likelihood that a creative solution could be instantly designed when it took the better part of a year and a half to get to this point was nonsense.

During the break I asked one Commissioner, if none of them cared about the breakdown in process and the look I received in return said it all. There was clearly the presence of a sad inevitability in their eyes. Their shoulders shrugged and they plodded, dejectedly, back to their seat.

For weeks, if not months… Hines, their attorneys, architects, engineers and consultant, John Koos, hunkered down in a conference room playing “what if” with every scenario Koos might imagine.

Over the break, all they did was find the right page in their playbook.

They didn’t even mention the condo/townhome option but jumped straight to a mashup of 3 and 4 stories reducing the density from 285 units to 228 units, leaving the total number of project units at 690.

This reduced the “B” building by this mystical magic number of 20% but something markedly less is true for the entire project. Neither the massive Building “A” on the corner or the Hotel across the street has been touched.

Back to deliberations.

As they did earlier, Vice Chair Willis and Commissioners Fox and Grosse added little to the discussion… all echoing concerns for density, building mass, traffic and parking — reaffirming their lack of support for the project as proposed.

Armed with this get-out-of-jail-free card, all that remained was to morph Brea Place into something different than what was currently proposed. The Commission moved on with a single minded determination.

I was reminded of the used car salesman eye-to-eye with the first prospect of the day… “What will it take for me to put you in this little jewel today?”

No interest in whether the heap of junk was even close to meeting the prospect’s needs, let alone their dream of a new car. No concern that the rattling valves and acrid smoke coming from the tailpipe were clear signs of a car on it’s last legs. Unworried that the greater expense of maintenance would likely crush the prospect later.

It was all about closing the sale.

The people of Brea got steamrolled last night. Staff knows it. The Commission knows it. Hines, their consultant, attorney, architect, traffic engineer… they know it.

The last to realize the unthinkable had occurred were the folks with the red buttons and the high hopes.

Will there be an appeal when, inevitably, the project with it’s crushing density, easily foreseeable flood of traffic and long list of overlooked negative impacts is approved?

Maybe, maybe not.

“Leadership is disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb.”

This O’Donnellism, this longstanding municipal mantra, once again proved prophetic. I’m not fond at all of the fatalist’ mentality, but this feels a lot like, “Game over.” 

I’m unwilling to give up. How about you? Are you ready to roll over or will you take some time out of your busy day to become part of the solution?

Markman & Flower

An Open Letter From Dwight Manley To Brea Leaders On The Hines Project.

Righteously rankled with how the March 28 Planning Commission meeting played out, flooded with Hines’ hired guns, whining millennials and out-of-towners singing Hines praises, lifelong Brea resident Dwight Manley took up the people’s cause.

In addition to delivering a stern admonition to the Commission, Dwight followed up, sending all of Brea’s key leadership this correspondence:

Dear City of Brea Leadership,

I am writing you regarding something that I feel is of vital importance. After participating and attending the Planning Commission meeting two days ago, I witnessed an unmitigated hijacking of the democratic process.

Due to the Hines Corporation’s efforts to have all of their out of town paid consultants, as well as the now corrupted Chamber of Commerce’s leadership’s efforts to have letters read into the record, the Planning Commission summarily reduced the public comment time limit from five minutes to three.

Compounding this, the Commission chose to forego open discussion prior to the public’s comments, depriving the public of the Commissions thoughts.

If the Commission wisely chooses to take up to a week to formulate their thoughts and questions, why are the people they are supposed to represent forced to do any differently?

Are we now in a world in Brea that if one wants to silence the actual resident, you just have to pay outsiders to show up and babble about millennials?

As an example of what I did not have time to ask; Hines stated six months ago they spent $10,000,000 improving the property, and now they say $30,000,000 — receipts please?

They claimed six months ago that the rents would be $2,500-3,000, and we heard $1,300-1,400 at rebuttal — show us the actual pro forma rental charts they are using.

Where are the sight and sound studies on the roof top pools? Show us pictures of the west side that we now hear supposedly has a window that can’t be used to escape an emergency, and are too high to see down into the homes yards next door.

Six months ago the proposed hotel had a kitchen for room service only. Now there is a full restaurant and bar. How many seats, what hours of service, menu example, hours of operation?

