Santa Paula: Housing Tract at Peck and Foothill Denied by City Council

By Sheryl Hamlin

This article is the third and final installment of the April 18, 2016 Santa Paula City Council Meeting. The first and second installments of this council meeting were published previously. To view the meeting click here and start at 1:33:00.

Recent Project History

A larger project was originally presented to the Santa Paula council at the beginning of the 21st century, according to the developer Scott Hagaman. Since its 2003 vote where it passed 1247(yes) to 981(no), the project has been considered four times by various Santa Paula agencies within the last year as follows:

Specific Plans and Zones

It is important to understand that a Specific Plan Zone for Adams Canyon was created with the successful 2007 Adams Canyon vote containing a reduced number of homes (495). The 79 homes of the Peck/Foothill project reduce the 495 homes but fall under the control of the Adams Canyon Specific Plan Zone as stated in the FEIR on page 8 for Tentative Tract Map 5475.

“The City of Santa Paula General Plan (1998) currently designates the development site as part of the Adams Canyon Specific Plan Zone (SP-1), which allows development of up to 495 dwelling units”

Why is this important? Because Specific Plans give the planners and developers flexibility in applying the Municipal Code if there is a perceived public “benefit”. Santa Paula’s Municipal Code says this about Specific Plans:

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CHAPTER 16.25:  SPECIFIC PLAN ZONE

  • 16.25.020 SPECIFIC PLAN ZONES ESTABLISHED.

   Each specific plan area in the city will be identified on the zoning map by a number. The numbers will refer to the following specific plans:

   SP-1   Adams Canyon

   SP-2   Fagan Canyon

   SP-3   East Area 1

   SP-4   East Area 2

   SP-5   South Mountain

   SP-6   West Area 2

   SP-7   Airpark

(Ord. 1100, passed 7-6-04; Am. Ord. 1182, passed 2-4-08)

CHAPTER 16.216: SPECIFIC PLANS

  • 16.216.010 PURPOSE AND INTENT.

The city recognizes that certain parcels in Santa Paula may benefit from focused planning efforts whereby infrastructure, land use relationships, land use intensities, and public service needs can be carefully examined and planned in a comprehensive manner. The Specific Plan provides a mechanism to carry out such planning efforts. The purpose of this Chapter 16.216 is to establish uniform procedures and guidelines for Specific Plans prepared pursuant to Cal. Gov’t Code Title 7, Division 1, Chapter 3, Article 8.

(Ord. 1104, passed 7-19-04)

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So, although the Hagaman project is an orphan and not part of a master Adams Canyon development plan (never written) as was conceived in the 2007 initiative, the project falls under the Adams Canyon Specific Plan Zone and, in fact, the successful 2007 ballot initiative specifically subsumed the Hagaman parcel into the Specific Plan Zone as follows:

text_32acres

Recall that the Hagaman Specific Plan for Adams Canyon was developed at the recommendation of Planning Director Minsk in 2012 in order to keep Adams Canyon in the Santa Paula Sphere of Influence. The Specific Plan for the Hagaman Project was developed by Santa Paula with the “assistance of Rincon Consultants”. So the obvious question at this time, particularly in light of the ownership change of Adams Canyon, is how many Specific Plans can be associated with one Specific Plan Zone in the event a project for the rest of Adams Canyon emerges? Did Mr. Hagaman reimburse the city for the Specific Plan?

Staff Report

Planning Director Minsk reported that since the study session there were no major changes, but a few more conditions were added for traffic safety. Mayor Hernandez asked the Director to explain the two letters received today sent to the council from Brian Baca, Ventura County Resource Management Agency (RMA) Planning Division Commercial/Industrial Manager and Kai Luoma, Executive Officer LAFCO.

Ms. Minsk responded saying that Mr. Baca’s letter voiced two concerns: 1) the fourteen (14) acres north of the property must show in all maps and designs,2) the Environmental Review for the 700,000 cubic yards to be dumped in Adams Canyon is incomplete and does not fully address the issues. Mr. Luoma’s letter contained three concerns: 1) the 14 acres north of the property are not owned by the owner, b) in the Development Agreement 3.1.4, it is not clear about the number of cubic yards which can be removed to the canyon area and c) concern that there is not property owner consent recorded via an easement for grading and access to a private road (Peck) in perpetuity.

Ms. Minsk said she does not agree with these concerns and that they had been addressed previously.

