Council Meeting Triggers Rant.

Like a growing number of folks I watched last night’s Council meeting from the comfort of my easy chair. As I watched I slid ever closer to the edge of my seat and the comments I was barking at the TV got louder and louder. Okay, forewarned is forearmed. This is a rant and you can bail out now and we’ll still be friends.

What is Council really approving?

Council is elected to make decisions in the best interest of those they serve… the ones who voted for them and those that didn’t. So why do so many issues become so politicized?

Why doesn’t staff provide all the pros and cons, including verified factual information, allowing Council to come to their own conclusions? Why do I constantly hear, “I move to approve, as presented…” – and boom! Another rubber stamp on the status quo.

council rubberstamp

Between the medical marijuana zoning ordinance and the rather contentious conclusion to jacking up our tiered water rates, I’ve never heard so much convoluted legalese and city speak tossed about. And why?

To herd Council down a trail leading to an unedited approval of staff’s grand plan.

When is the law not the law?

When it doesn’t suit the desired results sought by Planning and the City Attorney. Case in point, the medical marijuana matter was concluded based, in part, on 65 year old unsubstantiated Reefer Madness propaganda masquerading as fact.

Worse yet, though clearly pointed out by Council member Vargas, the vote for final approval included approving language stating Council verified and attested that the “facts” in the ordinance are true and correct!

Either remove the un-vetted opinion from the “Recitals” or delete the statement putting Council on the hook as validating the true and factual nature of statements. They have no means of proving anything.

“NOW, THEREFORE, the City Council of the City of Brea ordains as follows: The City Council find that the facts set forth in the Recitals, Part A, of this Ordinance are true and correct.”

One or the other has to go or it is arguable that Council is lying. I don’t care which part is nuked, just pick one and delete it… now and forever.

Also, what is all this nonsense about interim vs. permanent ordinances? Clearly, according to one City Attorney, the only real difference is an interim ordinance is a short term solution and the other is permanent (subject to amendments, remember).

The conflicting opinion is that a permanent ordinance is more defensible because it is created based upon fact and not upon urgent circumstance. Fact? Really? Go back and read my last point.

How did this get through the Planning Commission?

By the slimmest of margins following a passionate plea from the public, lengthy discussion of purpose and process by three Commissioners (two Commissioners didn’t join the discussion) and a series of three separate motions.

But did Council have the Commission’s minutes in their information packet? No. Were Commissioners contacted by Council to discuss the issues? Not that I’m aware of.

Council was told by the City Attorney that having the Planning Commission minutes would be unhelpful, offering only a bare minimum of information. Further he recommended Council listen to the streaming audio recording of the Planning Commission meeting as a better resource.

If the Commission’s minutes are unhelpful, why do them?

Council and Planning Commission minutes are created to provide a meaningful account of the business conducted – they are the official public record of the meeting. Years from now, anyone should be able to access and review these minutes and should be able to reconstruct a reasonable account of what transpired.

I have been attempting to drive this point home for two years, with two City Clerks, two City Managers and three Council members.

Action minutes, for Council and Planning Commission, where city policy and law are created, fall miserably short of fulfilling their purpose as written public record.

Don’t use the excuse that we have streaming video we can refer to, who the hell does that? Provide a reasonable summary in writing. That’s really not too much to ask. If the summary leaves me with additional questions I can turn to the video for details, but let it be my choice.

Back on topic.

Having listened to the streaming audio file for the January 26 Planning Commission meeting, it is abundantly clear that the audio quality is intermittent at best with much content being unintelligible.

I’m told this is attributable to two things. One – Commission members need additional instruction on how to properly use the new equipment, and two – as is common practice with Council meetings, Communications Department staff should be present to monitor recording quality.

Okay, so the Planning Commission audio file is virtually useless to Council.

Last night’s rush to judgment ran roughshod over common sense for the sake of kicking the can down the road and clearing the agenda. In the future I wish Council would leave the politics out and make a more concerted effort to get it right the first time. Its damn poor policy to keep falling back on the excuse that it’s easy to amend stuff later should circumstances change.

