Wednesday, October 14, 2015

• City Council Meeting October 2015

It was a fairly long meeting since it was actually 2 meetings in 1, starting an hour earlier.

The first meeting was billed as a Study Session with both the city council and planning commission at the dais. It dealt with frequent requests to change the general plan, usually from lower density housing to higher density housing. The key area being discussed tonight was on the east side of the freeway on Baxter.
A look at the council members and the planning commissioners.
Bob Cashman didn't come to this meeting since his property is too close to the area in question.

A developer would like to develop a large percentage of the area that fronts the road, but to make it feasible he can't keep the lots at an acre. There are new laws (newish anyway) that don't allow septic tanks on properties that are less than 2.5 acres, and since there isn't sewer already in the area, the only way to make it practical is to jam more houses into smaller areas.

If you know me, you've heard me poo-poo the idea that Wildomar is "rural". However, that side of the freeway IS rural and I'm glad that the council and commission seemed to put up a slow sign, if not a stop sign, to just turning that area into more tract housing.

You can see the "Spaghetti" in the lower left corner. AKA Windsong Valley.


Had to love council member Tim Walker's description of "spaghetti" when describing subdivisions. It used to be "cookie cutter houses" now it's "spaghetti" because on a map, the streets make more of a design than empty land.

There was a call from some that if this area was going to be rezoned, then the entire general plan should be redone. Har Har... that's only about a $2,000,000 dollar hit. Even to do a mini general plan for the area in the above map is estimated to cost between two and three hundred thousand dollars.

Now the Planning Department will take what they learned from tonight's meeting and will incorporate it into how they do business.

In the actual city council meeting it started with a presentation. A certificate of appreciation for Vantage Oncology.
Vantage Oncology



In the consent calendar there were a couple of agenda items that council member Bob Casman wanted to discuss. It was about Community Facilities Districts (CEDs). This is a bit wonky, but in the end I agreed with him.

The gist of the argument was that new housing developments will be saddled with two taxes, that aren't allowed to be called taxes, but are still money you owe the government or you face the wrath of big brother if you try and skip out on them.

Some CFDs allow for much needed infrastructure to be paid for over many years, sort of like a bond. Sometimes they come off the books, and sometimes they just take up permanent residence on your tax bill.

Part of these special taxes are to pay for police. On the surface it sounds great. Make the new people pay their fair share you may be saying... but is their share fair?

I don't know how it's fair when a tax is subject to going up every year, that most of the rest of us don't pay, to pay for something we all need (the police and fire services).

There are good arguments on the CFD side, but I can't get past a few islands of development paying many hundreds of dollars a year more than I pay in Windsong Valley. Even their property taxes will be dwarfing mine. Hey, don't get me wrong, I love having someone else foot the bill... it just isn't right.

Council Member Marsha Swanson made a good point when she said that the fees and taxes aren't hidden, and those that buy into such developments will know fully what they will be paying. True enough. Looks as though my house just got a little more valuable by doing nothing more than getting a day older.

The next thing on the agenda worth mentioning was item 2.4
This is about the much needed Lateral C-1 storm drain. There has been one holdout for months. It's gotten to the point that the city has started eminent domain proceedings. Most of the deal has been worked out to acquire the needed land to complete the job, but something has made the property owner dig in his heels.

Mayor Ben Benoit has offered to speak to the owner in efforts to avoid the legal action. Let's hope that works, otherwise the project will be pushed back at least another five months. There will be a special council meeting in two weeks to finish dealing with this issue.

Now for the big news, the news you've all been waiting for. How we, the people of Wildomar, got soaked for $120,000.

Bet that got your attention. I'll give you a brief recap, but I've included the 7:35 min video so you can take it all in yourselves.

We authored a document, that the state mandates cities have, called The Housing Element. After much wrangling, we got ours in on time and APPROVED by the state (a major pat on the back moment).

However, the disgruntled misfits that make up Alliance for Intelligent Planning (pronounced APEs) thought they knew better than the professionals at the state level and so they sued.

They lost on all parts of their suit, but one. Where the judge told the city they should tighten up the wording in one part of the document. For that, the city is now paying the apes 120 large. Well, the money is going to their attorneys, where it goes from there... nobody knows.

Listen to the video to see why we are smiling (through gritted teeth) to pay them that money instead of potentially squandering $400K with further fruitless litigation.

Council Member comments on the item.
Bob Cashman
I think we'll have to pay this.

