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Timetable and Candidates Statements: Zoom 9.26.20

Updated: Oct 1

We are having a City Council candidates' forum via zoom this Saturday, September 26th.  If you would like to join us for the entire time, or just part of the time, click on the link on the homepage.

Timetable

  9:00  Robert Parkhurst (4 year)

  9:30  Dave Loera (2 year)

10:00  Josefina Riley (4 year)

10:30  Andy Bencosme (4 year)

11:00  Tracey Verhoeven (2 year)

11:30  Ed Garcia (2 year)

12:00  Kelly Kriebs (4 year)

12:30  Kurt Richter (4 year) 

Candidate Statements

We sent a brief questionnaire to the candidates and their responses are below, starting with those running for the two year position: Ed Garcia, Dave Loera and Tracey Verhoeven followed by those running for the four year position:  Andy Bencosme, Kelly Kriebs, Robert Parkhurst, Josephina Riley, Kurt Richter (please note that not every candidate responded to every question):

1. What are your general views on the balance between development and preservation in Sierra Madre?

Ed Garcia Within this question lies the answer . . . there must be a balance.  Policies that are too restrictive could reduce option values of a property, thus reducing the value of properties under overly restrictive policies.  On the other hand, having little or no restrictions lead to the “Arcadia problem” as stated on the Preserve Sierra Madre website, thus potentially reducing home values in the community.

Some of the contributing factors to our town’s eclectic feel are the varying styles, and ages, of homes and the look of our town is one of the reasons our community is so desirable.

Tracey Verhoeven:  Although I wish that everything could stay the same, that isn’t a realistic and viable option. Responsible development means understanding the unique characteristics of our community, maintaining our history AND implementing community input to any project. I would do this by being an effective conduit between the City, business stakeholders, and residents by planning monthly community sessions to keep residents informed of major projects in the city and solicit input BEFORE decisions are made, not after. 

Andy Bencosme:  Sierra Madre is a well-established community with its own character and charm.  I believe we need to keep that, as it is what both attracts people to come here and what makes people want to stay.  Most of our development is in-fill development or conversion of existing homes and structures.  I feel our goal should be to keep the integrity of our aesthetic with any development or change.  We should have zoning and planning guidelines that reflect these goals and apply them evenly for our residents, as this would affect both the character and property values of the community.

Kelly Kriebs:  Regarding development vs. preservation, as is the case with all matters affecting Sierra Madre, I am practical and in favor of sensible decision-making.  In general, I believe each development should be evaluated on the individual facts and circumstances surrounding it and with reference to the specific details of such proposed development.  I am not in favor of development solely for development’s sake, nor am I automatically against every development.  Similarly, I favor a balanced approach to providing freedom to property owners to improve their property, but within reason and certainly subject to limits on “McMansion-ization”.  

Robert Parkhurst: I support smart and measured development for the City of Sierra Madre that allows us to grow and adapt while preventing over development. We need to continue to be an attractive City to both current and future residents.

Josefina Riley:  I believe in preserving the natural open spaces in Sierra Madre since they can’t be replaced once lost. I do not support overdevelopment. I believe that development efforts should be focused on existing lots within the city to the extent possible. Additionally, the development that does occur should go with the aesthetic of the land/city and be fire safe. Because the natural open space is part of what gives Sierra Madre its distinctive character, I strongly support to maintain it as much as we can within reason.

Kurt Richter: The balance between development and preservation in Sierra Madre is an important element to our quality of life. Excepting a very short list of opportunities for major development (Monastery, one Carter) there really isn't much open space to be developed. Our primary concerns moving forward are how we deal with remodels which will be numerous based on the age and state of many homes in town.

2. What policies would you advocate to enhance the characteristics that make Sierra Madre special? 

Ed Garcia:  Encouraging the Mills Act for historic homes is a policy that encourages not only the preservation, but the enhancement of these treasures in our town. Policies that maintain or increase property values for our residents are important. Local control and autonomy give us the ability to even discuss these issues. Keeping the city funded while implementing responsible spending is vitally important. Having an engaged planning commission, as we have now, to plan for long range goals, zoning, and making certain that projects align with our general plan are also important policies that help enhance the community. 

