No doubt many of us moved to Sierra Madre because of its charm. The open hillsides, the quirky buildings, Kersting Court, unique town festivals, access to mountain trails, walkable neighbourhoods and the famous wisteria vine, to name just a few. Incomprehensibly, Sierra Madre is under threat with little explanation from the Council who vowed to protect it and now fight the citizens with great vigor.
A vote on Measure HR is clearly the more democratic process, yet Council held two special meetings to rush the approval through before the November 8th election. Obviously believing strongly that the Meadows project is the best course for Sierra Madre as opposed to allowing for a vote of the people, we are deserving of an explanation. Particularly since this is the densest large development to ever be built in our city and one that will change the city forever. There are many smart citizens and outside experts who have studied the same public documents, yet have come to very different conclusions. There are many smart citizens and outside experts who submitted hundreds of comments that were never discussed.
Property rights have been brought up many times. However, what about the property rights of the homeowners in Sierra Madre? We have a reasonable expectation that new homes will be built in line with the city code; codes that many of us have been subjected to ourselves and that we recognize have helped to retain the wonderful characteristics that we value in our community. Approving a special Specific Plan in defiance of our General Plan and the many citizens that contributed to it requires an explanation.
Property values are important to all of us, as our homes are likely our most valuable asset. Despite the silly, unsupported argument that these homes will raise property values in Sierra Madre, they will not. The most basic economics class begins with the simple concept of supply and demand. A greater supply of homes, as with anything else, lowers the prices of homes around it. People like to live in Sierra Madre and therefore are willing to pay more to live here. Greater supply, especially ugly, dense, identical tract housing is likely to lower the prices of all the houses around it. Even a very small drop in our town’s overall home prices can lower revenues to the city while lowering our standard of living. The highest housing prices are correlated with the least dense cities in California. This is very basic, yet it has never been considered and discussed.
Boosting the City’s budget is another false argument. It is true that in the very short term any housing project will increase revenues to the city. The problem is that after the initial injection of funds, the Meadows project will be a cost burden to the city in many areas (police, fire & safety, utility & water, roads, traffic…) that will continue in perpetuity. There has never been a single document showing the financial figures that support Councils’ statements that this project would help the town financially. No doubt because no such statement exists nor is there any motivation to do one, because it will not look good.
Disturbingly -- Council collectively speaks out against Measure HR using inflammatory marketing phrases with inaccurate, false information rather than making true comparisons. Their ballot argument refers to ‘6500 square foot mansions being built on the Monastery property’ and ‘With SB9 a developer could build as many as 68 units’ on the 35 acres. They failed to note that in order to do so, the Retreat Center would be torn down. They also failed to note that under SB9, a developer is forbidden from adding additional units on a lot. Only an owner who lives in the home for 3 years can do so. Interestingly, both Council and the city attorney failed to remember this important provision in SB9 when they discussed and adopted it several months ago. Even after being ordered by a Superior Court judge to remove this incorrect information from their ballot
argument, it still appears on the city website and is referred to regularly by the uninformed groups that support the development. For fun, let’s try something different.... an objective comparison of the two options: 9 houses on every 2 acre plot of the Meadows project versus 1 house on every 2 acre plot under Measure HR. Applying floor area ratios (FAR) for an unbiased comparison: FAR is the square footage of the house/square footage of the lot. Applying this, the Meadows project will have a maximum FAR of 50% versus a maximum FAR under Measure HR of 7.5%. Knowing this, it is hard to comprehend why Council is aggressively arguing to the public that a FAR of 7.5% is worse than 50%. Most folks can easily recognize that a house covering a little more than 5% of the lot is preferable to one that covers half of the lot. We call this too much house on too little lot.
Regarding the issue of fire safety, the Meadows Project sits in the highest fire severity zone (osfm.fire.ca.gov) as determined by the state-- the same as the City of Paradise. It is one thing for drought and fire severity to cause greater risk in existing areas; it is very different to knowingly build in these areas. One wonders if this information will be disclosed to future buyers who will assume local government did their due diligence in ensuring a safe housing community for their families.
Failing to respond to the legitimate concerns and inquiries by residents, ignoring their many written and public comments, failing to implement the provisions of our General Plan and failing to defer consideration of this project until after the November election all demand satisfactory explanation from Council members.
As this is unlikely, vote YES on Measure HR for your voice to be heard!