Santa Paula Council Continues Major Development Project

By Sheryl Hamlin

On November 16, 2015, the Santa Paula City Council held an in-depth discussion lasting two hours and 15 minutes about the Peck/Foothill project, an extremely complicated project which had previously been reviewed twice by the Planning Commission. To view the entire discussion, click here and start at 1:41:00. To download the staff reports, click here.

Stratis Perros, Assistant Director of Planning, presented the project as well as the eight (8) action items on the agenda for this project, as shown below:


Item number 7, the Annexation, is shown in the drawing below. Parcel 1 is the 32.5 acres where the 79 homes (77, if gated) are to be sited, a 2 acre parcel owned by the Mitchell’s which is surrounded by the project and a 14 acre parcel to the north of the project, where the county has required additional dirt removal. Thus, the total to be annexed is 32.5 + 2 + 14 or about 50 acres, which must be approved by LAFCO in another hearing with an additional environmental review once the Santa Paula council approves the project.


The challenges of the property, like all of Adams Canyon according to Mr. Perros, are the soil conditions and topography, including the existence of an ancient slide, a feature which could make the hillside potentially unstable if nothing is done. The applicant must obtain a county grading permit because the excess cut dirt which is not used in the fill process must be dumped in Adams Canyon in three different locations to be approved by the county per one of the Conditions of Approval. If the county denies this grading permit, the applicant must move the excess fill out of the project either via Peck Road or Briggs Road. Additionally, if there are commercial uses for the excess cut dirt at another site, the county will require a Mining Permit. This would also force the applicant to return to the city to ask for an exemption to the Condition of Approval requiring all material to be dumped in Adams Canyon rather than taken down Peck Road, a requirement the residents and the representatives of the school on Peck Road demanded. With these new conditions, the county has softened its earlier position on the project.

Recall that Adams Canyon was sold at bankruptcy auction recently and is due to close in December. Mr. Perros did not say if the applicant had obtained an executed easement for the Adams Canyon dumping sites.

The application retained the services of Stanley R. Hoffman & Associates to perform a Fiscal Analysis. This document was not in the staff report, but had been previously distributed to council. To view this report, click here. Note that it is the final copy, even though it says “Draft”. The $105,978 benefit to the city is derived by comparing a “Gated” version of 77 homes versus a “Non-Gated” version of 79 homes. The table assumes the project is fully built out and occupied. In the “Gated” situation, the average home assessment is $660,000 and in the “Non-gated”, the average home assessment if $600,000. Household income is estimated at 25% of the house value, which then determines the sales taxes which will flow to Santa Paula. The analysis uses 3.54 persons per household. The difference in benefit is primarily due to the private versus public streets, the latter which are maintained by Santa Paula, while the former are maintained by the HOA. Mr. Hoffman gave no indication as to how long it would take to achieve full occupancy; however. Mr. Perros said that “as long as this it (the project) was in planning, it will take to build it” during his oral presentation.


Mr. Perros explained the challenging “cut and fill” excavation required for the project in the following elevation. The top line is the existing grade. The white area is to be cut down to the dotted line which shows several horizontal building areas. A dotted line above the solid line indicates areas where cut fill will be placed and compacted to build up a buildable, horizontal area. The vertical line is the back of the 32.5 acre property. The 14 acre property to the right of the vertical line is part of another parcel not owned by this applicant, so an easement must be granted. The county requires the 14 acres to be annexed along with the 32.5 acres belonging to the applicant. The 14 acre property will be cut into what is known as “benches” which is a terracing approach and will eventually be landscaped, a requirement to stabilize the grading.

There was no statement as to the source of the non-potable water for the landscaping in perpetuity and for the dust mitigation during construction on the entire parcel. For a review of Governor Brown’s drought issue mandates, click here. In fact, there was nothing in the staff presentation or report about the water source for the residential use of the project.


For an overview of the construction process known as “cut and fill”, the Bureau of Land Management has produced an excellent document showing various cut topographies and issues, as well as recommended solutions for various slopes.

Public Comments

Ten people spoke against the project and one person spoke in favor of the project.

Anne Marie Grumbine passed her time to Richard Main.

Diana Ponce-Gomez said the project was originally much smaller in scale and was now too big. Traffic and Safety are serious issues. The project is out of character with the neighborhood. She suggests a stop light or a sign or other safety measures for Peck and Foothill.

Eric Flemming spoke about the city’s requirements for hillside housing. His research indicated that based on a slop of 20 to 24.9%, there should be only 2 homes per acre, but this project is 2.43 homes per acre. He suggested a maximum of 50 homes.

Alissa Fox said she favored responsible growth, but Foothill is dangerous now and the situation will be exacerbated with more traffic. She questioned the availability and quantity of water and suggested a smaller, more responsible development.