Tracey Verhoeven:  I fell in love with this town years before I ever moved here. It was a goal of mine to join this community and every day I am grateful. I moved here for the community, the beauty and for the small town charm. If I was a resident during the Measure V era, I would have been knocking on every door fighting for our character and heritage.  I will continue that goal. I want to keep E. Montecito artsy and funky and build on that as well as reinstate seven people on the Planning Commission. We need all voices of this community heard and incorporate the lived experiences of new and vested residents alike. 

Andy Bencosme:  With the COVID pandemic we have seen how fragile many or our downtown businesses are and we have seen the limitations on many of our established traditions.  Our downtown businesses are as much part of the fabric of our community as are our events and festivals.  I think we need to re-evaluate how we use our public spaces and make them more conducive for both public and private use.  We have to find ways to help our existing businesses to succeed and to look to the future for the now vacant storefronts and envision what we want there that will enhance the community.  We have to partner with the business community to attract the right kind of establishments for Sierra Madre.  The use of space also needs to be adjusted to allow for more transparency and the ability to participate in City decisions by our residents.  Pandemic or not, we need to have safe and easy ways to allow the public to know what is going on and have a voice in that.

Kelly Kriebs:  Regarding development vs. preservation, as is the case with all matters affecting Sierra Madre, I am practical and in favor of sensible decision-making.  In general, I believe each development should be evaluated on the individual facts and circumstances surrounding it and with reference to the specific details of such proposed development.  I am not in favor of development solely for development’s sake, nor am I automatically against every development.  Similarly, I favor a balanced approach to providing freedom to property owners to improve their property, but within reason and certainly subject to limits on “McMansion-ization”.  

Robert Parkhurst: I support our current zoning ordinances. They balance the development of land in the City while preventing overdevelopment. For example, our current residential zoning ordinance limits the gross floor area of single-family homes to 30% of the lot area, which is 50% less than what is allowed in neighboring Arcadia.

Josefina Riley:  The things that I cherish most are: our beautiful town center, our mountains and wildlife as well as our small town feel, despite being near a major metropolitan area.

Let’s start with the first: business. In order to pay for the critical items we need (like water),we continue to raise taxes on our residents during a time when citizens have less and less disposable income. What if we were able to bring in additional funds without raising taxes and without excessive development - essentially working with what we have, but doing it a little bit differently. One of the major issues with our downtown is that new businesses come, they open, they don’t make enough income and close. There seems to be a revolving door for these businesses. Currently we just try to attract new businesses without addressing the real issue. We need more people to come to Sierra Madre downtown and spend more time and money here.

Another major issue with our city is parking. There is no parking at some of the hiking trails, and with the outdoor space being occupied for safe eating, that leaves even less room for cars. However, no one wants to be eating next to a parked car and no one wants their view to be of a large parking lot. Neither of those solutions are in tow with our city’s aesthetic. Lastly, as climate change becomes a bigger concern, the automotive sector is reacting by electrification of their fleets. Currently we do not have electric vehicle charging stations in Sierra Madre.

My focus is to address both of these roadblocks, so that businesses can come to Sierra Madre and thrive. So that increased revenue can flow from the businesses, and alleviate our residents burden of providing the majority of the city’s revenue. If we do not address the business problem, I fear the city will have to resort to do what they currently are doing, and continue to raise taxes. The water infrastructure at the estimated rate, will take approximately 29 years to fix, so the revenue / tax situation will continue for many more years. 

As a root cause analysis expert and an automotive industry executive, I will drill down to the root cause of the business failures, researching how others have solved the problem, and creating a local business group to discuss. I will propose alternative forms of business in our downtown area, as well as alternative clean energy public transportation so that we can enjoy our small town, keep things beautiful, but also functional and thriving financially WITHOUT disturbing our precious open space with excessive new development.

Kurt Richter:  Everyone benefits when a home that is in need of repair is renovated and hopefully improved. Obviously, construction side effects can be an annoyance to immediate neighbors, but the long- term enhancement to a neighborhood in both esoteric ways and property values outweigh the short- term headaches.

Sierra Madre has a historical reputation as a city that can be difficult to deal with. Deserved or not. As a general goal we should want to create an environment that will encourage owners to invest in their properties, while keeping with the traditions and vision that most of us hold in Sierra Madre. We absolutely do not want to end up with that look of overbuilt properties that has permeated our neighboring town of Arcadia.