Applicant Statement

Mr. Keith Hagaman stated that the project’s grading easement for fill removal was obtained years ago. The average density of the lots is 10,000 square feet. The visualizations prepared by a local architectural firm showed that only trees would be visible from the street and not rooftops. They are acknowledging traffic issues and are adding a beacon on the east approach and a beacon up Peck to Foothill, as well as creating ingress/egress via Peck road. Then farther west on Foothill will be a sign with another beacon saying “Welcome to Santa Paula” to indicate to drivers to reduce speed. They are voluntarily having another traffic study performed which will be available after the fact.

He said that the project provided a “high end product lacking in Santa Paula” but did not speculate on the prices for which the homes would be sold.

Public Comments

Twelve speakers spoke during Public Comments. Eleven opposed the project and one, Fred Robinson, former city council member and current chair of the Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of the project representing a vote of his organization.

Several of the speakers including Richard Main and Allie Fox noted that the proposed 10,000 lot size differs from the area east of Peck Road.

It should be noted here that the FEIR (Final Environmental Impact Report) for Tentative Tract Map 5475 concurs with the citizens’ testimonies by stating in the Executive Summary (page 8):

“The neighboring area is within the Santa Paula city limits and zoned Hillside Residential 2-PD (HR2-PD).”

Referring to the municipal code section § 16.13.030  STANDARDS FOR PRIMARY DWELLINGS, the chart shows HRD-PD2 lot size to be 14,500 square feet minimum.

Source: http://library.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/California/santapa/cityofsantapaulacaliforniamunicipalcode?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:santapaula_ca

The applicant’s statement of 10,000 square foot lots is considered R-A (low density agricultural) per the standards of the Municipal Code, but of course the use of the Specific Plan allows planners and developers largesse with the development standards for purposes of a perceived “public benefit”.

residential_standards

Mr. Main also noted that the five acre park and the water detention basin should be subtracted from the 32.5 acres in calculating the total density. There should be no “credit” for the units that might have been allowed in the park and basin.

Mr. Main’s comment shows another example of how largesse occurs in developing under a Specific Plan. While a developer would call this “clustering”, in actuality the density factor was created for financial reasons. Clustering is a planning technique used when developers want to create or preserve open space, such as in the notable Sea Ranch Development along California’s northern coast where homes are “clustered” (but not crammed) within certain areas of the property leaving much natural coast open in perpetuity.

Ms. Fox said that a higher end product would induce business owners to bring their operations to Santa Paula and create jobs.

Michael Dalo said “we cannot build our way to prosperity”. The property is a “bad lot” with an “ungainly amount of dirt to be moved”. Why is it still 79 homes? The developer is not listening, he said.

Russ Fox said this is “cookie cutter” plan. The plan is shown below:

siteplan

Several speakers explained the dirt to be dumped into Adams Canyon metaphorically. Russ Fox said the amount of excess material from the cut and fill process would fill up the Rose Bowl several times. Michael Dalo compared the pile of dirt to a rectangular area two lanes wide on the 126 and 8 yards high stretching from Fillmore to Ventura.

Ken Chapman, who graded hillsides on pads for a living, explained that the slope/density ordinance requires that theoretically as the slope increases (becomes more steep), the number of lots should be reduced (lot size is increased), causing a tapering effect. He questioned the three story vertical retaining walls and reminded the audience of the mud and debris which comes down the hill during huge storms.

Mr. Grumbine, whose wife and son spoke previously, also explained the concept of less density as homes progress up the hill, saying this would reduce the number of units. Eric Flemming applied the slope/density formula from the Municipal Code using a property slope of 20 to 24.9% taken from the EIR and recalculated the number of homes to between 30 and 40.

But, remember, under a Specific Plan, the standard formulas and development standards may be manipulated to fit the financial needs of the developer in the name of “public benefit”.

Diana Ponce-Gomez noted that the changes made since the Study Session are minor and that the beacons would not provide much mitigation, particularly for the serious traffic issues. She also questioned slide damage to neighboring properties not covered by the GHAD (Geological Hazardous Assessment District).

Sheryl Hamlin questioned the water plan. The site has no water to bring into the city when annexed and the Development Agreement says that no houses can be built without a water agreement. However, the agreement does allow the developer to perform the cut and fill without having obtained the housing water. The developer did not confirm the source of his construction water. How long will the developer be watering the cut and filled area for dust mitigation? What is the plan to obtain permanent water for the homes?

