By Miriam Raftery
September 12, 2017 (La Mesa) – The La Mesa Village Voice, originally founded to halt the Park Station proposed highrise project, has published an editorial on its Facebook page criticizing a proposed apartment project on the site of the former Little Haven convent The editorial also suggests that a proposal to eliminate the city’s design review board would simply clear hurdles for developers in the future.
The La Mesa Village Voice editorial states in part, "Do you care about development in the Village? If so, you must read this. You may not be aware of the Little Flower Haven Apartment Complex Development that is being proposed at the old covenant on La Mesa Blvd. It may not affect you, it may not interest you, but the way the council responds to the developers pushing it through should – because it’s a window into the future of La Mesa."
Read the full editorial and discussion, including extensive comments by Council members Guy McWhirter and Kristine Alessio (photos, top left): https://www.facebook.com/LaMesaVillageVoice/posts/1398618196853750 and see highlights below of the editorial and online responses below.
Council , which previously deadlocked 2-2, will reconsider the issue tonight after a lawyer for Pathfinder Silvergate La Mesa LLC, the developer, sent a letter threatening a lawsuit if approval is not granted. The developer contends that since it met a state requirement for a density bonus meant to help ease the state’s affordable housing crisis. Silvergate agreed to devote 10% of the project to affordable housing, it’s entitled to a waiver of the normal parking requirements, as ECM reported here . See article on the earlier vote here.
The LMVV editorial faults Council for taking an “our hands are tied” approach and suggests the project might be rejected for reasons other than parking, such as not fitting a mixed use overlay for the site on La Mesa Blvd.
But Council members Alessio and Baber say that the overlay only allows mixed use, it doesn’t require it, and other projects have been built within the overlay zone that were not mixed used.
McWhirter suggests he is likely to change his vote on the Little Flower Haven project, stating, “By voting against it, we broke the law and were informed about an upcoming lawsuit. Encinitas did the same thing and had to pay over $350,000. Please see the attached article. I have lived in La Mesa for over 50 years. I care about its development and the residents. Would it have been nice to have some mixed use here. Yes, but it is not our call.” He posted articles clarifying requirements of the state’s density bonus and covering Encinitas’ costly and losing battle over the issue: http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/.../years-of-defying.../ http://www.meyersnave.com/californias-density-bonus-law.../
Alessio, an attorney, said legal fees would be “incredibly high” and that the city would lose a lawsuit if it were to refuse to approve the project. That’s why she voted for it initially, she has stated. But neighbors contend will result in too many cars parking on streets where residents have only single-family garages and many already park a second car on the street.
The LMVV editorial further calls on Council to keep the Design Review Commission, which it calls a “a gatekeeper in the development process” and urged removal of city officials from its ranks, suggesting they be replaced with two more citizens. The Design Review Commission had recommended approval of the Little Flower Haven project. Councilman Bill Baber earlier raised conflict of interest questions over two city staffers casting votes for the project as well as an architect who previously worked for Silvergate serving on the Commission.
Alessio weighed in, stating of the proposal by her and Baber to eliminate the Design Review Board, “…it's not a scapegoat it's a case of wanting to streamline our processes so that we do not make developers duplicate their work, one of the reasons the State is slamming us with some much affordable housing regulation is because they believe that small cities are purposely trying to thwart development.”
If eliminated, the Design Review Board’s duties would be taken up by the Planning Commission. “The planning commissioners are your neighbors too, “ Alessio wrote, adding, “they aren't some weird entity from out of the area making decisions from a non-La Mesa standpoint. I think that no one wants Mission Valley East or El Cajon West in La Mesa, and I feel confident that to the best of my abilities I can prevent that,” but did not clarify how.
The posts drew heated responses. “As a homewner above tbe village, we DO NOT WANT ANYMORE APARTMENTS OR CONDOS! The traffic is bad enough now. This project is just bad for our city period. City Council needs to STAND UP FOR ITS CITIZENS AND DO WHAT THEY WERE ELECTED TO DO,” wrote Stacey Jones-Walsh.
Cy Perkins posted, “This is an excellent overview of what many La Mesans feel about the need for our elected officials to stand up for the citizens when our best interests are threatened by developers. The primary role of the city attorney seems to be to regularly alarm City Council members with "possible lawsuit, possible lawsuit, possible lawsuit." I trust, therefore, he's warned them about a lawsuit following a traffic tragedy in the Porter Hill neighborhood, a direct result of the increased traffic caused by the Little Flower development.”
The LMVV editorial concludes, “In short the Council must enforce its own standards set by the General Plan voted in by the community and not cower to outside developer demands. – and it is up to us, the residents of this community to make sure the City Council does just this.”
Although the other three Council members have not joined in the online discussion, it would likely violate the state's Brown Act to do so, since no more than two members of an elected body are allowed to meet or discuss pubilc business online. Councilman Colin Parent has recused himself from the vote on this project due to owning a residence nearby. Comments by Councilman Bill Baber have been posted on the La Mesa Next Door forum. Mayor Mark Arapostathis has made comments in public hearings, but not in these online forums.