3. What should the Council be monitoring most carefully in the proposed Monastery development?

Ed Garcia:  If the proceedings set forth in the Memorandum of Understanding leads to a development agreement and the area is ultimately zoned R-1, what must be monitored would be the variables regarding lot coverage, square footage, and setbacks. These factors must be negotiated in a manner that would minimize the impact for the immediate neighbors of the development. Just because the number of dwelling units currently considered is to be 42 instead of the 116 allowable under R-1, doesn’t give license for the mansionization of that neighborhood. If a development plan is not accepted it is currently not clear to me what monitoring, other than making certain that the development meets our institutional standards for building, can be done since the city has the legal obligation to allow lawful development. 

Dave Loera:  I attended a community meeting concerning the Monastery Development proposal.  The information presented focused on construction of 42 homes and a land use park for the Sierra Madre community located directly below the residential development and an open space above the monastery lot.  The council needs to pay close attention to increased traffic, adequate parking, fire mitigation strategies and the increased demand place on our fire department, and water infrastructure.  

Tracey Verhoeven:  As your Councilperson, I would monitor state laws and how we can work within them. I wish the property could stay the way it is but since it is zoned for institutions, that would clearly be a worse scenario in terms of access to the property and maintaining the neighborhood character of the area. I would support a low density residential area of 43 houses and keep communication open to ensure that our small town charm is unaffected. I appreciate the idea of the 3 to 3.5 acre park for the residents as well as the hillside area behind the monastery to never be developed. We will need to monitor the project to ensure major changes are not made to the project before it is approved. 

Andy Bencosme:  This is going to be a huge issue over the next 4-5 years.  Regardless of what the MOU says, there are no strict controls on the proposed development in the near term or more importantly 20 years from now.  While the terms of the MOU sound appealing compared to what could be, we need to make sure that with any approvals and agreements, we lock in the future use of those lots.  Given the proposed lot sizes and the R-1 Zoning, I think we need to have deed restrictions or the like in place to limit future lot splitting or increased density.  We also need to carefully evaluate the potential traffic patterns and make sure we have sufficient access from more than just Sunnyside to mitigate the impact to the neighborhood. And of course the decisions of the hillside and park use need to balance both the public good and use of those resources and how that impacts the neighbors.   We have parking, littering and nuisance issues around Mt Wilson Trail and in the Northeast corner of the City closest to Chantry Flats, we don't want to create the same issues at the Monastery area.

Kelly Kriebs:  With respect to the proposed Monastery development, the City Council will need to pay particular attention (1) to the impact of the development on the immediately surrounding neighborhood, Bailey Canyon and the City at large (including on traffic and infrastructure), (2) to any proposed specific plan governing the development and (3) to ensuring that any agreements by the developer regarding its establishment and maintenance of benefits for the City, like a park, are valuable and viable. 

Robert Parkhurst:  As a member of your City Council, I would look carefully at the following things for any new development:

  • 100 years from now, will the City be proud of the development and what the City has become?

  • How has the community been involved in the process? How has their perspective been considered?

  • What are the outcomes of the noise, parking and traffic studies of the development and how will they impact our communities? How will these impacts be mitigated?

  • Does the architecture fit or enhance what is currently in the City?

  • How has the development considered the environmental impacts on the property including water use, energy efficiency, and impact to wildlife?

  • What has been done to reduce the risk of fire to the development? Is there egress for residents and access for fire trucks to respond to fires?

  • What are the costs and benefits to the City? Specifically, how does the development impact the tax base of the City?

  • What potential impact will the development have on the trail systems adjacent to our City?


Kurt Richter:  The Monastery project is an excellent opportunity for the city to manage and control to the city's betterment the inevitable development of the lower grounds of the property. Besides the obvious issues of density, size, style and layout, the city needs make sure that ingress/egress is well thought out and does not create more issues than necessary. The park needs to match with the desires of the neighborhood.

Josefina Riley:  We need to ensure that the resident’s in the surrounding neighborhoods are involved and express their views, so that the development doesn’t impact them negatively. The other main focus, of course is water, and ensuring it doesn’t over drain our aquifer. Lastly, the aesthetics need to be beautiful and follow the natural lines, keeping the feeling of nature as much as possible - we don’t want it to stick out like a sore thumb. On the positive side, the development will bring some additional revenue to the city.

