Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 14, 2017

Making the Call for Review

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

I was looking at the agenda for next week’s City Council meeting and noticed that this residential project had been Called for Review.  For those that don’t watch the Planning Board meeting this was a garage and artist studio project for a super nice house on St Charles Street.  Apparently the homeowners — new Alameda residents — wanted to build a new three-car garage and artist studio on their property.  But there was a small issue of some Live Oak trees on their property.

So they did the right thing: hired the right architect, hired an arborist, hired a structural engineers, invited their neighbors over for wine and cheese to discuss any issues they may have had and tried to mitigate the concerns.  They did everything that you hope that your neighbors would do if they’re building a new structure near your home.

Some neighbors were appeased, others were not.  And so after two visits to the Planning Board they received approval with some conditions about pruning of the Live Oaks.

Did I mention that one of their neighbors filed a CEQA complaint as well necessitating the hiring of the lawyer?  Yeah.  Quite neighborly.

Anyway here are some of the statements made by the Planning Board members regarding the project, from mystery Planning Board member #1

From my perspective the people who purchased 1208 St Charles purchased it with certain property rights and they have followed the rules and requirements and it is their property.

And master Planning Board member #2

I’m a little bit disappointed that we had such a repudiation of the City Staff at the last meeting to continue this to go on because what it caused is it caused a lot of expense to the property owner.  It caused a lot of money to be spent — in my opinion — didn’t need to be spent.

But now we’ve gone through this a second time for a little less than an hour and I think we’ve reached the same conclusion we would have had before and I think that, as a Board, we have a police action to support the community and to do things within the ordinance and when we start putting our own opinions and our own feelings in front of ordinance and staff reports we should have some pretty good reasons to do that.  I just think in this case, and I do feel pretty strongly about this, was really an undue burden on the property owner.

Before you scoff and attribute this to which ever  Planning Board member you think is the most development friendly, I’ll stop you right there and point out that statement #1 was made by Sandy Sullivan, Trish Spencer appointee.  Statement #2 was made by Ronald Curtis, Trish Spencer appointee.

Now, there’s a Call for Review by Trish Spencer who isn’t taking the advice of her own appointee who states:

 [W]hen we start putting our own opinions and our own feelings in front of ordinance and staff reports we should have some pretty good reasons to do that.  I just think in this case, and I do feel pretty strongly about this, was really an undue burden on the property owner.

These applicants have done everything right and yet they’re still being jerked around by City bureaucracy.  Not so much City staff but by the political forces in the City. Because Calls for Review do not cost the caller — in this case the Mayor and whoever she is making the Call for Review for — there is no thought to the cost that these sorts of actions add to the cost for the project applicant.   At the last meeting the applicants were forced to bring down their architect, the structural engineer, their arborist, and their attorney to testify in support of the project and that they, as professionals, had done their due diligence.  If this is how applicants are treated by this City, is it any wonder that people don’t attempt to go through the proper planning process for their projects when the whims of any one populist styled politician could add hundreds, if not thousands, of extra dollars to your project simply because s/he can.

There must be a reformation of the Call for Review process, if it’s allowed to be used as frivolously as it has in these past two years it will continue to penalize projects that go through the proper channels as opposed to applicants that circumvent the appropriate process.

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11 Comments »

  1. This is nothing new. Alameda has always been this way. Twenty-five years ago, I spoke on behalf of a neighbor who was planning to vastly improve his property that was little better than a shack. He had done all the right things too. He even showed the architectural plans to everyone on the street. The back and forth with the City because one neighbor complained was ridiculous and very costly. Ultimately they ruled in his favor, in large part because he was able to get neighbors to appear at City Hall and speak on his behalf. The neighbor who caused all the grief by complaining didn’t even bother to show up. I have seen this happen other times, too. It pays to bring reinforcements when you appear.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — February 14, 2017 @ 6:38 am

  2. You would think that you would want your neighbors to build a 3 car garage to free up the street parking.

    Comment by joelsf — February 14, 2017 @ 7:43 am

  3. I think the Call Review Process needs to be reviewed. Denise’s example sounds like Peyton Place — not a policy we should encourage. The current policy appears to allow this type of behavior in the name of “the oak trees”.

    Comment by Karen Bey — February 14, 2017 @ 8:09 am

  4. Gotta love the predictable bleating of the neighbors for special consideration because they are native Alamedans.

    Comment by BC — February 14, 2017 @ 9:09 am

    • I was at that meeting. The complaining neighbors are a female Kaiser physician & her consort, a male engineer. She is relatively young & claims to be a native Alamedan; I don’t know if he is. For their level of education & careers, I am kinda surprised they are being so chickensh*t about this. I would think they would be too busy to care.

      [My family has known Dee Keltner for years–I don’t think she was as serious about the complaint. Dee seemed to back off a little at the meeting.]

      Denise is right. This is like old times on the Planning Board. Neighbors routinely used to gang up on the new couple on the block who just wanted to expand their living space to accommodate a new baby or something else that was entirely reasonable. Before the push to build affordable housing & develop the Base, these internecine fights were quite common.

      Always made me wonder why people thought Alameda was such a wonderful place to live [when your neighbors are so hostile that is]

      Comment by vigi — February 14, 2017 @ 12:18 pm

  5. I have always wondered. Are all home improvement projects subject to the call for review process and design review process or only certain properties?

    Comment by Keith — February 14, 2017 @ 11:07 am

  6. A neighbor told me a story that involved a tree removal. They went through the time consuming and expensive notification and permit process, attended a hearing, and eventually paid for a permit for removal as part of a remodel. While they were there they watched as another neighbor paid a fine for simply chopping down a tree in his yard without approval. Guess which one was cheaper?

    Comment by Captain Obvious — February 14, 2017 @ 4:11 pm


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