John Bickel On The Mercury Lane Project.

mercuryBrea’s “Citizen of the Year”, John Bickel was born and raised in Brea, graduated from Brea HS and for 16 years has been a member the Brea Historical Society… President for the last 6 years.

Few people in town devote as much time and energy into local activities or understand local issues better than John. That’s why I’ve ask him to share his correspondence regarding the Mercury Lane Project with the Planning Commission here as a guest blogger.

John’s Message on the Mercury Lane Project.

January 12, 2020

To: Brea Planning Commission & City Staff

Subject: Mercury Apartments Project

I have lived in Brea for my entire life, mostly in the Arovista residential tract where I live today. I have seen this city grow to where it is today. The housing elements are varied and I believe fairly well balanced between attached and detached residences.

My first few years of adulthood placed me in rental units, apartments and houses. In 1977, we were able to purchase a home a stay in Brea. This was an ideal situation for me, since I worked for Unocal in Brea. My commute was 15 minutes.

For many, many years I enjoyed riding a bicycle to and from work. I felt very fortunate to live in the same city where I worked. I had many coworkers who were making long, daily commutes, or renting with others.

The 114 Mercury Apartments will be a good addition to the rental community in Brea. This private project will target the young professional market, of which Brea has many, from firefighters and police officers, engineers, medical and office workers.

Mercury Apartments are not low-income units, they are not subsidized by government and our taxes. They are built near several businesses that have employees who can rent near work and will be very happy to eliminate their daily commute.

We have become a society of valuing time.

Commuting 2 hours a day is not a good use of time.

We’re all concerned with the number of vehicles driving to and through our city at peak times, people heading to work or home. We’ve very little control of traffic with projects in neighboring cities. We have to rely on their project E.I.R. to identify impacts to Breans.

We do have control of our projects and can identify the impacts. This project will encourage people to live here and use alternate means of getting to work. The location is in walking distance to shopping, entertainment and dining, and recreation.

Some people have expressed concerns about insufficient on-site parking. If you look around the city at other apartment complexes, they are all under parked and overflow into the streets and even an adjacent park. I believe with the proper mitigations and a parking management plan, the Mercury project can work to the benefit of all.

Over the holidays I spoke with several of my neighbors. Most knew nothing about this project. Their first reaction was no more low-income rentals. But when I explained more of the project to them, their feelings changed and they became supportive of the project.

I encourage the city staff and this Commission to continue to work with the developer and work towards agreements that make this project, in all respects, a benefit to Brea.

Sincerely.

John Bickel

What a difference when you know what you’re talking about.

I value John’s opinions, though we have differed at times. I know he has put in the work to know what he’s talking about and his deep love and concern for his hometown is without question.

If just fraction of the folks I see spouting off on Facebook and Nextdoor would take the time and interest John does before attacking their keyboards… and their neighbors… Brea would be a lot different today.

We wouldn’t be facing many of the crisis level issues we are… and I suspect we would have a whole different set of portraits hanging in the Council Chambers.

mercury

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

Corruption’s Partner Is Our Own Indifference.

I don’t do indifference. I don’t do close enough. I don’t accept half truths. When I want answers I’ll go to almost any length to get them. I’ve got them… in spades!

After several months of investigation, submitting numerous CPRA requests to the City Clerk with the hope of finding some truth about the Hines Brea Place project, I finally discovered the truth.

We, and I mean the City Council, the Planning Commission and concerned citizens, have been the victims of a deception of unprecedented proportions.

The deception begins to unravel.

I requested copies of an RFP to write/produce an Addendum to the Brea General Plan Final EIR, a list of firms invited to submit a proposal, all proposals received, other written communications between City of Brea staff and firms invited to submit a proposal. All I got was the now widely distributed proposal from Kimley-Horn plus the general response which had become painfully familiar…

“There are no documents responsive to your request.”

