Planning Commission Vote Comes Under Fire in Letter
Recently, the Planning Commission narrowly passed revised plans for Henry Mayo’s proposed expansion plan, adding to a whirlwind of emotions. Henry Mayo and its partner, G&L realty have approached the subject as a plan to better accommodate the health and well being of the city.
Opponents, including a group of homeowners organized under Smart Grown SCV, do not oppose expanding the hospital. They oppose the plan for expanding the campus, which puts medical office buildings at a higher priority than actual hospital facilities. In addition, there are a number of traffic and noise concerns that have residents fighting the expansion as proposed.
Henry Mayo and G&L Realty have reduced the plan, removing one office building, but to Smart Growth SCV, there are still many reasons why the plan is not appropriate, and they say it shouldn’t have been passed.
This week, Smart Growth SCV sent a letter to the planning commission, and copied the City Council as well. The letter follows below, and was written by David Gauny, of Smart Growth SCV:
SUBJECT: Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Conditional Use permit (CUP) MASTER CASE #04-325
Chairman Burkhart and Honorable Members of the Planning Commission:
In light of the circumstances regarding your unexpected vote at the November 21 Commission hearing, and after reviewing the decision with our committee members, our counsel, and our professional advisors, Smart Growth SCV along with other concerned residents of the Santa Clarita Valley have significant concerns with myriad issues. These issues are not obstructionist tactics or a smokescreen, nor are our comments a “shotgun” reaction. Rather, the points below clearly identify ten significant and very specific areas that not only should be addressed but —from a legal standpoint— must be addressed prior to any further misdirected actions by the Commission or the City Council.
- No CUP Text
A Conditional Use Permit (CUP) requires detailed specifics. A typical CUP can run from ten to over 300 pages. The City Planning Commission did not have any specific CUP language or conditions at all. This does not conform to state law.
No Specific Conditions Available With CUP
In order to gauge whether a CUP fulfills all state code requirements, it must be precise. Every aspect of the building plan being requested must be enumerated. Plot plans are always part of CUPs. None of these specific conditions were provided by the applicant to the Commission or to the general public.
- Vote Taken on Information Not in Evidence
The Planning Commission voted 3 to 2 to approve the master plan “subject to” information contained in a so-called economic study. This study was not available to the applicant, the general public, or the Planning Commission itself. The study
is not yet even complete. A city planning commission may not base its vote on any information other than what is in the public record.
CUP Final Unless Appealed
The Planning Commission believed their only function was to make a recommendation to the City Council. This “recommendation” function was thought to be appropriate because the complete case involved a development agreement, which did need authorization from the City Council. When the development agreement was denied, the “recommendation” function was removed. The CUP then became final with the Planning Commission unless appealed. This was not made clear to the applicant, the Planning Commission itself, or the general public.
Development Agreement Denial Incomplete
Multiple grounds existed to deny the development agreement. Although staff was directed to return with resolutions of denial, very few specific grounds for the denial were communicated in the context of the public hearing. Since the public hearing was closed, the public is now deprived of the right to ensure that the administrative record is complete. This restricts the right of the public to assert that they have exhausted all their administrative remedies.
Development Agreement (DA) Contains No City Benefits
Development agreements must offer to the public agency significant specific benefits unavailable to the city as part of routine project permit approval. The DA as denied contained no benefits at all beyond those found in the project itself. In addition, a DA is supposed to offer enhancements and extensions of specific aspects of a project. The underlying permit (the CUP) contains no specifics whatsoever upon which a DA might elaborate.
No EIR Certification
With the denial of the development agreement, a certification of the EIR by the Planning Commission became necessary. No vote regarding the adequacy or certification of the EIR took place. We are not the only group or individuals that believe the EIR to be a flawed document.
“Unknown Study” Renders EIR Invalid
An EIR must study specific projects. If a project is not precisely identified, project impact studies and their proposed mitigations, cannot be specifically identified either. The commission approved the CUP “conditional upon” the contents of a study which was not in the public record and which no one, including the commission, has ever seen. Since this CUP became final with the Planning Commission, a vote based on some future study renders the completeness of the EIR invalid.
Project Revisions Not Submitted in Timely Manner
Major revisions to the hospital project were submitted at the time of the hearing, and after the posting of the agenda per the requirements of the Brown Act. The Planning Commission was asked to render its decision on the spot without having time to fully understand the significance of the project revisions. Those revisions were not part of any alternative studied in the EIR. The public was given no chance at all to review the revisions, understand them, and submit testimony into the administrative record to protect the public’s interest. The project should have been continued so that adequate time for all parties to review the project changes was available.
Project “Video Cartoon” Completely Inaccurate
Shown to everyone for the first time at the public hearing was an animated video generated by computer. Copies of this were not made available to anyone prior to its first time exhibition at the public hearing. The Planning Commission was asked to base its decision, in part, on the contents of this “cartoon”. This is significant, because the “cartoon” completely distorted and misrepresented the project. No project opponent was given sufficient opportunity to criticize this exhibit, which became a significant part of the public record.
The visible perspective of the theoretical viewer was located about 25 feet above ground as if the viewer was flying. Such a viewpoint should have been 4-6 feet above the ground as would be seen as if the viewer were walking, riding a bicycle, or driving in an automobile. This dishonest depiction served to minimize and distort the visual effect of the proposed buildings’ mass and height.
No cars whatsoever were shown on any of the streets in the “cartoon”. This served to wildly distort the concept of how the project will really be seen.
No architecture or building design were shown for any of the new construction, thereby masking the potential true appearance of the project.
In every case the “point-of-view” of the viewer in the “cartoon” was canted away from any view of the project’s surroundings. This prevented any viewer from understanding the visible relationship of the project to any of its neighbors on all sides.
The “cartoon” actually depicted landscaping that the applicant’s representative hurriedly indicated would, in fact, never exist.
Because this exhibit was so late in being submitted, the public was deprived of the ability to enter the above list of amazing defects into the public record even though the Planning Commission was being asked to base its decision on this “cartoon”.
In certifying a DEIR, our Planning Commission’s primary responsibility is to test and certify the complete and adequate analysis and mitigation of impacts, as well as a project’s consistency with our General Plan. With this in mind, certification of the DEIR is unwarranted for the many reasons we have addressed repeatedly for many months. CEQA studies are not discretionary and neither full disclosure nor mitigation can be ignored because the Commission perceives a project to be a real or emotional need for a community, such as a hospital. The final decision then is made independent of any other study, especially one that has yet to be completed. A Planning Commission oversteps its duties and its powers when it overlooks this responsibility in the “best interest” of the community it serves.
In a final note, accountability of developers is ensured by following proper and proven procedures. These procedures are considered fundamental to good planning and basic government, and are the public’s guarantee of fair representation and protection from reckless project approvals. It was disturbing to note that while virtually every commissioner had significant concerns about the project as proposed, several comments made it clear that avoidance of project amendments and the subsequent review process trumped these concerns. Sidestepping planning goals in the interest of a developer’s timeline or as a matter of convenience is neither a function of the commission nor an excuse for approval. Such decisions made in haste to avoid review of tedious or unpleasant findings result in costly litigation and should be avoided.
Smart Growth SCV retains its positive and proactive approach to this issue. We have deep concerns about votes and approvals taking place without publicly available information, due process, and full disclosure from this or any other developer. We are certain that you also require these basics in order to make informed decisions and we hope our efforts will help bring these to light.
We look forward to your leadership in this matter and are happy to assist in whatever way possible.
Chairman, Smart Growth SCV