(4/5/07) Editorial – Why I’m Going to Vote No on Measure V

I’ve decided to vote no on Measure V.  And here are some of my thoughts as to why I came to that decision.

I think there are too many flaws in the initiative, too many angles that have not been thought through.  Ambiguities.  Things that could be interpreted in more than one way.  So we end up in litigation to find the answer.   We end up using the City’s minimal reserves fighting lawsuits, and the attorneys get richer.  Then, what if new sources of revenue are found, say the state decides not to use the money it’s been pulling from the City for one reason or another, and the City gets some money in.  Do we get to use that money to increase what we pay our cops?  To bring the library up to seismic standards?  To re-open the pool year round?  No, it’s going to have to go back into the reserves, because we’re too busy depleting them fighting about ambiguities in legislation that should never have passed.  Sierra Madre can’t afford Measure V.

I don’t want higher density projects such as senior or low income housing to be built in our residential neighborhoods.  If Measure V passes, higher density projects such as low income or senior housing will be prohibited in the downtown area.  So they would be built in our residential neighborhoods.  Do you want a new condo complex next door to your house?  To me, building senior housing in these areas doesn’t make a lot of sense.  The downtown area is where seniors would want to live, so that if they get to a point where they no longer feel comfortable driving, they can just walk to the Post Office, walk to the coffee shops, walk to the restaurants, the dentist, their doctor, the library. 

Another reason is property rights.  I think that the people that own property downtown should, within reason, be able to build on their property a structure or structures that can appreciate in value over time, and earn them some money as it does.  That’s kind of the intent of commercial property.  But if the restrictions on building that are put in place are too severe, they aren’t going to be able to do that.  Let’s take the property that’s in front of the Mariposa parking lot for instance.  This area is on a slope.  Now, why shouldn’t these property owners be able to put up two stories at the street level to conduct business, and utilize the slope to put another story underground to provide additional parking?  Measure V prohibits that, unless the City and the building owner bring the project before the people in an election, because Measure V defines that type of structure as a 3-story structure, and it does not allow anything more than two.

I don’t believe that property values are going to fall because Measure V doesn’t pass.  Some of the people who back the initiative will tell you that the only way to maintain our property values is to pass Measure V.  In the same breath, they will tell you that the money-hungry realtors are trying to stop Measure V.  Guess what?  If property values go down, realtors make less money.   If Measure V is going to help us maintain property values, wouldn’t the realtors be backing it?

I’m not as scared of mixed use as some people in this town seem to be.  Many of the proponents of Measure V say they want to retain the 19th century charm of our downtown area.  Well, the way I understand it, in the old days, it was not uncommon for a store owner to live in the space above their store.  Mixed use properties have been around for a long time.  Seems to me that while it may not be the actual store owner living above the store, we’d still be practicing the same principal of dwellings over commercial.

I don’t think Joe Q. Public is equipped to be in charge of land use issues for the entire downtown area.  I don’t think most people had any idea what 13 units per acre was until a few months ago.  I don’t think most of them still have any idea what floor area ratios are.  I don’t think most of them understand about grading, or surveying, or even common things like setbacks.  What do you know about traffic flow?  What are the different ratings of firewalls needed in kitchens, and are they dependent on the equipment being used?   How about a kitchen that has excess water flowing because there are multiple dishwashers in use?  What size drain pipe is required?  Are we voters qualified to review projects and determine that they meet the necessary land use standards?  And yet, if Measure V passes, any project in the downtown area that exceeds the 2-30-13 restrictions is going to be reviewed and approved or denied by the residents of this town.  I have to say, I’ve seen more than a few people in this town upon whose intellect I would not want my project to be dependent.

The elections remove any negotiation with the builder.  Recently, at the top of Baldwin, the City Council approved a project, but placed more than 180 conditions on the builder, in order for the project to be approved.  Suppose there was a project proposed that was beneficial to the City, and we liked everything about the project, but there was a large, unsightly air conditioning unit located along side the building.  In an election, we either say yea or nay.  We don’t get to say yea, so long as you put up plants to cover the unsightly a/c unit alongside the structure, or move the a/c on the roof, or behind the building.  So we either say yea, and get an unsightly a/c unit, or we say nay, and turn down a project whose only drawback was that it needed some plants.  Maybe kind of an extreme hypothetical, and for all I know, there may be land use ordinances in place that prevent that from happening.  I don’t know.  But that’s kind of my point number 6.  I don’t know the land use laws, so I shouldn’t be making decisions that affect other people’s lives and livelihoods by approving or denying their projects with my uneducated vote.

I don’t think all development is bad.  There, I’ve said it.  I don’t think all development is bad.  I do think overdevelopment is bad.  I think wrong development is bad.  But I think there is such a thing as responsible development.  And I trust our planning commission, the city council, and the people of Sierra Madre to work within our current system to ensure that responsible development is the only kind of development that takes place downtown.  I include the people of Sierra Madre in that equation, because Sierra Madreans have shown time and again that they will turn out in force to stop ideas they don’t agree with.  A drive-through at the corner of Auburn and Sierra Madre.  A high school at the top of Baldwin.  But they did it at planning commission meetings and city council meetings, not at an election.  Using our existing system.

We have a system in place that’s celebrating its 100th year.  We elect representatives to handle things like land use issues.  If you decide you don’t trust the people you put in place, you vote them out at the next election.  You don’t just scuttle the system that’s worked for a century.  I trust our council members to do what they think is best for our City.  I may not agree with what they think is right, but I trust that they believe they are doing the right thing.  And so, I think you do your best to convince 3 of the 5 to handle things until that next election takes place.  What you don’t do is pass laws that change the entire way the City operates, setting the City up for major financial problems and lawsuits.
These are just some of the reasons.  Tune in next week, when I’ll tell you a few more.