Saturday, June 3, 2017

Preserve Sierra Madre: Is City Staff Putting Sierra Madre In Legal Jeopardy?

Mod: I really do enjoy posting the information being put out by Preserve Sierra Madre. Their widely circulated group emails are exceptionally well written, deeply informed and, more often than not, a probing look at exactly where the City of Sierra Madre is headed on the key topic of community preservation. Today PSM is asking some very important questions regarding the unhappy role City Staff has played in the most recent Henry A. Darling house developments. This is something you need to know about as the potential consequences could prove devastating to the community.

At last night's Planning Commission meeting, our Planning Commissioners stood strong and voted unanimously to reject Mr. Kefalas's request for an after-the-fact demolition permit for the house at 126 E. Mira Monte also known as The Henry A. Darling House. That decision may be appealed to the City Council and the applicant has 10 days to do so. Historical architect and Sierra Madre resident Joe Catalano and our own Barry Gold spoke eloquently in support of that decision during the public comments.

It came down to a conflict between two Historical Resource Reports. The first one by Mr. Fisher saying the house was historic and the second one by Mr. Carpenter saying that the house has now been demolished so much that nothing historical is left. The Planning Commission wanted a third report to break the tie so to speak. The applicant's attorney refused that request.

As a result of last night's meeting, we need to bring to your attention another problem that is perhaps more significant and has potentially wider ramifications for the future of preservation in Sierra Madre than what happens to that one, solitary home at 126 E. Mira Monte.

It is sobering to note that the Planning Commission's unanimous rejection of the applicant's request for a demolition permit was also a unanimous rejection of City Staff's recommendation to approve the request for a demolition permit. With the important role that City Staff plays in the preservation of our city, we have to ask ourselves how that can happen?

Is it because the City Staff develops too cozy of a relationship with developers as they go through the project together? Is City Staff philosophically opposed to preservation efforts and would rather see more revenue come into the city in the form of development fees?  How many of the people who write the City Staff reports actually live in Sierra Madre and get stuck with the consequences of these decisions? This challenge is by no means unique to Sierra Madre.

When certain impulses within a city are not checked by a strong Planning Commission and City Council, preservation goes out the window resulting in rampant development and the whole-sale destruction of neighborhoods as we readily see happening in nearby Arcadia.

Regardless of why it happens, it puts our volunteer Planning Commissioners in the uncomfortable position of being up against not only the applicant and his team of high-priced lawyers, but also against our very own City Staff.

If the Mira Monte issue were to ever ripen into a full blown lawsuit against the city, Exhibit A in that lawsuit will be that our Planning Commission, and perhaps ultimately our City Council, voted against the recommendation of the City Staff.

In other words, our own City Staff is putting the city in legal jeopardy and effectively weakening the city's position by putting out recommendations that are diametrically opposed to the preservation mandates in the General Plan, our building codes, our ordinances, the will of the community and, in this case, our entire Planning Commission. This seems to happen often enough to be a problem that must be addressed.

There are going to be countless opportunities for City Staff to intervene with developers and others who may not wish to abide by the city's rules, codes and the spirit of preservation found in the General Plan. City Staff is our first line of defense. If that line of defense is weak or incoherent, then as we stated before, this may be an even bigger concern than what happens to the once majestic house at 126 E. Mira Monte. It will get the City into lawsuits and the City will lose those lawsuits.

Our desire at Preserve Sierra Madre is to have a good working relationship with City Staff but we need to be generally on the same page when it comes to the important issues related to preservation that come up from time to time. Based on their recommendation in this case to approve the demolition permit, it appears we have some more work to do.

Thank you for your support.

Steering Committee
Preserve Sierra Madre

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

60 comments:

  1. Preserve Sierra Madre does raise an interesting issue. Why is our City Staff usually in the side of the developer/applicant? It sure makes it tougher on the Planning Commission as they try their best to make people follow the rules.

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    1. This isn't the first time the PC has said NO to Staff. The PC is not a rubber stamp for City Hall.

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    2. Why is City Staff so wrong and so many times. This is really a problem. The city could lose a big lawsuit someday all because our city staff is working against our interests.

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  2. Maybe this is why the city ends up caving to threats from lawyers too easily. The city attorney advises them that the evidence is against you. That evidence often being our own city staff recommendations. Go figure. Residents pay them pretty good money and they re-pay us by ruining our town with their stupid recommendations.

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  3. We need to fire the whole lot of them and start over. I hope the new city manager doesn't have a roll in this. I never thought I'd say this, but maybe Elaine wasn't so bad after all.

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    1. This was Gabe Engeland's first big test. He didn't do very well.

