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Transcript of Kurt Zimmerman's Letter for SMRRD Information Meeting at Cafe 322

Monday, 8/28/06

We took a mini-cam to the meeting, and have done our best to transcribe the letter that opened the meeting as read by Kevin Dunn.

I want to thank each of you for being here tonight.  I was called away on business, and regret not being present this evening to address you personally and respond to your questions.  For the benefit of those who just moved to the city, or have been confused by misleading articles and letters to the editor, I will briefly discuss the Downtown Specific Plan and its impacts.  You will be seeing a PowerPoint presentation in a few minutes that will provide you further details of why this plan is wrong for Sierra Madre.  Our previous City Council retained a consultant to prepare the Downtown Specific Plan to encourage development and redevelopment in our downtown areas, which includes many properties along Sierra Madre Blvd. and Baldwin Ave.  At the joint City Council and Planning Commission meeting a draft of the Downtown Specific Plan was unveiled.  There was a lot to dislike about that draft, for example, it calls for the construction of up to 325 new condos or apartments in our downtown area, and allows developers to erect 4-story or higher buildings in Sierra Madre.  Now if you want to see what such condominium complexes might look like if built in Sierra Madre, take a look at our SMRRD brochure or better yet, drive down Colorado Blvd. west of Lake St. or down Arroyo Parkway, south of Colorado, in the Old Town part of Pasadena.  If you have seen the movie Field of Dreams, you probably remember the line “If you build it, they will come.”  If the Downtown Specific Plan is approved and implemented, the “they” will be hundreds of new residents.  As the population of our small town grows, so will a host of other problems.  During the construction phase, the dump trucks all moving dirt and other vehicles that carry workers and building supplies to and from our downtown will contribute to traffic congestion and otherwise disrupt the flow of our daily lives.  Of course, once the buildings are completed, we will have to contend with traffic congestion, air and noise pollution generated by the sudden arrival of cars and vans, motorcycles and trucks driven by our new residents.  In addition, the creation of a city within a city will require multi-million dollar infrastructure improvements including the laying of new water and power lines.  It is possible that some of the cost of those improvements will be passed on to us, the taxpayers of Sierra Madre.  Obviously the massive development will place additional demands on our volunteer fire department, local police department and will probably require the hiring of additional personnel.  Sadly, and you’ll hear more about this in a minute, the proposed development is no cure for the City’s real and perceived financial problems.  The downtown area is more or less continuous with the City’s redevelopment zone.  What that means, is that the additional property taxes collected after the completion of the proposed development, which lawyers and city planners refer to as the increment, cannot be deposited into our General Fund’s account.  Instead, the money is essentially earmarked to support even more building in a vicious cycle of further development.  Then too, sales tax is and has been a negligible source of revenue, comprising about 2% of our City budget.  The hoped for arrival of new businesses if the Downtown Specific Plan is implemented and approved is unlikely to change that percentage very much.  Now many of you have approached me to ask about low income housing mandates from Sacramento.  Apparently, you’ve been told by proponents of the Downtown Specific Plan that by law we must build hundreds of new condominiums downtown or the City risks Draconian sanctions.  And actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  But don’t take my word for it.  If you stayed up for the last City Council meeting, you heard the City Manager remark how we had already obtained our certification of our low-income housing element.  You also heard our City Attorney explain that the Southern California Association of Governments will not (unintelligible) to discuss any future low income housing requirements for Sierra Madre until sometime in 2008 or thereafter.  If you would like to learn more about this red herring, I recommend you to the excellent article written by Susan Henderson in the Daily Journal.  Now parroting editorials from the pro-development newspapers some of you have also told me that the approval and implementation of the DSP will provide affordable housing to native sons and daughters returning home after college, or to senior citizens.  Have any of you priced (unintelligible) in the San Gabriel Valley?  Since when is a $400,000 to a million dollar condo affordable to a recent college grad, or a senior citizen on a fixed income?  And legally, we can not force a developer to sell to Sierra Madreans and nobody else.  Unfortunately for all of us, and the reasons we are here tonight, the majority of our City Council have evidenced a preference for the higher density development in the Downtown Specific Plan.  I am concerned, as are hundreds of other residents, that they will not protect the interests of the majority of homeowners who moved to Sierra Madre because it was a small town.  Accordingly, I support this initiative, which you’ll hear described this evening.  It does not prohibit development.  Instead, it places reasonable height and density limits on construction in our downtown area.  The limits are currently found in the General Plan, which guides all development in our city, and has kept development at (unintelligible) levels for a decade.  The initiative will allow the voters, and not a pro-development majority of the City Council to decide if and when such limits can be exceeded.  With your support, I know this initiative will pass.  I look forward to working with all of you to preserve this little town we love so much.

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