(9/15/06) Editorial – What’s Being Said, What’s Not Being Said About 2-30-13

Well, I guess I’m in for it now.  I’ve decided to bring my opinion into my writing.  You’ll notice that when I did so, I put the word “Editorial” in front of it.  I wish more papers would do that.  Anyway, I expect I’m in for it now, since I’m sure many of you will disagree with what I have to say. 

Now, I’m not taking a position yet on the 2-30-13 initiative vs. the General Plan vs. DSP.  The only one of those that exists is the General Plan.  The DSP is in a state of flux, as it is a draft, subject to change based on the discussion and opinions of the Planning Commission, the City Council and we, the people. I’ll need to have something a little more concrete, so to speak, before I can endorse the DSP, if I end up deciding I want to endorse it.  But I plan to participate in the creation of future drafts, just as I did when the first draft was being formed.  And I invite and encourage everyone else to do so as well.  Even if you support 2-30-13.  Because what if 2-30-13 doesn’t pass?  You’ll have missed out on an opportunity to participate in the creation and direction of the DSP.  Don’t put your eggs all in one basket.

The 2-30-13 initiative has been submitted to the City Clerk.  She passed it to the City Attorney, who will give it a title and summarize it, and it will be returned to the submitter.  Once it has received Title and Summary, its backers can begin collecting signatures to try and get it on the ballot.  I just received a copy of it a few moments ago, but haven’t had the time to look it over yet.

I recently attended the “launch” party for the 2-30-13 initiative, put on by SMRRD at Café 322.  The meeting was, for the most part, civil, and a lot of information was provided.  No actual initiative yet at that time, but a lot of information, and some misinformation. 

I am concerned by what was being said, and what was not being said, in a letter read to the audience that was apparently written by Kurt Zimmerman, a City Councilman who is a member of SMRRD.  In the letter, Zimmerman said that “Our previous City Council retained a consultant to prepare the Downtown Specific Plan to encourage development and redevelopment in our downtown areas…”  What wasn’t said, was that RBF Consulting was retained to prepare the Downtown Specific Plan to provide guidelines and limits as to what can be developed in our downtown area.  By choosing to say that the former Council was encouraging the development, rather than limiting it, either of which is accurate, Zimmerman is putting his spin on the facts.  I participated in the workshops when the draft was being put together, and the planning director at that time, Kurt Christiansen, and the members of RBF Consulting, were quite clear that the reason for the creation of the DSP was that the City wanted to establish guidelines and limits that would be more likely to preserve the Village atmosphere that we currently have when large parcels such as the Skilled Nursing Facility and the Howie’s Market site and others are being developed.  While Zimmerman makes it sound like encouraging development and redevelopment is a bad thing, the fact is that it needs to be done.  How many of you like seeing the plywood covered windows and doors at the Skilled Nursing Facility?  If more of the downtown goes the plywood route, how long do you think your residential property values are going to continue to rise?  We need to encourage the right kind of development, so that Sierra Madre maintains its Village charm.  And that includes establishing guidelines and limits, which is what the DSP is intended to do.  And the 2-30-13 Initiative, as well, for that matter, though if I understood what I heard at the meeting, it is intending to use the existing General Plan guidelines.

What’s being said: “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.”  By the same author, in the same letter.  Now Mr. Zimmerman is an attorney, and as such, I expect that he has a pretty good understanding of words and what they mean.  Many attorneys pride themselves on their knowledge and practice of semantics.  That’s why I find it disappointing that he is not more careful about the words he chooses to use.  What’s not being said?  For one thing, that at the joint Planning Commission/City Council meeting where the Draft DSP was introduced, it was agreed that 4-stories would not be allowed, and that future drafts should limit construction to 3-stories.  Yet here, weeks later, Zimmerman is still stirring people up by saying that 4-story buildings would be allowed.  They won’t.  Also, his statement that the DSP calls for construction of up to 325 new condos or apartments in the downtown area is false.  The DSP does not call for any construction at all.  It guides and limits construction.  It does not call for it.  And while the worst case scenario in the Draft DSP as written states that there could be 325 new units, what’s not being said is this: “As detailed in Chapter 6, the district will include a standard 1.0 floor-to-area ratio (FAR) and 30 dwelling units per acre. Under this scenario, assuming build-out in the Downtown, there is a potential yield of 325 new residential units and 220,000 square feet of commercial/office uses. The “maximum build-out” scenario assumes that every property owner will choose to redevelop their site and, if they do, they will choose to maximize its use – a highly unlikely scenario. Similarly, “maximum build-out” scenario does not take into account that developments will also need to include landscaping, parking, and circulation, etc., again making the maximum build-out unlikely to achieve. However, for purposes of environmental review and assessment, this maximum build-out of the Specific Plan is analyzed.”  That is a direct quote from the Downtown Specific Plan, page 5-2.  In other words, 325 new units being built downtown just isn’t going to happen.   But it makes a good sound bite to rile people up.

What’s being said (again, same letter, same author): “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.”  What’s not being said:  Despite Kurt’s implication here that the DSP will be responsible for dump trucks, congestion, and disruption, there’s going to be dump trucks hauling dirt whether we keep the existing General Plan, implement the DSP, or pass the 2-30-13 initiative. The DSP, like the GP and 2-30-13, is a set of guidelines.  It is not a phased project, with design, construction, move-in.  Construction is construction, and with it comes disruption.  No matter what the design guidelines are.

What’s being said: “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…”  Kurt again, same letter.  What’s not being said: While the name of the initiative and the discussion about it implies that nothing can be built over 30’ high if 2-30-13 passes, because the General Plan guidelines will be in place, the General Plan currently allows buildings in excess of 30’ and densities in excess of 13 per acre.  In fact, the Hotel Shirley stands approximately 39’, and the top part of that building was re-constructed in 1998, 2 years after the General Plan began “limiting” construction to 30’.  It seems facades and architectural appurtenances are allowed to exceed the 30 foot limit in the General Plan.  And while the General Plan doesn’t specifically state a density factor for downtown, it does state that the Municipal Code shall determine construction limits in the downtown area.  Much of the downtown area is zoned as R-3 or RP, which uses an allowable density factor of 13 – 16/acre, and the General Plan recommends incentives for various reasons, such as affordable housing, senior housing, employment increase factors, etc.  The first incentive recommended is 25%, and a second incentive factor, to be determined.  So the very plan that is being touted as a model of restriction recommends increasing density beyond what the initiative’s backers are saying will be the maximum allowed.

One other thing that’s not being said: “California law requires that a Specific Plan be consistent with the General Plan of the adopting locality. To this end, existing General Plan goals and policies were reviewed to ensure consistency between the Downtown Specific Plan and the Sierra Madre General Plan. The Sierra Madre General Plan provides a supportive foundation for the Specific Plan and reinforces the goals and policies for the Downtown area, as evidenced by the highlighted General Plan goals and policies in Appendix C. A thorough analysis of consistency with the Sierra Madre General Plan was conducted as part of the planning process. The analysis concluded that the policies contained within the Downtown Specific Plan are consistent with the General Plan and no General Plan Amendments are required.”  That’s from section 2.5 of the DSP, found on page 2-6. 

Over the next several weeks, I will be writing articles that compare some of the differences and similarities in the three plans.  Maybe not every week, but as time allows, I’ll do what I can to bring you the facts about them.  We, the people, can’t make decisions in an informed manner, if the people we count on to inform us are giving us their spin, instead of stating the facts.  The articles I will be writing will be based on the facts.  I may also write an editorial or two, where I state my opinion, but they will be clearly marked as Editorials.