Should that not have the same scrutiny as all of the existing Brea eateries have? Is a hotel lounge bar appropriate there?

Hines claims $1,600,000 annual (property) tax revenue to Brea from this. Show me the math! The properties would have to be assessed at over $1,000,000,000 (one billion) to net that much for us.

Hines’ lawyer claims the parking agreement with Regency is void. I detected some deception in the ladies voice, and read this as they want it to be void.

Was the theater lease assumed by 24 Hour gym? The parking for the gym at the rear of Regency, in which the school district has a financial interest, should be of top priority in whatever happens with Hines! In the Hines plans, it is an afterthought.

In closing, I urge you to not let Brea democracy be corrupted by billion dollar hedge funds or paid lackeys. Put the Brea resident first, and let actual Brea citizens have their full opportunity to be heard after the Commission has publicly discussed this — as has been done in Brea for 100 years.

Sincerely

Dwight Manley, a Brean since 1966

Taking people out of the process.

Dwight is right, the people have been deprived of meaningful participation from day one. The moment the City Planner decided to abandon standard practice, choosing instead to create an addendum to the 2003 EIR, she took the public out of play.

I believe this was a purposeful attempt to fast track Brea Place approval by the Planning Commission. In a single decision, public commentary was reduced to little more than white noise.

Challenges to this decision have been met with repeated reminders that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) permits such a choice under specific conditions. It remains to be seen of these conditions actually exist.

The gorilla in the room, the question that the Commission either fails to recognize or choses to ignore, is how did this decision get on the table to begin with?

According to Hines’ Project Manager Bhavesh Parikh, the developer was “… only invited to participate in initial discussions about the addendum but was given no role in the final decision. The City Planner unilaterally made the decision.” – that muffled public comment to a dull hum.

Consultant John Koos, in a separate conversation, suggested that,  “… neither he nor anyone at Hines ever saw a draft of the addendum, that they saw what the Commissioners and public saw when it was posted a week before the February meeting.

(These assertions ultimately prove to be either fractionally true or a shameless lie, both designed to disguise actual events. See blog post published on April 7.)

If you were a developer investing millions upon millions into a project of this magnitude, a developer with a 60 year history, $96.5 billion in assets, 533 properties with over 213 million square feet, would you really agree to be kept in the dark and excluded from decisions of this significance?

A cluster of contradictions.

In addition to the countless errors and misinformation littering the documentation and reports supporting the addendum… are the wild and wholly unbelievable marketing claims Hines offers to prove the project’s value to Brea.

In an ad Hines paid the Brea Chamber of Commerce to flood the city with, is the statement, “Economic benefits — millions in net annual revenues for critical city services such as public safety and street maintenance.”

Net annual revenues from what? As Dwight points out, that can’t possibly mean property taxes. After the state and county take their share, Brea gets only a fraction of property taxes… suddenly millions is reduced to hundreds!

If not property taxes then can Hines provide a detailed breakdown of where these “millions” would come from and how they would pay for city services?

The same ad claims, “Support of local businesses and new jobs ‑ $400 million in economic activity each year, bolstering the city’s businesses and creating hundreds of permanent new jobs.”

It’s easy to see how Hines duped the Brea Chamber into supporting their project… the Chairman of the Board served up the Kool-Aide and the Board fell in line to send form letters to the Commission.

I hope at least one of the Planning Commissioners has the insight and courage to challenge these absurd claims. Hines should not be given a pass on this. These bogus advertising claims challenge the voracity of every other assertion Hines makes.

The simple truth is, numbers don’t lie, but people do… show me the numbers!

It ain’t about the parking.

Not yet anyway. The 2003 EIR is too old. The other supporting documents are littered with error. No consideration has been given to cumulative impact from developments that came into being well after the ink on the 2003 EIR was dry.

We don’t have a clear enough picture of current conditions and potential negative impacts to start picking nits. Lets reboot this mess and do it right.

We need… deserve… scoping meetings and a fresh EIR to know where to take a closer look and how to eliminate as much negative impact as possible.

It could get even uglier.

If the Planning Commission blesses this mess just to get it off of their agenda the odds of an appeal to Council are 100%. Legal fees will pile up when we can least afford them.

Measure K: Mailers & Robocalls Again.

