Over the years, City Hall has proudly presented itself as being transparent, working for the residents of our fair city. Now, with the largest development in Sierra Madre history proposing 42 large tract homes, destruction of over 115 trees, and the fallacy of “Net Zero Water Use,” it is extremely difficult to find out information on the Project. There is a Final Environmental Impact Report, Specific Plan and related Appendices about the Meadows project. However, many still struggle to find it on the City website. Oddly, it can be found buried under the ‘City Hall’ tab on the home page. Then scroll down to ‘City Manager’s Office’; then scroll down the sidebar to the second from the bottom section ‘Transparency’ (ironically); then scroll down the next sidebar to the second section titled ‘The Meadows’ project. Then Volume I and II of the Final EIR are at the top of the three pages of content, followed by the Specific Plan and Appendices.
Transparency is not solely due to the difficulty of navigating the website. Those of us who have been following this project, reading the EIR, and the Specific Plan, have requested several times to have experts other than those hired by the developer speak at City Council and Planning Commission meetings to provide additional perspective on the serious issues of water, trees, and wildlife. We’ve been told no. Instead, New Urban West regurgitates the same information for public consumption while paying for the ‘Neighbors for Fairness’ ads, flyers and website in an attempt to counter the community-based groups who do not support this housing development. The events of the last two months are highly disturbing. About 20 residents spoke before the Planning Commission regarding the disruption they face with the constant filming at Alverno. In order to film in Sierra Madre, 50% of the neighbors must sign a waiver that they agree to this. Rather than actually getting the residents’ signatures, a few neighbors determined that for the last two filmings, and possibly more, the signatures were 100% forged. Our City lawyer recommended the solution of no longer requiring signatures.
During the April 7 Planning Commission meeting, several of the Commissioners noted that the Specific Plan was lacking in detail and not very specific. Needing additional information, they asked about a field trip to the ‘Meadows’ to see what the project would look like. Our City lawyer pointed out that if there were three or more Commissioners at the same time, it would have to be open to the public. The developer’s rep responded that ‘I don’t know if Mater Dolorosa would be willing. I’ll have to discuss with them. Don’t know if they would want to have any member of the general public show up on their property and wander around.’ As the field trips were not open to the public that will have to live with this project and allow neighbors and Sierra Madre residents to see and hear the same thing as the Commissioners, transparency loses again. Apparently, the ‘Good Neighbor Plan’ frequently mentioned in the Specific Plan doesn’t go into effect until the Project is built. The April 7 meeting of the Planning Commission, the first meeting to review the Meadows project, lasted from 7 pm until 11:30 pm. Residents were allowed to comment for 3 minutes instead of 5 as it states on the agenda. At the end of the meeting, Chair Pevsner said ‘I guess I’ll close the public comment,’ as he does at every meeting. Interestingly, when several residents requested extra time to speak at the May 5th Commission meeting – 10 minutes for the lawyer representing the Protect Sierra Madre group, and another from a resident requesting the original 5 minutes, with slides to show the damage already done on her property, Planning Director Gonzalez told them that the Chair closed Public Comment on the Project and no more would be permitted in the coming meetings. A review of the meeting video did not indicate that the chair’s statement was applicable to anything beyond the April meeting. There is nothing in the minutes either and there are concerns that this might be a Brown Act violation as cities must allow public comment on agenda items. Later in the day, Director Gonzalez in another email, said residents may actually be able to comment, depends on the Commission and they would discuss it at the beginning of the meeting. This deviation from past protocol doesn’t give citizens time to research and complete even three minutes of comments.
All this secrecy is disturbing. The noted author Faye Angus, in speaking before City Council would say, “Follow the money.” Sadly, that could explain the lack of transparency.