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

RDA 2.0 – A Really Bad Idea!

On Friday morning, August 2nd, the Development Committee met with only one real item on their agenda. “Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (EFIDs) with presentation by Staff and Larry Kosmont, Kosmont Companies. The presentation from Kosmont, centered around “How do you capture vitality and quality of life in a digital economy?” However a good dose of “state mandates fear” formed the foundation upon which the presentation was built.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter.

There appears to be a growing interest in rejuvenating an old idea, redevelopment. This new… call it RDA 2.0… is a rebirth of tax increment financing for local/regional projects.

Managed by Brea’s Public Financing Authority, new redevelopment districts would be created, property taxes frozen and new “redevelopment” bonds issued to finance some sort of infrastructure projects.

No public vote is required to create these new “enhanced infrastructure financing” districts!

The mantra “no new taxes” is repeated over and over as if that will lull us into a false sense of trust and comfort.

Look, when the property values are reassessed and the taxes unfrozen, the properties will be paying at a much higher rate and the difference will be used to retire the bond debt.

What about this suggests no new taxes?

So, where are these new EIFDs?

The report listed: Central Park Village, Brea Place (Hines), Aera Energy Brea 265, 2830 East Orbiter (adjacent property owned by firm of Planning Commissioner James McGrade), Embassy Retail Court, Brea Mall, Brea Plaza, Former Improv, Gaslight Square, Regal Theatres, Mercury Lane Residential, Downtown hotel, Brea Community Center, Brea Library, and Suzuki Motor of America.

To me, 90% of these properties are either doing quite well as is or they’re in various stages of development… not even yet completed. And the United States Bankruptcy Court confirmed American Suzuki’s plan of liquidation (Chapter 11) on February 28, 2013.

The first city/county EIFD tax increment partnership is the Placentia Old Town district. Over 300 acres with taxes frozen at $365 million and anticipated to be unfrozen at $460 million. For what?

Kosmont lists the following: $22M net fiscal impact to City; $15M to County; 1,600+ housing units; 3,900+ construction jobs; $800M+ construction period economic output; 1,150+ permanent jobs; $164M+ in annual ongoing economic output.

Prove it.

Here is what Kosmont proposes to do in Brea: Kosmont to evaluate: Project and land use review; EIFD boundary alternatives; infrastructure improvements required; Tax increment funding capacity / complementary sources; Orange County cooperation; Implementation strategy and roadmap.

Kosmont proposed timing: Feasibility evaluation – 2 to 3 months; District formation activities – 6 to 12 months.

Stop the madness!

Not a whisper about seeking public review or approval.

In December 2011, the California Supreme Court upheld the complete elimination of redevelopment agencies and TIF along with it. The legal wrangling that followed is complicated and not worth going into detail here.

Suffice it to say Redevelopment was terminated for good reasons. Why, just 8 years later, has it suddenly become a good idea again?

Nothing in life is free.

They try and seduce us with parks and community projects. But where’s the money come from? From schools and our pockets!

From the mid-seventies through 2011 Brea built a boatload of RDA projects. Some were on private land and made reasonable use of the tax increment. Many, like the Civic Center, Community Center, Senior Center, Sports Park and Rails-to-Trails were on public land for which no tax increment existed!

District borders were repeatedly expanded, bonds were repeatedly refinanced and cash was created at every opportunity. Hell, they even tricked us into passing the Paramedic’s Tax, almost half of which never paid for a single thing related to emergency medical services.

No one in city hall can give you an accurate price for one single project. The web of financing hijinks was so complicated they’ve lost all comprehension of what they pulled off for over 40 years. Millions upon millions.

You know what really hurts? We still owe $193,871,104 million dollars which we’ll be paying off all the way through June 2036.

Revenue is down, expenses are ever on the increase, we’re hovering on the edge of unbalanced budgets for several years to come.

Now is not the time to start some fiscal boondoggle, proven to be a failure years ago. Especially if it does little more than provide job security to a handful of city planners having a tough time justifying their jobs anymore.

Tax increment financing (TIF) is no way to defray the cost of urban revitalization… assuming that’s what we want to do in the first place.

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