Tim Walker
This was a hard nut to swallow. Knowing fiscally we couldn't afford to keep going farther and farther into this (fighting the lawsuit). These are the things that nobody else gets to see, unfortunately, with the closed sessions items when we deal with all the stuff like this. So you don't know what the sweat and the tears were [like] in the room to have to come to these conclusions to end up paying extortion money. As far as I'm concerned it's extortion.

What really bothered me with this whole situation is that the judge says, "You just need to prop up this little section, just a little bit more with a little bit better language." 
Is that worth $120,000?

Marsha Swanson
This was one of the hardest decisions we've ever had to make. When you think of one or two people can cost the city $120,000 when we desperately need every penny, every dime that we have. 

Bridgette Moore
This doesn't change anything. Our 700 page plan was approved by the state. We did nothing wrong, this does not change anything but we have to do it (pay the settlement).

(To the city manager Gary Nordquist) Who's the signer on their side?
(Nordquist's response) [former Wildomar Council Member] Cheryl Ade.

Ben Benoit
This is one of those times that you have to hold your nose and move forward.



But if that doesn't make you want to go out and give the nearest ape a bear hug, the question was asked, "How much did we spend on that lawsuit?"

City Attorney Thomas Jex sheepishly replied, "In the neighborhood of $70 to $80,000."

So, because a former city council member can't get over the fact that she got bounced off the council at the electorate's earliest opportunity (2010), the residents of Wildomar are going to have to tighten our belts to absorb this mindless, but necessary expenditure.

Thanks to city manager Gary Norquist's steady hand on the rudder, we can pay this "extortion" (council member Walker's word) and still not have to dip into our reserves as many things will be cut back or pushed to another year.

Kind of funny to think of Ken Mayes' lament during the public comments that public record searches aren't being turned around fast enough... and he suggested we hire someone dedicated to that task.

Why am I thinking that my house would be safe if I were to bet it against a box of day old donuts that Kenny didn't participate in the failed letter writing campaign seeking our $2M per year back from the governor's clutches? I love unintended irony.

Information straight out of the agenda.

The Lawsuit and Settlement
After approving the Housing Element Update, the State Department of Housing and
Community Development certified it as in compliance with State Housing Law.
Thereafter, the City was sued by a group known as the Alliance for Intelligent Planning
who challenged the environmental analysis in the City’s EIR. After over a year of
litigation, a judge ruled that only one section of the 750 page EIR needed to be revised.
The judge ruled in the City’s favor on the remaining sections such as traffic, noise,
health risk, greenhouse gas and project alternatives.
While the City may not agree with this ruling, the City has entered into a settlement
agreement as a means to end the on-going legal costs and uncertainty of appealing the
decision.
Under the terms of the settlement, the City has agreed to:
1. Hold hearings on minor modifications to Chapter 17.305 – Mixed Use Overlay
District
2. Hold hearings on certain zoning and land use designation changes to the Baxter
Village project which are identical to the changes being requested by the
developer
3. Payment of $120,000 to the law firm representing the Alliance for Intelligent
Planning.

It is important to note that this payment is not a monetary award to pay for any alleged
damages. State law regarding the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
requires payment to the attorney in order to settle.

Benefits of Settlement
Entering into a settlement agreement does not mean the City did anything wrong.
CEQA law is technical, complex and unclear in many areas. The City believes that it
complied with CEQA law in all respects, but also understands that continuing the
litigation by appealing is both extremely costly and uncertain due to the unclear nature
of the law in this area.
Therefore, complying with the above terms is a better use of City resources than
potentially paying $400,000 or more to continue down the unclear path of litigation.
The best use of City resources is to end this litigation through settlement and use the
funds saved for more worthwhile and needed City projects.
By agreeing to this settlement, the City keeps its entire Housing Element project in tact
as well as the EIR. Importantly, the City will be able to remain in the 8 year cycle which
means it will not have to spend funds to update its Housing Element until 2021. Not
settling may have caused the City to have to update its Housing Element again in only 4
short years from the approval date – in 2017. Doing another update so quickly would
have cost additional time and expense.
Therefore, staff recommends that the City Council allocate the necessary funds to make
the payments required under the terms of the settlement.

FISCAL IMPACT:
Allocation of $120,000

This came at the end of the meeting and I found it to be a head scratcher.
3.5 Planning Commissioner Appointment

I figured this was a slam dunk (good thing I didn't wager my house against an opened can of warm Coors Light or I'd be sleeping in my VW Bug about now). Seriously, why would there be any debate about appointing John Llyod to the Planning Commission?

But there was.

