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Here is a recap of the July 12 City Council meeting for those who were unable to attend or watch at home. As you are aware, the Passionists, who own the Monastery property, have entered into an agreement with a developer, New Urban West (NUW), to sell 20 acres of their property for a high density development of 42 homes that don’t conform to our zoning laws. A citizens’ petition to place the 20 acres in the Hillside Management Zone (HMZ), just like every other large property north of Grand View, was under discussion. This would limit the number of homes by requiring spacing that conforms to our city codes resulting in a smaller development in keeping with the surrounding neighborhood. 1300 resident signatures gathered in less than 3 months - 15% of the voters – were verified. City Council voted 5-0 to place it on the November ballot, rather than adopt it immediately.

City Council requested that the City attorney, Aleks Giragosian, prepare a report regarding possible ramifications of the petition. It has been apparent that City Council relies on Staff and Council to form their opinions, rather than doing their homework by reading the laws involved, or by hearing experts who disagree with these opinions.

Here are the major errors, and the Council’s faulty reasoning:

1. City attorney says: There are four possible claims to sue if this passes – “Religious land use and institutionalized persons alleging unlawful discrimination and a substantial burden on the Passionists’ exercise of religion.” City lawyer Aleks Giragosian put in his report that this had a chance of succeeding; the other three were unlikely. At the Council meeting, he said he would soften his tone and, retracted his statement that reconstruction of the Monastery would not be permitted. This was “based on what he now knows.” Apparently, Mr. Giragosian read the email sent to the City by the land use lawyer who drew up the citizens’ petition.

2. City attorney says: State law SB 9 would allow for multiple units on each property, many more than with New Urban West’s plan – While SB9 is troubling, there would only be one lot split per property under this law, and one added dwelling unit (ADU) on each, so there would still be fewer houses should every homeowner decide to do this. It’s rather hard to believe that every new home owner, having paid around $5 million for their home (at today’s prices) would want to do this. The other wrinkle is that the homeowner must live there for three years after the split. Several cities larger than ours, like Redondo Beach, are fighting these new laws, SB9 and SB10, as well as others that override local zoning laws.

3. City attorney said: Square footage would be larger if the initiative’s Hillside Management Zone requirement takes effect than with the NUW plan of 42 houses. Planning Commission has worked to get NUW’s representative Jonathan Frankel to comply with our Sierra Madre General Plan zoning calculation of square footage. Although Mr. Frankel said that they have reduced the size of their 4800 sq ft houses, to an average of closer to 3800, these are still disturbingly large homes on small lots. It is puzzling where Mayor Goss got his calculation of 6800 sq ft homes should the initiative pass. Yes, Mayor Goss, Preserve Sierra Madre, has been fighting for reasonable sized homes that adhere to our zoning laws. Why would you think otherwise?

4. More on square footage – Mr. Frankel still has not calculated the square footage of the homes under city rules, resulting in a gross misrepresentation of the size of the homes. More on that next week….

5. Location of the Hillside Properties – Council Member Parkhurst asked if the properties located south of the Monastery property, specifically Crestvale, Sierra Keys, Grove, and Fairview were in the HMZ. This question is highly disturbing, because he merely needed to look at the Sierra Madre zoning map to know that they are not, and to read the ordinance to know that the properties must be a certain size.

6. Apparent bias – The City lawyer, appears to be working entirely in support of the New Urban West development, as does our City Council, who voted 5-0 to write a rebuttal to the initiative before hearing from the Planning Commission. They have not asked any in-depth questions regarding the project at this, or former public meetings. In contrast, the Planning Commission has been doing their due diligence on the proposal, asking many pertinent questions, and has found many disturbing issues. Some of these issues should be brought up, and discussed in detail before the Planning Commission issues its recommendation.

7. “Education of the voters” – Council Member Kriebs stated that people didn’t know what they signed, nor the ramifications. We would implore the Council to talk to the many signature gatherers and signees to see for themselves how much time was spent explaining the purpose of the initiative, to make sure residents were aware that this was not to stop the Mater Dolorosa from selling part of their property, or to build homes, but rather to require them to follow the same established rules as the rest of the town. Signature gatherers answered many, many questions.

The most disturbing part of the July 12 City Council meeting was the total disregard of the input of 1300 residents from all areas of Sierra Madre who are highly concerned about this ill-conceived project. The least our Council, our voted representatives, can do is 1). Their homework - rather than being spoon-fed “facts,” 2). Listen to their constituents and the Planning Commission, and 3). Ask relevant questions.

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