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

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.