Russell Fox called this project “Credit card planning” where we pay now and continue to pay in the future.

Marshall Roath read from the staff report which quoted the Santa Paula Municipal Code Chapter 16.98 which regulates Hillside Grading Practices. This ordinance says “the city’s primary objective regarding hillside development is to preserve the natural terrain, the quality environment and the aesthetic features of the Chile while encouraging creative, innovative, diverse and safe development”.  He questioned how 200 feet of manmade hillside preserves the natural terrain? He also questioned the creativity and innovation of the project because no details were supplied about the housing, no sections and no elevations.

Sheryl Hamlin spoke about conditions in the project, such as excessive cut and fill, raptor habitat destruction, historic oak destruction, a 20 foot retaining wall, none of which were presented to the voters, also pointing out that the project started in 2003 and is now in 2015 asking for a development agreement of 25 years, which would take the project out to 2040 for a possible completion.  

Richard Main spoke to the project’s defective geology which is why it has never been executed, even at the height of the housing bubble in 2003. He provided estimated of $7 to $10 per cubic yard to remove the cut dirt equating to about $200,000 per home. He also said there are no water rights with the property. The project was misclassified as “hillside residential” and should have been “hillside estate”.

Michael Dalo, whose property contains 10 to 20% of the landslide, contends that his property will be adversely affected by the construction. He mentioned a “rural/urban interface of 3 sides”. He also said that moving a large water pipe will affect him and other farmers. This water pipe easement is just one of several easements on the 32.5 acre property according to the staff report. Mr. Dalo reminded the council that the approval of the project came with a very low voter turnout of only 21% of registered voters. He suggests 20 to 25 units.

Gilbert Leon, a home inspector in large projects, said this is not good development. The left turn onto Foothill is “blind” and is dangerous. The project will involve cranes and large trucks and should have traffic mitigation during construction as well as afterward.

Robert Frost, who has been in the earth moving and trucking business for 40 years, likes the project. He says that 30 or 40 yard scrapers will be used not 8 yard trucks as previously stated. He also said that Mr. Main’s estimates of the cost of the cut and fill were too high and that a permit was not required to dump in Adams Canyon. He said the land is no good for anything else and never will be.

Applicant Response

Mr. Keith Hagaman, the applicant, spoke about the history of the project starting in 1988 with Scott Anderson (now deceased). They closed escrow on the property in 1992. There are other local investors. They proposed an 88 home project in 1998. He said that Mr. Anderson built the project east of Peck Road with two lots, one containing 10 units and one with 23 homes, for a total of 33 homes. He said that the Comstock project at the hospital is 76 homes on 16 acres or twice the density of his proposed project. Mr. Hagaman contends that stabilizing the land is a “service” to the community by stabilizing the hill. There may be uses for the dirt outside the project, thus setting the stage to reverse one of the conditions of approval, although he said the goal was to keep trucks off of city streets. He said the 750,000 cubic yards of excess dirt to be dumped in Adams Canyon was the worst case scenario. Note that paragraph 3.14 (a) of the Development Agreement mentions hauling excess material off site if another project needs the dirt.

He introduced Mike Pisker, consultant for the managing General Partners, for technical questions.

Council Questions and Discussion

Vice Mayor Hernandez asked if Mr. Hagaman were open to revisiting the number of homes in the project? Mr. Hagaman replied affirmatively.

Mayor Procter asked about the annexation process. Mr. Perros confirmed that LAFCO would be the hearing agency to approve annexation of the 50 acres.

Vice Mayor Hernandez asked about the sizes of the detention basins which he said looked “small” and then asked about the 2010 storm water runoff standards (current MS4). Mr. Pisker said that their study found flooding issues on lower Peck, so the basins are oversized to 250% of required capacity, another project benefit.

Randy Toedter, a consultant for the Santa Paula Public Works department, said that the 2010 MS4 is not applicable because the project was approved prior to the 2010 MS4, so the 2002 MS4 was used. He says that good practices preclude water retention on a hill. He said that Public Works can only approve a 25 foot slope and this project is 200 feet, requiring council approval. The peak is 280 feet. The developer agreed to the GHAD, a special district to oversee geologic hazards, because Public Works had a “big concern” about the slope and maintenance, which is “over and above what a normal HOA would have to maintain”.  Mr. Toedter said they are asking the applicant to improve the drainage on Peck Road, another benefit, although he did not elaborate on the solution.

Vice Mayor expressed concerned that the property is not subject to the 2010 MS4 saying the newer MS4 requires cleaning the runoff to avoid polluting the natural watersheds. Mr. Toedtler said there are exceptions in the 2010 law to the retention requirement if there is a geological hazard present. There are a number of ways to satisfy the water cleaning, but the popular percolation method is not an option for this property and will amplify the problem. Responding to Vice Mayor Hernandez’ concerns about drainage from the property, Mr. Toedter said that a consultant reviewed the drainage who said it was adequate for up to a 100 year storm. The mayor stated his understanding that permeable drainage is preferable but not workable in this case because of the geology. Vice Mayor Hernandez reiterated concerns about the quality of the water which will eventually drain to the watershed from the detention basins.