Really, when has that ever happened?

Again, case in point, since the Central Park Village Brea project was approved, has Council revisited the CFD and Mello-Roos issues that were swept under the rug? No.

How many other open ended issues have disappeared into the fog of history? We can’t even go back and review past minutes to answer that question. Per City Attorney Markman, “The law only requires action minutes and record of the vote.”

What about the spirit of the law Mr. Markman? What will it take to shift “transparency” from being a campaign buzzword to how this city conducts it’s business? What will it take to institute a level of accountability into how this city conducts it’s business that will help Breans to begin to trust local government again?

One final thought.

When a motion dies for lack of a second it’s a slap in the face to the one making the motion. I’ll refrain from suggesting what epithet accompanies the assault, but you might as well raise middle fingers in unison as you sit there mute.

Roy Moore once said that he often seconded motions with which he was in opposition if for no other reason than to demonstrate respect for his peers and afford them the opportunity to have their ideas discussed. Amen Roy.

For all Council’s continued yammering about respect and professional courtesy, letting a motion die for lack of a second belays all that. It is unconscionable. It is unacceptable.

council rubberstamp

No Loophole Left Behind.

Leave it to lawyers, bureaucrats and politicians to take full advantage of every loophole they discover… or create. With a Mayor that appears to embody all three vocations, it comes as little surprise that loopholes abound down at city hall.

Madrona falls off the radar.

Madrona-yes-1If you were looking for the next (final?) act in the Madrona comedy of errors on tomorrow’s Council agenda I’ll save you some time. It isn’t there.

At the last meeting Murdock and Marrick blindsided everyone with a wish list of new considerations. Turns out the two largest financial windfalls they were trying to orchestrate are illegal. Yup, against the law.

The attempt to extract an additional $3.2 to $5.4 million to acquire additional Cal Domestic Water Co. preferred shares is, you guessed it, illegal. Their request for $742,875 in supplemental park-in-lieu fees in addition to the statutory $1.6 million park-in-lieu fees the city was already getting turns out to also be, yep, illegal.

Solution? Buy a little more time.

christine_talksLooks like our budding barrister blew it. Now Murdock and Marrick need another two weeks (minimum) to do damage control, to find a new gambit for getting blood from a stone.

Not satisfied getting 9 out of 11 conditions approved Mrs. Marrick? You got your un-snooty un-gated community and your snooty custom estates approved. Seems to me you two are being more than a little greedy.

City Attorney Markman, when I asked about the missing agenda item, responded, “… there was and is no legal requirement for the matter to be on tomorrow’s Council meeting agenda.” I’m pretty confident he would deny the presence of any loophole.

More agenda skulduggery.

brett_praysTucked in amongst trivial housekeeping items on the Study Session agenda is a request from Murdock to take a trip to sister city Lagos de Moreno to help celebrate their 451 year anniversary.

This sounds eerily similar to the junket he took with Schweitzer and O’Donnel to Anseong and Hanno a couple of years ago. Can you say Koreagate?

What part of no don’t you understand?

The precedent for 45 years has been for Council members to pay their own way. On only two occasions was this not been the case.

Once, when Roy Moore was hit with two foreign travel obligations within one year, the City Manager suggested the city would be able to cover at least the airfare for the second trip. Moore paid the balance.

The second deviation was the vacation Schweitzer, Murdock and O’Donnell took at taxpayer’s expense. A contentious issue yet today, the matter has been swept under the rug and remains unresolved. Certainly no new precedent has been set.

Sneaking this in under the radar by slipping the matter onto the Study Session agenda demonstrates just how unwilling some are to transparently conduct the city’s business.

If you feel so “justified” Mr. Murdock, at least have the juevos to review the pros and cons of the Lagos de Moreno request when the public is able to attend and the discussion will be part of the video record.

all-of-the-people

Let’s put an end to weaving one loophole after another and get down to conducting the people’s business without all of the hidden agendas.

 

Council Is Blindsided Again!

