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Members of the Preserve Sierra Madre Steering Committee attended the five hour Joint Meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission held at the Middle School this week. Presentations were made by the developer, New Urban West, Father Higgins of Mater Dolorosa, City Manager Jose Reynoso, Planning Director Vincent Gonzalez, and City Attorney Aleks Giragosian.

According to the agenda, this was a study session to inform our representatives and the residents of what is happening with the Mater Dolorosa property, owned by the Passionist Fathers. Starting a meeting at 5 pm insured that many working residents were unable to make the early weeknight start time, including Planning Commissioner Chairperson, Dr. Pevsner, who arrived closer to 6. Approximately 90 persons out of over 10,000 residents were in attendance and 29 made public comments.

Twenty-four emails were received, but were not read, and will be posted somewhere on the City website. Those of us in attendance were allowed to speak after the presentations, but were limited to three minutes. Several of us were asked by Mayor Goss to remember that there was a three minute rule for ending our talk. The few who spoke in favor of this project were mainly affiliated with the property: staff, fathers and a board member. The rest offered well-thought out, well-researched concerns regarding the cutting down of over 100 trees on the property, as well as the large pine trees in the Bailey Canyon Wilderness Park to allow for the widening of Carter Avenue. Others cited the destruction of the habitat of endangered wildlife, the huge increase in traffic, the nonadherence to the General Plan, and the “net zero” water plan which, in essence, is non-existent.

Following a break, the Planning Commissioners and City Council members asked questions regarding the main issues they heard from the public comments, some of which could be answered, some not. We believe these issues need to be studied further. These include traffic, wildlife, fire protection, landscaping and land use.

A number of residents sent in detailed questions ahead of the meeting and asked that they be addressed to the experts. The responses were general and, in many cases, did not address the questions submitted. We asked again for a Town Hall type meeting, where we could actually get our questions answered with a back and forth discussion without the three minute time limit. We pointed out that there is misinformation out there and it would be beneficial for all to get the facts. We would like to see second opinions on many of the residents’ concerns, just as the Planning Commission at an earlier meeting asked for a second opinion about the impacts of construction to the Wistaria Vine by the new owner (who immediately sold the property).

Some of those misconceptions are about “The Monastery.” The Monastery has been gone for 30 years, after being damaged in the 1991 earthquake, and torn down in 1992. The decision was made not to rebuild. The handwriting has been on the wall for decades as the number of retreat centers is steadily declining in the US. Many have made the decision to close and sell, due to the declining number of new priests coming into the order and the costs of caring for an older population of clergy. The Passionists of Chicago, who hold title to the property, have property rights, as we all do, but none of us can do whatever we want because there are zoning laws in our city that apply fairly to everyone. One man, who struggled up to the podium on crutches, spoke about how difficult it was to get his small remodeling done to make his home more handicapped accessible.

Many concerned residents could not make the meeting, or stay for the entire five hours. We have been asked when and how this meeting will be aired, but have not received an answer from City Hall. As always, we’ll keep you posted.

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