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    2. What did he have to do with it? Director Gonzalez is the one who has to answer to this.

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    3. Gonzalez is weak and does whatever the developers want. He will carry their water anytime.

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  4. Our city employees need to know where their loyalties should lie. Just because they may get free cheeseburgers from Kefalas doesn't mean they need to rubber stamp everything that guy wants to do in town.

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  5. City Staff needs to get on the same page as the people who pay their salaries.

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  6. The "people who pay their salaries" and the well intended with "feelings" but incorrect in their understanding of city zoning laws and codes, Preserve group, need to educate themselves.
    This issue has now reached a point where a legal decision will be necessary.
    This is a shame because it could have been resolved from the stand point of what was in the city codes and how the issuance of permits are handled and signed off.
    Again, a simple misunderstand, and now a quagmire of legal pursuits. Cooler heads should have prevailed.

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    1. Can you identify the codes and zoning laws for us that you feel impacted the Kefalas case? I am always happy to take guidance from an informed and concerned resident. Thanks.

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    2. Perhaps 7:16 needs to read the codes himself. Preserve has been at the forefront of getting the codes to match the General Plan. Has it ever been mentioned that Vincent may indeed be the cause of this whole debacle? Did her verbally agree to something and then try and back track? He didn't make this recommendation without the new City Manager. Here we go again!

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    3. 8:14, I don't think it was Vincent who was in on this at the beginning, though I have no opinion about his work, yet. Somebody else from the department was the responsible liaison on the project.
      I do know that like many people in the municipal sector, Gonzalez carefully says very little of real substance.

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    4. Kefalas did a piecemeal demolition. His final push violated the demolition ordinance. No question about that. This in turn triggered the need for a historical resource report. The historical resource report said the house is historic. It's all in the code. It doesn't get any clearer than that. This should not be about the penalty and not caving in just because he gets a lawyer.

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    5. Monica has been on the Mira Monte case.

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    6. Monica should be fired then. I bet she doesn't live in this city. What's her basis for taking the second historical resource report over the first.

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  7. How much are our building permit fees? How does Sierra Madre compare with other cities regarding building permit fees. Does Sierra Madre make these mistakes because they get more money for the city or are they just not that well informed on our codes. ALSO, how good is the city attorney at handling these problems? How many law suits has the present firm taken on and how many cases have they won. I personally have been at a CC meeting only to hear the attorney say "I'll get back to you on that" when I, sitting in the audience with a computer looked up the answer in a minute. This entire legal side of our problems is very lacking in my oppenion, is it time to look at another legal firm?

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    1. The opinion some hold claims that city staff is driven by things like permit and development impact fees because of the significant amounts of revenue they produce. This affects staff personally as Sierra Madre is around $40 million in the hole in its CalPERS obligations.

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    2. Have long agreed 7:33A.

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    3. City Staff has not been on the same team. They literally are complicit in supplying the evidence developers need to hurt the city. It's insane.

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  8. I for one will never eat at the Only Place In Town until that Darling house is put back together like it was before. This will be proof that it really was Mr. Kefalas's plan to rebuild that beautiful house like it was.

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    1. Mr. Kefalas needs to restore the H.A. Darling home to its original state and then donate it to the city. This would make a fine historical museum for our beautiful town.

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    2. What a nice idea! It could be called the William Kefalas Museum for Historical Preservation.

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    3. I stopped eating there once the quality plummeted. Obviously the food is the cheapest stuff on the market, and I wonder where some of the meat products come from, but the real clincher was when all the prices went up, as though it were a good quality American coffee shop. It's not.

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    4. I don't need an excuse not to eat there. Even if Kefalas was a saint, the food is still lousy.

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    5. In 35 years, I've eaten there about five times. Not impressed and never again.
      I suggest PICKETing.

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  9. What ever happened with the lawsuit against the City of Arcadia steeling our water, thus causing us to call an emergency to hook up to that dreadful water that has messed up our city and house plumbing. Is this another legal issue where the only people that win are the attorneys?

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  10. The new Manager is what this town needed.
    The staff in the Planning Department are well informed; the oversight was from the manager and how permits are followed up and signed off in a timely manner, along with the required information in a packet on historical significance homes.
    The simplifying of verbiage on a permit, so that a laymen may understand, has been streamlined.
    Decorum took a backseat at the very first Planning Commission meeting. That was a shame, but understandable.
    The Preserve group, while well intended with "feelings", if wishing to be a true preservation stand; requires that they approach matters from the codes written in the city ordinances, that is where changes happen, or not.
    The City staff are doing a good job. In a perfect world, this matter will be corrected and a lawsuit avoided.
    The sticking points of requirements on moving forward should be carefully weighed.

