Decisions have consequences and it’s not always easy to predict their real world impact on city residents.
This is especially true of a decision made last year when the previous City Council on October 27, 2020 removed the design review process for new or remodeled houses from the Planning Commission and gave it to Staff to review and decide. Many residents were not aware of its true impact and will find out only when it’s too late. “Yeah, so what?” you might ask……..Staff is highly qualified. How true; but thanks to the real world experience shared by a Preserve Sierra Madre member, we know firsthand what happens now under this new decision: Transparency has disappeared.
‘I got two blue post cards from the City in May notifying me of permits applied for by my neighbors. A design review permit needs to be requested for various reasons, particularly if a remodel increases a home to over 3500 square feet. Before October 27, the applicants would go before the Planning Commission at a public meeting. I would have watched (on zoom these days) and would have been allowed to ask questions, along with anyone else who was interested in what was happening. The Planning Commissioners would have asked questions of the architect/contractor/owner. If there was a problem, the plans would need to be revised. All of this was out in the open at a duly noticed public meeting. The five Planning Commissioners (7 until a year ago) are residents appointed by the City Council, and this is an entirely voluntary position of four or eight years. Our Planning Commissioners come from all different backgrounds – a year ago we had three architects. Now we have one. We also have a lawyer/developer, businessman, doctor, former firefighter. One of our best Commissioners had a background in social issues. In other words – they truly represent us, the residents of Sierra Madre.
Now: I went to the City website after receiving the post cards, saw that I could view the general plans there, and could talk to a staff member at City Hall between 7:30-8:30 am on Monday or 7:30-9:30 on Wednesday only. I saw the same plans, at my trek to City Hall, but what could I ask? As a layperson, I always relied on the presentations from the architect or contractor to describe the project so I had a better understanding of it. Without that, I’m starting from scratch and wasting staff time. Without hearing concerns from fellow residents, I don’t know how others feel about the project. If I have a question, who do I go to? I don’t think my neighbors would appreciate a knock on their door when I have questions. Can I call City Hall daily? Yeah, I guess so, but don’t think that would be well received either. Next problem: I can file a protest if I want, but that is after the decision is made. And we are all learning how hard it is to reverse a decision once it’s been made. How can I file a protest if I don’t even know what I’m protesting, and second, should I want to, it will cost me $500.
The Preserve Sierra Madre Steering Committee met with former City Manager, Gabe Engeland, in June to discuss the issue of transparency. After discussing the issues, Gabe agreed that with staff doing the review, there is no way for this process to be open and inclusive.
This may be my issue right now, but it is also yours as well. Do you know what will be a “remodel” in your neighborhood, if it is over 300 feet away, or down the block and around the corner? Or on my street? Unless you keep tabs on our not too user friendly Sierra Madre website you won’t know who has applied for a design review permit’.
Welcome into the room Mr/Ms Elephant.