While watching Tuesday’s Council meeting (04/15) my cellphone blew up with calls and texts saying, in one form or another, that Council is blindsided again. Most referenced last December’s Council reorganization meeting as the blindsiding benchmark.

Madrona-yes-1After receiving Planning Commission approval, first in 2008 and then in 2013, the Madrona development was challenged again by a small but vocal special interest group Hills For Everyone. Their Vice President/Treasurer, Bev Perry, took the lead role as appellant and asked Council to overturn the Commission’s decision.

After several hearings going back to November of last year, the appellant presented their objections to the project, the applicant presented overriding considerations, both sides rebutted the other’s facts and figures and the public was given the opportunity to wade in, on the record, with their opinions.

The finish line was in sight.

Or was it? With the public hearing closed, this was to be the wrap-up discussion by Council with a vote to either uphold the appeal or deny it – in essence to deny or approve the development moving forward. Then Council, at least some of them, had the rug pulled out from under their feet.

brett_praysSuddenly we were listening to Mayor Murdock and Mayor Pro Tem Marrick dive into their special list of additional considerations ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime.

No one calling or texting me thought this was appropriate and wondered why neither other Council members or the City Attorney interjected and pulled the plug on their dog and pony show.

Well within their rights.

christine_talksI discussed this with folks either having  a strong background in planning and development or legal authorities specializing in development law.

Murdock and Marrick were well within their rights to present their considerations.

But what is legal may not be prudent. Many still question their secretive style which seemed more than a little politically motivated. Plus, the items they rattled off, with marginal support from other Council members, added weeks to a process most in the community were ready to put to bed.

How critically important are these last minute considerations?

roy_intervenesHere, lifted from Roy Moore’s Brea Net (#682) newsletter, are the items in question. (The commentary is mine, don’t go calling Roy on this.)

Roy concludes, “As you can see many are relatively harmless with minimum cost impact. Others are major and may be hard for the developer to comply. The Council approved a motion to ask staff to develop a draft of the [above] conditions for approval of the Madrona development. The Madrona saga continues on May 6.”

1.  Madrona should not be a gated community.

Claiming that good old Brea’s reputation would be poorly served by creating a security barrier around executive estates, that it would appear snobby… I guess Marrick overlooked the numerous gated apartment and condo properties throughout Brea.

Besides, why would owners of million dollar plus homes want that sort of security anyway?

2.  Other than for emergency uses, Olinda Place will never be used by Madrona residents for daily use.

This really doesn’t provide an overriding consideration benefitting much of Brea outside of Olinda Village residents, the loud voices droning on and on supporting Hills for Everyone.

marty_motionsNoteworthy however is that this allowed emergency use provides the second ingress egress point felt mandatory by Councilman Simonoff who seemed to be weighing his total view of Madrona based on a public safety technicality.

To be sure, Simonoff has a lengthy track record of fighting for public safety issues. Someone should remind him that Fire Chief Kanaabe was satisfied with the plan as written.

When I questioned Simonoff about this, he reconfirmed his position relative to safety issues and said that, if Olinda Village came to him today for approval, he would likely vote no on it as well.

3.  A system should be included in the development to collect and recycle water runoff.

For most concerned this is a useful and feasible consideration. Not sure where they want it collected or how they want it redistributed. I suppose we’ll hear more at the next meeting.

4.  Each home should have the capability to collect and recycle “gray” water.

This will likely prove more difficult, more costly, because it calls for two parallel plumbing systems, doubles the number of connections and requires the addition of individual purification systems. No figures were given regarding water savings. And again, I have to ask what is the overriding benefit derived by the rest of us living in Brea? Weren’t water issues determined to be non-issues now?

5.  The developer should procure water shares in Cal Domestic for the City.

david_respondsIn a word, impossible. There are no shares available now. The current price per share is $16,000 dollars.

What, you want a check so if and when shares become available we can acquire them? How big a check? At what price per share? Putting this “water in lieu” idea on the table is unfeasible, impractical.

Did you not listen to staff when they told you this? You keep laying it on thick how wonderful, how brilliant these folks are who, as Murdock put it, “get the big bucks…” Why don’t you listen to them? They’re trying to earn their keep. Let ’em!