It should be noted that the recent Santa Paula Basin (SPB) Ground Water Report prepared by United Water Conservation District (UWCD) says that the basin has a surplus over a seven year averaged period. But the question remains as to which of the SPB Pumbers Association members would be willing to sell surplus to Mr. Hagaman. The following statement is from the UWCD SPB report:

“The SPBPA’s CY 2013 and 2014 allocations were 27,545.8 AF/yr (excluding non-parties) distributed among its members, with a seven-year rolling-average surplus of 2,123.8 AF (also excluding nonparties) from pumping below the allocation.”

 

Fred Robinson from the Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Planning Commission said he had met with the applicant. The Chamber of Commerce endorses the project which is something that rarely happens. The project is well thought out, he said, and provides financial stability. His main concern was LAFCO saying that it wants Adams Canyon back unless Santa Paula does something to show intent.

Mr. Hagaman reiterated that they “did not have the luxury with this project to reduce the number of homes”, which is what they have maintained during the 11 or 12 years working with city staff. They will be maintaining the streets and enlarging Peck Road above Foothill. He said the cost of grading requires this density. There are no alternatives.

Council Discussion

Council Member Procter asked about the new engineering study mentioned in the Study Session where the removal of the top row of homes was analyzed? He said that no one has received a copy of this report. Planning Director confirmed that she did not have a copy. Mr. Pisker, consultant to Mr. Hagaman, said that the new geotechnical study was summarized in a letter dated February 11, but no lab work or data was given. Brian Yanez did not have a copy of the letter either.

Mayor Hernandez asked again about flexibility in the number of homes and said that technically and environmentally it does not add up.

Council Member Gherardi said she was concerned about grading, height of manufactured slope, years of dust, incomplete traffic analysis, and geology, saying that this project amends the General Plan without adding a public benefit. She said the new traffic study should be complete before proceeding. She moved to deny based on the above concerns. Council Member Crosswhite seconded the motion. Clearly in using the term “public benefit”, Council Member Gherardi understands that the goals of a Specific Plan place public benefit first.

Council Member Tovias said that the voters approved it during a time when the city was desperate. LAFCO will see this denial as inconsistent with the council’s previous pitch to retain Adams Canyon within the city’s Sphere of Influence. He said the project generates $100,000 of revenue. (Note, the report can be downloaded here and the benefit does not occur until full occupancy.)

Council Member Procter said that the 2003 vote was a cap and not a mandatory maximum number of homes. He also said the site plan looked like it came from the 1960’s or 1970’s. They voted on a project in 2003 and not a Specific Plan.

Council Member Crosswhite said that the project is not compatible and drastically overrides the General Plan, agreeing that the site plan was designed for a flat lot.

Mayor Hernandez said that flat would have been easier. He was concerned about the destruction of pristine canyons, rolling erosion in ten year cycles and massive extraction of dirt, in fact, more dirt removal than any land use he has seen in the county.

It should be noted that the county has stipulated that if the excess cut and fill dirt is taken off the site, the applicant must apply for a strip mining permit. This was noted at the February 24, 2015 Planning Commission meeting when former Assistant Planning Director Stratis Perros said this:

“Deputy Director Perras stated that SMARA (Surface Mining and Reclamation Act) requirements exist and would apply if the Anderson-Hagaman site were acting as a dirt mine, and would need to be considered should fill dirt be distributed for other projects.”

 

Next Steps

 Council Member Tovias asked Mr. Hagaman what happens if project is denied? Mr. Hagaman said he was “not sure”, but would look at the project from a different angle and go back to the drawing board.

Council Member Procter said he was willing to give them another change, but was not comfortable “as is” with this project.

Mr. Cotti, attorney, said the council needed a resolution of denial from the staff, which was not provided for this meeting.

Council Member Gherardi said she was uncomfortable continuing. She would agree to waive the fee, clean the slate and let them come back.

Council Member Tovias reiterated that the Planning Commission had approved it.

Mr. Cotti said the project could be denied “with prejudice” to allow it to come back to waive prohibition of the same or substantially similar project returning.

The motion passed 4-1 with Council Member Tovias voting ‘no’.

This discussion ended at 3:21:41 on the video.

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For more information about the author, visit sheryhamlin.com

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2 Responses to Santa Paula: Housing Tract at Peck and Foothill Denied by City Council

  1. Sh April 22, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    This property is geologically useless. Nothing to do with SOAR. See details in article.

    Reply
  2. William "Bill" Hicks April 22, 2016 at 4:01 am

    With the length of this article, and I’m sure it was reduced by Ms Hamlin, is reason why so few homes are available to the consumers.

    Add SOAR, or SOAR-Lite, into the equation and you can see why there isn’t any economically available housing for our children or grandchildren.

    Reply

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