So I emailed the City Clerk with this inquiry, “Just to confirm, the non responsive results verify that multiple firms were not invited to submit proposals. The city policy to seek competitive bids was waived and the PSA ($59,981.00) with Kimley-Horn was approved on a sole supplier basis.”

The email was bounced to David Crabtree, Director of Development, who, on Monday morning, April 3, responded, “We solicited two proposals for this CEQA review, Kimley-Horn and ICF International. We selected Kimley-Horn for the job and executed a PSA with them. We do not have any responsive records to provide regarding the requests, other than what we have given you. We have not retained a copy of the rejected proposal from ICF — it was over a year ago and we don’t have any reason to retain. Hope this information is of benefit. Dave”

Red flags started going up like a May Day parade in the Kremlin!

I responded to David, “How were the solicitations made if there are no responsive documents? What, as you remember, differentiated the proposals such that you selected Kimley-Horn? Was the decision based upon low bid? Is the discarding of the ICF proposal in keeping with the city’s records retention policy?”

Thankfully I wasn’t limited to hammering the city with CPRA requests. Other resources became available so I shortly received a copy of the letter soliciting ICF’s participation in the project and the proposal they submitted. You know, the one staff decided to shred.

Busted!

The proposal was crystal clear, writing an addendum was absolutely the wrong thing to do… so wrong that ICF refused to do so and instead submitted a proposal to do a new EIR in accordance with CEQA. Forget all that legal mumbo jumbo tossed about by the City Attorney. Here’s what the ICF proposal said:

“We understand that the City’s goal is to tier (i.e. extrapolate) 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 that exist on the ground, 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, and have attempted to explain our rationale below.”

Translation: You’re asking us to write an addendum “if feasible.” It’s not feasible. Let us explain why you should not do this.

“The General Plan Final EIR acknowledges that it is in fact a Program EIR…” Program, get it, not project! You can’t use a program level document to assess impacts at the project level — especially 14 years later!

“If a later activity would have effects that were not examined in the program EIR, a new Initial Study would need to be prepared leading to either an EIR or a Negative Declaration.”

Precisely what I and several others have been referring to as “cumulative” impacts. Like the traffic impacts created by Central Park Brea and La Floresta.

It gets better!

“While the previous environmental documents set the expectation for future development of the site in accordance with the General Plan and Zoning, it is our opinion that the previous environmental documents are not sufficient to cover the development project and that a standalone EIR be conducted, incorporating the previous environmental documents by reference. We believe this to be the best course of action for the following reasons:

  • The General Plan EIR is a first-tier program EIR. Tiering (i.e. extrapolating) from this EIR might be appropriate for new General Plan policies or actions, but not specific development projects.
  • Use of a Subsequent or Supplemental EIR, or even an Addendum, would be appropriate if there were minor changes to the General Plan (which was the previous action evaluated). Specific development proposals were not identified in the General Plan, and therefore the project does not represent a minor change to the previous project.
  • The impact analysis under the General Plan is at a program level, and does not address the impacts associated with development of the site and impacts on surrounding areas. Thus, the impacts associated with development of the site have not been adequately defined or disclosed.
  • Over 10 years have passed since certification of the General Plan EIR and the Zoning District Negative Declaration. Thus, existing conditions and circumstances have changed substantially since that time, and new issues must be examined under CEQA.

Thus, for the reasons above, we have proposed to prepare a stand-alone EIR for the proposed project.”

There it is, the smoking gun Zim Walker has been talking about!

Let’s get back to the sticky parts of the process.

Monday, late afternoon, I shared all of this with City Manager, Bill Gallardo. Somewhat stunned, he agreed to bring all of this to the attention of David Crabtree, first thing Tuesday morning. Early Tuesday I received this from Bill:

“Hi Rick: Not ready to discuss… still gathering the facts… if not today for sure tomorrow. Thanks. Bill”

Here is my response:

“Bill… After being deflected, misinformed and flat out lied to for almost two months I finally uncovered irrefutable evidence. I shared all of this with you Monday afternoon, saving you the months of time wasted I was subjected to.

