Bittersweet Ending to Collins’ Tenure With San Marino

In an emotional closure to last week’s City Council meeting, Cindy Collins, who has spent the past 14 months as the interim city manager, said her goodbyes to City Council members and city staff.
As of Monday this week, she has ceded her duties to Marcella Marlowe, who was hired full time last month. Collins will stay on through the month to help transition and then retire.
“As you know, I was hired here in 2001 and started the recreation department and have served a capacity in every department, except for Planning and Building, Police and Fire,” she said, fighting tears. “I have loved this community. It has been a big part of my heart and in my career. It’s been kind of a hard year and the staff has really pulled together this year and moved forward together as a team.”
The City Council members acknowledged Collins for how she persevered during a time in which the city saw a lot of staff turnover and organizational changes.
“We put you through hell,” Councilman Steve Talt said. “We brought in an ad hoc committee. We totally changed the structure of administration. You rarely complained. You’ve helped us through a time where there’s been a lot of transition and you’ve done so with a tremendous amount of professionalism.”
Collins was appointed as a temporary replacement to John Schaefer, who retired in June 2016.
“It’s been a joy to work with you,” Vice Mayor Richard Ward told Collins. “It’s almost a shame you’re leaving us. You’re such a source of intuitional memory; it’s going to be difficult to be without. Your contributions have been immeasurable in my view.”
Some councilmen used the controversial Stoneman School building, which the city bought and has been unsure what to do with, as a measurement of Collins’ success relative to the woes of City Hall.
“More than a job well done,” Councilman Dr. Allan Yung said. “She took over a situation that is worse than Stoneman. We owe a great deal to her.”
“You’ve done a wonderful job. I can’t believe you could clean up this mess but you couldn’t clean up Stoneman,” Dr. Steven Huang joked, eliciting laughter across the chambers.
“I appreciate your trustworthiness, your passion and your fairness,” Mayor Dr. Richard Sun said. “I’ve never seen you make any complaints. I know we will all miss you.”
The City Council made clear its preferences for restrictions on accessory dwelling units at its meeting last week, and expects to consider an ordinance soon levying those requirements.
City Attorney Steve Flower and Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes will work to implement those requests, which come after the city’s Planning Commission used a handful of its meetings to seek public comment and deliberate on how it thought such an ordinance on the structures, also called ADUs, should read.
Those points of emphasis include settling on a 12,000-square-foot-lot size required for newly constructed ADUs, barring new curb cuts for driveways, barring the creation of new addresses for ADUs, requiring that the property owner live in either the main home or ADU, requiring a 30-day minimum occupation for ADU leases, clarifying height limits for ADUs, barring balconies from ADUs and revisiting the minimum square footage for the ADU itself.
“I think what we have to do is what’s right for our town and not worry about other cities so much,” said Talt, speaking on how this ordinance compared to other cities’ laws. “We’re talking about 48% of our lots (that are at least 12,000 square feet).”
For the record, Cervantes said that about 35% of the state’s cities that adopted their own specific ordinance had lot size restrictions and each of San Marino’s neighboring cities except for Arcadia had done so.
Residents had some input at the Wednesday City Council meeting as well. John Dustin, a member of the city’s Design Review Committee, expressed concern about ADUs that were either converted garages with an added second story or simply built on top of garages.
“I see a real problem with an ADU built above a garage where the main structure on the property is a single story unit. I just don’t envision how that will be aesthetically compatible in our city,” Dustin said. “Units built above an existing garage are unique in their placement on the lot. Garages tend to be built in the back of properties. Now you’ll have a second story unit that’s back in the lot. You will have sight lines that go into the rear windows of adjacent properties.”
Flower said he would look into how the city could regulate that and Talt speculated a stylistic match to the main home as part of the normal design review process might be enough to prevent that from happening.
Resident Cordelia Donnelly, who is suing the city over the restrictions in its interim ADU ordinance, spoke against the city’s proposed permanent restrictions on the units, claiming they violated the letter of the state laws that have forced cities to relax their ADU restrictions.
“Mr. Brody is suggesting the city change the state’s language,” she said, referring to Planning Commission Vice Chairman Howard Brody. “That’s not OK. Mr. Brody is suggesting adding terms to the state statute. You can’t do that. The words written in the state statute have to be honored as written.”
There was some brief contention on the new address issue, which the Planning Commission had supported on the basis of giving first responders the most accurate location for an emergency call. City Council members, however, largely felt it created an image of mixed use zoning in the city.
Ward leaned in favor of new addresses.
“I think it’s simply more orderly and answers a lot of questions in the future of where this goes or where that goes, in addition to the safety issue,” he said.
Asked about the issue, Fire Chief Mario Rueda said more information is obviously best, but relative to other issues his department faces, this wasn’t “a hill I’m willing to die on.”
“A precise address is always best,” he said. “We always ask that someone waits outside to guide us in, but a precise address is best for us to know exactly where to go.
“An adjacent jurisdiction responding into our area may not have that expertise,” Rueda added.
In a text message, Police Chief John Incontro said he agreed with Rueda.

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