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    1. City Staff is doing a good job for Mr. Kefalas.

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    2. City Staff is now trying to cover their behinds. Based on their recommendation to approve the demolition permit, who knows what Kefalas was told he could or could not do. I would tend to believe that City Staff gave him the green light because City Staff only cares about more development money to fund their pensions.

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    3. Sorry, Neither Staff nor the Director give permission to demolish. The PC has that responsibility.
      Nice try.

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  11. 7;51 thinks everyone has money like she has! Maybe she should buy it and restore it then donate it.

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    1. I think you missed the point. This is an excellent opportunity for Mr. Kefalas to makes amends and do right by the community. It is his opportunity to show just how good-hearted and caring he really is. Sierra Madre has been good to him. Here is his chance to both give back and reclaim his place in Sierra Madre's esteem.

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    2. Kefalas could say that he will get rid of his attorneys and make an effort to work out something that everyone can be happy with. The only problem is that he is not that kind of a guy.

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  12. As an former member of the Planning Commission 90% of the time city staff recommended​ going along with development. We need the Commission to view all projects we respect to preservation and city Laws and codes.
    What did the public expect when the new city manager is a prodeveloment clone?
    Looking to keep funding city pensions shortfalls.

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    1. Thanks for posting that 8:44. I hadn't realized it was that high a percentage.

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    2. This happens tine and time again where City Staff takes the developers side and then gets rejected by the Planning Commission. That would all be ok if it weren't so harmful when you go to court. In fact, Kefalas's lawyer even used the city staff recommendation to support his position when he was at the podium. No doubt he would use it in his legal brief as well.

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  13. 8:27am. Whaaaaat?
    Again, whaaaaat?

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    1. Mr. K has a heart of pure gold. I just know he will do it.

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  14. 8:44am. Don't need the "fake" news inorder to make your point.
    If "you" were on the Planning Commission, that explains why the town repeats similar mistakes.

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    1. Try and be nice today.

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  15. 8:14am. This is nothing to joke about.
    Preserve group follows up on "feelings"
    It is difficult to believe this small group of individuals has insight to the General Plan.

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    1. Shouldn't you be outside defending your lawn from the neighborhood dogs?

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    2. 8:58, except that members of Preserve Sierra Madre were involved in the General Plan update, and have more knowledge about the specifics of the GP than perhaps you yourself do.

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    3. Preserve Sierra Madre has some pretty sharp people on its steering committee. Also don't underestimate just plain common sense. The Planning Commission certainly has a lot of experience and they are mighty angry because Kefalas snookered them by saying at the beginning how he was going to be respectful of the house. Just take a look at the before and after pictures or better yet just drive by and take a look for yourself to see how respectful he was.

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    4. Those before and after pictures would look great on picket signs.

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    5. 8:58, the Preserve group is not small and MANY of them were on the committee that drafted the general plan update. Volunteering over 5 years of their time in the process.

      Several were and are planning commissioners.

      The people of Preserve Sierra Madre are among the most knowledgeable when it comes to the General Plan and the municipal codes.


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  16. The city staff recommended issuing the permit because they screwed up by allowing the demolition to go beyond the parameters of the plan. Now the staff just wants to get this thing over with. The longer this goes on the more it will be apparent that the staff was negligent in monitoring this project.

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  17. Go look for your self, the darling house property has no evidence of an historical concrete marker present. There for this property was never assigned historical ahistrocial preservation value and property taxes were never provide credit at a 75 percent lower rate. Issue a new building permit and move on

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    1. Just idle curiosity, 9:33, what is your original language?

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    2. Concrete markers are the result of the property owner listing the house as historical. It's optional.

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    3. I think the concrete marker is in 9:33's head.

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  18. So who does "City Staff" refer to? What are their positions, and how do they have any input before the project is approved?

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  19. It's time to demolish what' remains and build a new one. A nice new craftsman bungalow would be a heck of a lot better that letting it stand as-is now for who knows how long. The nearby neighbors must be really sick of the eyesore.

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    1. Let the neighbors be pissed off at Team Kafalas.

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    2. Neighbors don't care

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    3. Yep. That was just crap Special K cooked up.

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  20. 8:44, one time when I checked it was 87% of all plans got a variance. That is not right, we have laws for a reason and they should be followed. That is just an example of how city hall works, follow the money.

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  21. Updated Pasadena Star News report on the Cop in Sierra Madre who seems to be moonlighting as a gun trader?
    http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/government-and-politics/20170601/pasadena-police-lieutenant-may-have-sold-dozens-of-guns-on-calguns-in-last-four-years?source=most_viewed
    It seems awful and getting worse.

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