As you are abundantly aware, I have documents that prove staff knowingly ignored information from a highly reputable source, one solicited by staff specifically for their guidance and assistance in the Hines Brea Place matter. Staff was clearly told, in no uncertain terms, why relying upon an addendum to our 14 year old General Plan and FEIR violated CEQA guidelines on multiple grounds.

Members of the Planning staff violated current city records retention policy by destroying the incriminating communications mentioned above. They also knowingly violated the CPRA by reporting to Lillian Harris-Neal, City Clerk, that they possessed no records responsive to my requests when the truth was, as clearly admitted to in the email I received Monday morning from David Crabtree, Director of Development, that the documents had been destroyed.

Any reasonable person discovering what I’ve discovered would likely reach the same conclusions I have, that there has been collusion amongst some members of the Planning Department and City Attorney’s office, to violate environmental law (CEQA) and the public’s right to know (CPRA), with the ultimate objective to hide everything from the Council, the Planning Commission, the City Manager and the public they’ve been hired to serve.

Please, regardless of who may be counseling you to circle the wagons, finding a way to minimize damages and public exposure, I ask you to do the right thing. Choose instead to serve the people’s best interest. And please, provide full accountability and transparency while you strive to resolve these egregious acts.

Restart the Planning Commission on a proper course of action in the matter of the Hines Brea Place development so it might reach a positive conclusion that benefits all concerned.

Purge city staff of those who hold themselves above the law and follow personal agendas that ignore the people they’re hired to serve. Re-educate members of city staff who have inadvertently been duped into facilitating the misconduct of their peers.

You’re asking for an extra day beyond what we discussed on Monday. If it means the people of Brea will receive the service and justice they deserve… of course.

Respectfully, Rick Clark”

Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon.

smoking gunAgain, Bill and I had a lengthy conversation about what I had uncovered and what he intended to do next. He shared the response he received from David Crabtree, “Early last year we conducted meetings with the City Planner, City Attorney, Hines staff and their attorney and John Koos, the Hines consultant. We evaluated both proposals and elected to go with the one from Kimley-Horn.”

Hang on, wasn’t I told by Hines’ Project Manager Bhavesh Parikh, “they were only invited to participate in initial discussions about the addendum but were given no role in the final decision. The City Planner unilaterally made the decision.”

So “they” included the Hines attorney and consultant. No mention of reviewing two contradicting proposals. No suggestion “they” played a role in the decision.

I’m having a pretty damned hard time buying off on all of the smoke and mirrors surrounding the Hines project and everyone concerned.

I told Bill that as there seemed to be no attempt on the part of staff to rectify anything, they left me with no alternative but to publish my findings and opinions on Brea Matters.

The Russians are coming! The Russians are Coming!

One might think so since Brea Matters, less than 5 hours later, was hacked! Yup, obliterated from the interwebs! Scrubbed, deleted, summarily violated! Six years of hard work and dedication erased.

Thanks to a brilliant webmaster, most of the site through 2016 was recovered by morning and I’ve republished the balance today. In sharing what happened with a couple of close friends, this was best characterized as a malicious targeted criminal enterprise.

Okay folks, it’s up to you now.

I know this has been a lot to absorb. My first reaction to finding out the truth was, “Oh no, not in good ol’ Brea!” Get over it. It happened here and we need to step up and do something about it.

Both City Council and the Planning Commission have been alerted to this post. Most of it, especially the ethics and legal ramifications, are brand new to them. As this starts to sink in, I suggest you send them an email letting them know how you react to it.

Haul your feelings into the Planning Commission meeting on April 25th and speak up. Get there early or Hines will have already filled the good seats with their Hollywood extras and you’ll be left standing in the back again.

Is this how you want your city run? Is this how you believe your community can create a sustainable future for itself? For you? For your kids and grandkids?

Some serious housekeeping is in order!

Markman & Flower