Council Member Marsha Swanson, invoked a quote from local fussbudget Shelia Urlaub, from the special meeting dealing with the sudden vacancy on the commission, where she urged the council not rush to fill the vacancy.

Seemed like a reasonable suggestion, and if a guy like Israel Leija had been the only guy to put his name forward, I can see why it would be met with a big eye roll (no offense Izzy).

Let's all remember that the post is supposed to be filled by an interested member of the community. This isn't a professional position. We have pros in Wildomar, and they make pretty good money as planners. Their names include Matt Bassi, Alfredo Garcia, Mark Teague and I'm sure there are others but my memory is only what it is. The planning commission is made up of everyday people that are willing to put the time in.

Baseball Analogy Time
If you're keeping score at home, Bridgette lead off by nominating Mr. Lloyd, we'll call that a four pitch walk. Followed by Marsha who hit into a fielder's choice, but Bob Cashman laced a single in the five/six hole, when he strongly voiced his support of the applicant. However, Tim Walker promptly agreed with Marsha that we needed more time and more candidates (let's call that a dribbler back to the pitcher with the runners advancing).

That left it up to the clean up hitter Ben "The BenBino" Benoit.

I talked to two people that were very interested, they came in and got applications, but didn't turn them in. I don't know what more we can do to get out the word that we're looking for a planning commissioner and John Llyod has stepped up.  —Mayor Ben Benoit

I'll call that a Luis Gonzalez broken-bat Series-winning bloop single over a drawn-in shortstop Derek Jeter. Not off the wall, but enough to give the home team a 3-2 win.

Now that I'm done with the baseball analogy, I can say this. I thought the council discussion about only having two applicants was spot on. However, when it was clear that this vote was going to be a yes, I was dumbstruck that there were actually two nay votes.

In all seriousness (and returning to the baseball analogy for a sec), John Lloyd may not be Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner but he sure is a Don Sutton and a Wildomar Hall of Famer. This one will remain a head scratcher to me. 
  •      •       

Baseball is like a poker game. Nobody wants to quit when he's losing; nobody wants you to quit when you're ahead.  Jackie Robinson

In Wildomar Rap's five part series on what does 'Thrown Under The Bus' mean, he reminds you that publishing quotes about people that sue the city is NOT an example of the idiomatic phrase in question.

5 comments:

  1. Fussbudget? Lol! Very nice. I seem to recall this blogger being a bit of a fussbudget by wanting the city council to do background and credit checks on candidates. And did I speak out against john tonight and not remember?. I don't think it is wrong to ask that we get a wide selection of candidates, and two people is not a lot of candidates. So while I have nothing against john(I am friends with his wife and I appreciate his work in the past) I hardly think this position needed to be filled asap. Has the planning commission had a lot of ties lately? So i appreciate council woman Swanson remembering my request that we not just settle. But Ben was right it takes a lot to step up and be subject to attacks and criticisms. I mean just see what happens when a person comments at meetings in a professional and cogent manner abouts issues and legitimate concerns ( I can't remember the last time I sang or brought up archaic and incorrect facts or even sued the city) they get called a fussbudget. I think I need a T-shirt. BTW you may roll your eyes about the rural vision but for many of us we voted for cityhood to avoid "spaghetti" tracts all over the town. Plenty of cities in California maintain a rural feel . no reason we can't do the same.

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    1. Please excuse any typos, couldn't edit after posting.

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    2. I was telling Grace that "Fussbudget" fit me over my famed irritation over abandoned basketball hoops and cars that parked on sidewalks. It's a fun name with a pretty mild definition.

      Parts of the city are rural, but listening to Bob Cashman last night talking about the Elm St project and using terms like "eclectic" and "special character" to describe a section of town that is rundown was silly.

      I do like the rural feel of parts of the east side of the freeway, and it's not our fault that state laws have changed about septic tanks... making it difficult to build in that area.

      Last, when I voted on the cityhood issue, it wasn't to keep the city locked in the late 20th century. It doesn't mean I want it all carved up, but listening to some residents from the podium last night, it sure seemed like we had to do it her way or we were all idiots and breaking come special covenant.

      I think our planning commissioners and council members have done a good job with the balancing act.

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  2. I would prefer run down houses on 1/2 acre or even 1/4 lots over cookie cutter/spaghetti tracts anyday. Because I know that the run down property can always be fixed up but the tracts and their impact on the feel of the community will never go away. Plus from what I have seen plenty of the tract houses are looking rundown....

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    1. I have to give a bit here... after seeing how rundown parts of Windsong have gotten since the recession, that is now supposed to be over, our area isn't the jewel that it may have once been.

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