6.  The future buyers should have the option to include solar panels on their home.

ron_babblesAnother half baked snake bit idea. From your conversation it’s clear that you have no clue how this would be implemented. Kudos to Garcia for mumbling something about solar panels he saw once at a League of Cities meeting that look like shingles. Maybe I was the only one who heard him because the discussion raced off in another direction and the whole matter was dumped into staff’s lap.

7.  The development should contain 10% of the homes as true custom homes on minimum one-half acre lots.

There are half acre lots already, maybe they could be designated as your “custom” lots Ms. Marrick. But wait! This sounds really snobby to me! Big fat mini-mansions in the hills? How does this not completely conflict with your wanting no security gates? You can’t have it both ways, pick one and argue for it.

8.  At least one of the pocket parks should contain amenities such as a tot lot.

Hmmm, pretending that you didn’t come up with this months ago Ms. Marrick, the idea still gets stuck in first gear for me. Tell me how many families able to afford million dollar plus homes have kids still in the toddler stage? Are they supposed to wait until they become grandparents before the amenity is useful to them? Or maybe you thought all of Brea’s young moms and dads would flock there, through the un-gated entry, on weekends and holidays. Yeah, that will help sell executive homes.

9.  Provide back up generators for the two water pumping stations on Carbon Canyon Road.

Might be a bit excessive considering that the Fire Chief, already satisfied with the development, has a clear plan to cover this need. This sounds more like bankrolling political collateral. We’ll know for sure if, during campaign season, we see another of those “Look What I Did For Ya” flyers circulating all over town.

10. Get Cal Trans approval to the ingress and egress to the tract before beginning any excavation.

This is an absolute. It should have been on the “list” months ago. The space out there is tight and Cal Trans has a reputation of taking forever on matters like this. The Olinda Village signal took what, two years to get approved? Seems like it. This is the developer’s number one mission. Without this, nothing else being discussed matters.

11.  Increase projected school fees.

12.  Increase projected transportation fees.

These get lumped together because they’re statutory fees and arbitrarily doubling them, as pointed out Tuesday night, is actionable. The school fees are totally out of the scope of city business and Murdock needs to start paying better attention in class. These should be pulled off the list before the next meeting if for no other reason than to minimize the embarrassment to the community.

At the risk of opening Pandora’s box.

markman_chidesAfter the meeting the applicant’s attorney approached City Attorney Markman seeking to confirm that he and the applicant’s people will now be allowed to meet with city staff.

Both Murdock and Marrick, in there comments, alluded to this needing to happen. Markman confirmed that access was assured.

Really? What I discovered is that the appellant and her people had unlimited access to Council and staff during the hearings but that Markman barred city staff from having any contact with the applicant or their staff. What purpose did this serve?

It’s like trying to negotiate peace between Russia and the Ukraine… and telling the Ukraine they can’t come to the negotiating table. Sorry, but that sounds totally counterproductive to me and I’m surprised Council put up with it.

As long as the box is open.

Another issue that surfaced was, with all of these “new” considerations on the table, should the public hearing be reopened allowing the public to speak on the record again? When I queried Markman about this via email, here is his response.

“A reopened additional hearing would not be required legally. A Council may modify a project through conditioning as a result of a hearing process without reopening the hearing to discuss the Council’s revisions. The Council may reopen the hearing if the Council decides to do so by motion.”

Roy Moore asked the question. Brett Murdock said absolutely not. Markman said it’s possible but not required. The more people talked, the more they thought about what meaningful contribution John Q. Public made in this whole affair and the less interested they were in reopening public comment.

I agree. Don’t reopen the public hearing. Seriously, go back and watch the meetings.

Except for three or four very well articulated positions, everything else became a din of emotionally delivered soundbites of canned Hills For Everyone rhetoric delivered over and over like a broken record.

I know I’m going to get royally jammed up on that one so I’m hoping all of you who have turned off Matters From The Audience half way through to watch a rerun of Waking Ned Devine will support me with your comments.

It’s Time To Fish Or Cut Bait.