Mailers and robocalls continue unabated and, for Measure K supporters, they will be their undoing. Let’s start with the latest robocall from another political fossil.

lynndaucher_400“This is Former Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher calling about Measure K. Don’t be misled by the anti public school message from the downtown developers special interests and the No on K campaign. Measure K is a smart investment in our kids, our community and our property values. Don’t be fooled. Measure K is a fiscally responsible plan with accountability and oversight.”

Emphasis on former.

While Lynn’s history might be credible in many ways, it is just that, history. Like Punxsutawney John Beauman and the ephemeral Bev Perry, propagandists drag these vestiges of 20th century small town politics out and parade them around hoping their reputations might lend credibility to highly dubious issues.

More a liability than an asset, when was the last time Lynn Daucher regularly attended local school board meetings or weighed in on something other than reelecting Hall or Rollino?

Like the anonymous “parents” promoting boycotts, the robocall tries to tie “downtown developers” to a rejection of everything that might benefit the education and development of Brea’s youth.

girl-1_sqHow ignorant and unbelievable. Name one individual who can claim to be a fraction of the philanthropist that Dwight Manley has been for years and continues to be in spite of being constantly denigrated by halfwits.

Measure K is a fool’s investment offering nothing to our kids, our community or our property values. Measure K is fiscally irresponsible and lacks meaningful accountability.

Now, the latest mailer.

Proponents of Measure K need to be reminded that repeating their lies does not somehow make them true. As many have already clearly pointed out the Oversight Committee doesn’t even give passable lip service to the idea of accountability.

back-bAs one commenter on Nextdoor posted, “I just received a “Vote Yes on K” [mailer]. If I only read this, I would have to vote for K. It states, ‘Measure K has strict fiscal accountability rules required by California State Law!’. It sounds terrific. I am a CPA. I have been a CFO for not-for-profit corporations for most of my career. The notion of being able to spend $148 million with only an oversight committee after-the-fact reviewing the expenditures to confirm that they were spent for ‘facility improvement’ is not even close to ‘strict fiscal accountability.’ This piece didn’t ‘lie,’ but it sure stretched the definition of accountability to its breaking point.”

A comprehensive list?

Again with the harping about detailed lists developed by “Architectural and Construction Management firms” – you mean like Cal K-12 and Pinnacle Design Group who are on record donating $35,000 to the “Yes” PAC? Does anyone not see the ulterior motives?

jasons_map

Monday night, October 24, the BOUSD Board approved payment of $9,780 to the very same Pinnacle Design Group for designing an interior dividing wall in a portable classroom. According to the Facility Improvement Needs Lists, portables need to be replaced. That’s $10k to design a wall, not even to build it, in a temporary structure slated for removal.

General funds must support instructional programs?

pipe_300When Measure K proponents say that general funds must support instructional programs they fail to mention that these funds also pay staff and teacher salaries, excessive health benefits to Board members and, sad to say, underfund pensions. They “skip” right over mentioning the $21,000,000 surplus that could be legally tapped to handle priority projects like those severely corroded pipes they’ve been whining about that caused a leak in the Arovista server room.

We can’t afford to wait until 2018.

Who’s crystal ball are they using when they predict dramatically increasing interest rates in the coming years? They suggest this will cause project costs to soar.

Oh please, these are the same years when 3 of the 4 tranches would be released. Wouldn’t they be subject to the same prohibitive interest rates? They can’t have their cake and eat it too.

This last minute mailer is total hogwash.

front-bThe ink was already dry on these flyers and the donors money was burning a hole in their pockets. The logical next step was… go to the post office. It’s this logic that has contributed to the current situation and it has been exercised by the same small band of people.

Shame on the 24 local notables, most of whom have shown little interest in solving the district’s financial woes in recent years. They seem to have no objection to grabbing few minutes of faded glory at the expense of out-of-town donors.

Dig deeper into the details.

As we’ve gratefully come to expect, Jason Kraft has meticulously gathered together details on everything I’ve spent the last 17 paragraphs ranting and snarking about. You can read Jason’s commentaries here –

“Don’t Believe The Lies” Part 1

“Don’t Believe The Lies” Part 2

“Don’t Believe The Lies” Part 3

“Don’t Believe The Lies” Part 4

Additional analysis will be linked here when they become available.

Vote No