There were questions about the visibility of the wall at the 280 foot level. Mr. Pisker said that they would start landscaping the summer after the removal of the slope.

Vice Mayor Hernandez asked about water rights because the city is at or close to its allocation. Mr. Pisker said there were “some Ag water rights” but did not elaborate on the quantity or the source, saying there was enough water for dust control and compaction, but not for the housing.

Vice Mayor asked about the mitigation monitoring and the 113 conditions of approval. Jana Minsk, Planning Director, replied saying they “could require” the developer to pay.

Council Member Crosswhite expressed concerns about the lack of elevations and specifically about the look and feel of the walls. She asked how this project could look the same as the one on the other side. She noted the previous statement about two groups of homes, one of ten and one of 23 homes. How can 33 homes without walls, she asked, look like 79 homes with walls? She also asked how the water be directed to the detention basins and what do they look like. She asked how the dirt is removed from the project. Does it start at the top or the bottom?

Mr. Pisker said this project is less dense than the project to the east. Council Member Gherardi said that visually it appears more dense. Mr. Pisker said that 9000 square foot lots are larger.

He said that the MSE wall (mechanically stabilized earth) will be attractive, citing brands Keystone and Verdura, which eliminate graffiti. Both of these products appear to be block based and are considered “living walls” because the blocks may be plantable. Below is a Keystone wall.


Responding to the question about his neighbor to the west, Mr. Pisker said that Mr. Dalo provided no evidence and said that remedial grading in general is a benefit to neighbors.  Responding to the question about removing the dirt, Mr. Pisker said that small trucks will be used on existing agricultural roads to the north.

Council Member Gherardi said she had a great deal of concern about the project including dirt moving, one way of ingress/egress on to Foothill, mostly left turns on to Foothill will compound the problem and height of the cut. The EIR had alternative, less dense. She suggested revisting these issues, reducing the cut and fill and fixing the circulation issues. She said that she must make her decision asking if this is the “best thing for the city of Santa Paula?” saying she cannot support the project.

The Mayor asked if reducing the housing reduced the grading. To which, Mr. Pisker said that they must grade the entire property regardless of the number of homes because the slide is multi-directional and doesn’t reduce proportionally with the exception of the pads and roads which is a small percentage. CEQA doesn’t consider economics, he said, saying the reducing the homes raises the cost per home. At 77 or 79 home, the project works for economics.

Vice Mayor asked City Attorney Cotti about the options for the applicant in the event of a denial. Mr. Cotti responded saying they could continue the item and the applicant could present a revised project or deny the project and the applicant could start again with a new application.

The Vice Mayor asked why there are no elevations? The Planning Director said they were not required.

The Vice Mayor expressed concern that the water rights had not been secured, saying that Santa Paula is under a microscope with its allocation. He could support a “rethink” option.

Council Member Crosswhite revisited the density issue saying that she found in section 4.1.x of the EIR a statement that the project would appear dense, but is technically compatible but would look different.

The Mayor said he was not certain about anything at this point, but would be “ok” with certifying the EIR. He said there was too much to approve in this eight part agenda item. Furthermore, with Council Member Tovias absent, he would propose as a courtesy to Mr. Tovias a continuation to “a date certain”. He said he was interested in hearing about alternatives.

Council Member Gherardi said that they can’t approve the EIR without approving the project. Joe Power from Rincon Consultant said that certifying the EIR only says it meets the state’s CEQA requirement. But Mr. Cotti asked about project changes, so Mr. Power said that a project change would mean more analysis if the change were not studied in the EIR.

Council Member Crosswhite said that the resolution number 6957 is more than just approving the EIR, but includes four conclusions about the project. Mr. Perros said these were “general” and they could “work out later”.

Vice Mayor Hernandez said that approving the EIR says that with mitigation the effects are less than significant, so he would prefer to do them together.

The Mayor then asked for a continuation date to which Mr. Cotti replied January or February of 2016. A discussion ensued about lack of staff and the Planning Director’s January vacation. The date of January 19, 2016 was agreed. This is a Tuesday meeting due to the Martin Luther King Holiday. Note that because this is a continuation NO NOTICE IS REQUIRED.

Below is a diagram of the site plan superimposed on an aerial view of the existing neighborhood and site.  Note: This is a concept. While not to scale, it shows the northern border alignment and the Mitchell property.  After fifteen years of studying this project, why would the applicant not have provided such a drawing to scale to explain the project and why would the Planning Department and/or the Planning Commission not have asked for it?



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