More Upheaval for Design Review Committee

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The shakeup will continue for San Marino’s Design Review Committee. Not long after three new members were appointed to the DRC by the City Council, Valerie Flores stepped down last week.
City officials said she did not provide an explanation for her resignation, and the Outlook’s attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.
The Design Review Committee, which is tasked with determining whether proposed new construction is compatible with the design of a home and with its neighborhood, has been under fire over the last couple of years for approving projects that many in the community found to be oversized and out of step with their environs.
The City Council responded in June by filling the seat vacated by Deborah Kaufeldt-Boardman and allowing two DRC terms to expire, even though the incumbents, Dr. Hai-Sou Chen and George Lin, expressed a desire to remain on the body. Bharat Patel was appointed to Kaufeldt-Boardman’s seat. Two alternates, William Dietrick and Frank Hsu, were given full-fledged positions on the committee. And two newcomers, Kevin Cheng and John Dustin, were seated as alternates.
Soon after, when the committee reorganized, Flores was passed over for the chairmanship in favor of Patel.
Now the DRC has yet another opening, meaning it will be nearly completely overhauled over a period of just a few weeks. (The City Council is on summer break, so the vacancy won’t be addressed until at least September.) Strefan Fauble is the only holdover from the five-member committee’s constitution as recently as the end of June.
It doesn’t figure to be a difficult task finding a qualified candidate: When the city solicited candidates for DRC openings in the spring, 20 applicants came forward.

LIVE HERE, OWN HERE?
In another matter involving the Design Review Committee, the City Council briefly considered removing the requirement that members of the DRC and Planning Commission own property in the city, as opposed to just being residents.
At the council’s meeting last week, City Attorney Steve Dorsey said that the requirement was unconstitutional and recommended that it be removed from the Municipal Code.
But Mayor Eugene Sun succeeded in continuing the matter to September, remarking that many residents are on vacation during the summer and he didn’t want the council to appear to be “sneaking it under the radar.”
California’s constitution is emphatic on this issue. Article 1, Section 22 reads: “The right to vote or hold office may not be conditioned by a property qualification.”

DOUBLE TAX DOSE
The utility user’s tax that will be on the Nov. 3 ballot in San Marino will have a slightly reduced cap, as the council voted to lower it from 6% to 5%.
The tax, which has been in place since 1992, will be up for a 10-year extension. It accounts for 7% of the city’s revenues, or more than $1.8 million in the last fiscal year. San Marino residents are currently being charged the 5% rate.
Because the delivery of telephone and video services continues to change with the development of new technology, the ordinance adopted by the council last week has been updated to cover them.
The reduction of the cap is worked into the language of the ballot item, which might enhance its chances for passage, since the wording suggests residents are getting a bargain. The item, which has a yes-no vote, reads: “Shall an ordinance be adopted to update and extend for a period of ten years the Utility User Tax and reduce the maximum rate of the tax from 6% to 5%?”
An extension of the public safety tax will also be put before voters in the Nov. 3 election. The tax, which is up for renewal every four years, accounts for one-fourth of the police and fire budgets in San Marino. In the past fiscal year, it brought in more than $2.9 million.
The ballot wording highlights its importance in supporting paramedic, fire protection and prevention, and police protection in the city.

SPREADING THE WORD
How best to ensure that neighbors get a sense of new construction that is being planned nearby? Vice Mayor Dr. Allan Yung, concerned that so many residents were coming forward saying they hadn’t heard about a proposed building project, pushed for the use of a third-party courier service to deliver a complete set of plans to each of the 12 surrounding residents identified as a given home’s legal neighborhood.
“Too many times when there’s a disagreement, the first excuse people use is, ‘I didn’t get a set of plans,’” Yung said. “And the owner says he sent it. I think if it were done professionally, we could close some loopholes, so there’s no longer any argument about whether the neighbors were notified.”
Eugene Sun agreed with him, but the other three council members did not, feeling the requirement would be unduly burdensome to the building applicant, and Yung’s motion was voted down.
Currently, San Marino’s code requires the applicant to provide the city with stamped envelopes for the residents in the legal neighborhood, and Planning and Building staff mails out notices about an upcoming hearing before the Design Review Committee or Planning Commission. The recipients have the option of visiting City Hall to review the plans on file for the proposed project.
Coincidentally at last week’s meeting, the council gave its final approval to an ordinance that will require a 12-square-foot sign to be planted in the yard of a property where a new or replacement structure is planned. It will provide information about an upcoming hearing, the case number and a description of the project.

R-1 PARKING LOTS
Four parking lots adjacent to San Marino’s business district that are zoned residential will remain so, and the Land Use Element of the city’s General Plan will be amended to reflect this, the council decided in a 3-1 vote (with Yung abstaining).
The parking lots are behind Huntington Drive businesses — and behind the alley that runs along the rear of the businesses. Staff asked the council for direction to have the lots rezoned C-1, or commercial, to conform to the businesses they serve.
But a couple of residents, Dale Pederson and Michele Lumley, expressed concern that if rezoned C-1, the lots could someday give way to a major commercial development, with underground parking.
A compromise was suggested by City Attorney Steve Dorsey, who said the city could create an overlay zone, dictating that the land, though zoned residential, may only be used for parking.
An even more ticklish issue will come before the council in the coming months: five properties on Huntington Drive that are zoned residential but have been used as offices and other businesses for years. They, too, are designated for commercial uses in the General Plan, and Dorsey said the discrepancy between the General Plan and the zoning map could leave the city vulnerable to litigation.

TURF STUMBLING BLOCK
Not so fast on the city’s bid to get rebate money for removal of its median lawn.
San Marino made an application to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to receive $2 per square foot for the removal of 258,000 square feet of turf.
But City Manager John Schaefer said the estimates the city has gotten for converting the medians to a drought-tolerant landscape have ranged upward from $6 per square foot. That would force the city to dip into its reserves to make up the difference. Also, Assistant City Manager Lucy Garcia said, San Marino couldn’t conduct the work gradually over an extended period of time, because the MWD, as a condition of the rebate, requires that the work be completed within six months.
Even scaling the conversion project back to 20,000 square feet of median grass could cost the city $100,000 in General Fund money, Schaefer said, so “we may not pursue this [rebate] money at all.”
Instead, the city plans to concentrate on preserving the trees in the median — there are 236 of them in the Huntington Drive medians alone. This will be accomplished through modifying the irrigation system to provide loops of drip irrigation around the trees, covered by mulch, as the city has already done for much of Sierra Madre Boulevard.

APPOINTMENTS
• The Traffic Advisory Committee has some new faces. The council reappointed Hunter Chang to the committee, added Wendy Doo to the group, promoted Jon Crowley from alternate to a full-fledged member and named Calvin Lo as the committee’s alternate. Eileen Hale and Tony Fung recently stepped down from the committee after extended periods of service.
• Sue Boegh and Oscar Chien were reappointed to the Library Board of Trustees.

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