4. The Planning Commission needs to come up with a Design Review Policy to confirm with State government mandates.  They need to define the review with objective (quantifiable) instead of subjective (i.e. Quaint, Neighborhood Character, or Sierra Madre Charm) written statements. What would you suggest to the sub-committee on Design Review that would still hold up the standards that the citizens of Sierra Madre look for in new or remodeled buildings?

Ed Garcia:  If the design review policy is modeled after the Land Use section of the City’s General Plan, that would be a good starting point. While the General Plan includes terms like “…enhances Sierra Madre’s charm.” there is guidance regarding coverage, setbacks, etc. I am sure they are already using this document as a point of reference since they have been working on this for a few months now. Once again, thank you for this opportunity. I look forward to speaking with some of you in the near future. I welcome you to visit my website, http://www.edwardgarciaforcitycouncil.com or email me at edwardgarciaforcouncil@gmail.com

Tracey Verhoeven: The Planning Commission needs to comply with the state but we need to keep the integrity of the  Sierra Madre charm. With every home that comes before the planning commission, the committee should simplify the reviews so as to not have the state override the suggestions or decisions from the committee. Taking the “less is the best” approach as to fly under the radar.

Andy Bencosme:  I agree with having objective standards that everyone can understand and live up to when doing any kind of remodeling, upgrades or building.  With the State getting more restrictive on what Cities can do and with the penalties becoming more severe, we do need to have a solid policy.  Things like height restrictions, Floor-to-area (FAR) Ratios, setbacks, building mass, building materials, land use compatibility, building articulation, parking requirements and architectural compatibility are all key components that should be included.  We need to consider our current housing stock and how these items fit in with existing homes and structures and set our guidelines to keep any new changes consistent with the community.

Kelly Kriebs:  At this time I do not have sufficient knowledge of the California state mandate regarding design review policies to speak to the creation of such a policy for Sierra Madre. Thank you, Preserve Sierra Madre, for the opportunity to communicate with Sierra Madre residents.  To my fellow Sierra Madre residents: I welcome the opportunity to continue this conversation and to earn your vote.  Please contact me via my website KriebsforCityCouncil.com.   

Robert Parkhurst:  I would ask the Planning Commission and any sub-committees to consider the following factors in reviewing new or remodeled developments:

  • Does the development meet the current zoning ordinances?

  • How has the developer considered community feedback? I would want to see tangible data, such as:

  • Number of community meetings and number of attendees

  • Summary of community comments

  • Response to comments from the community

  • Adaptations to the plans based on feedback from the community

  • What considerations has the developer made regarding changes in noise, parking and traffic?

  • What has the developer done to enhance the infrastructure of the City, including the water, sewer, street, and energy systems?

  • In the event of a natural disaster, what provisions are there for both egress of residents and access for emergency vehicles?

Kurt Richter: I feel a strong, reasonable, specific Design Review Policy needs to be defined. Property owners need to have a good idea of what they can and cannot do going into a project. Sierra Madre is unique for its myriad of styles already in play. Limits on style should not be unreasonable. Classically designed or historical home remodels should be encouraged to only enhance their architectural features, but allowed to modernize construction to today's standards.

I look forward to working with Preserving Sierra Madre as the city moves forward in developing the specifics of the policies that will create that perfect balance between development and preservation that we should all crave. Thank you for this, and for the opportunities coming up that you have planned.

Josefina Riley: I would propose suggestions on looking at adding the following metrics:

  • Color selection should stick to a certain palette / scheme (provide list)

  • Approved materials for siding and roofs (provide list)

  • Conforming to general plan guidelines (offsets, etc.)

  • Square footage ratio limitations

  • Architectural style (provide list)

  • Application of visual cues to show where and how new or shifting views would change, with an in-person inspection and review with a committee/affected residents

  • Water efficiency and usage (meters installed, low water usage fixtures and toilets)

  • Landscaping guidelines to reduce irrigation (limit on grass/flowering trees to a certain square footage for example)

  • Energy Efficiency, Energy star appliance requirements

  • Compliance of appropriate standards and regulations

Here's the Candidate Forum recorded on 9.26.2020


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