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Kensington Project Finally Passes Muster with City of Sierra Madre

By Jim W. Winburn

Having received the blessing of the City Council, the Kensington Assisted Living Facility now goes to the popular vote of the people of Sierra Madre.
The Sierra Madre City Council on Tuesday carefully scrutinized the proposed Nov. 6 ballot language for an initiative to amend Measure V that would exempt the Kensington from the law’s density restrictions. After approving the language and other resolutions to put it on the November ballot, council members also unanimously approved the Kensington project’s Specific Plan, the Municipal Code Text Amendment, and the developer’s Conditional Use Permit.
Avoiding any possibility of a so-called “bait and switch” on their watch, council members reviewed the ballot language carefully, being most concerned with a clear and concise ballot question that would leave no chance for misleading the voters.
In particular, Councilman John Harabedian questioned the effect of the very broad phrase “consistent with” in the ballot language pertaining to the Kensington’s Specific Plan. Additionally, Councilman Chris Koerber asked whether the specific APN parcel numbers should be used to describe the lots exempted from Measure V’s density restrictions rather than the site’s street address.
After short discussions and clarifications with City Attorney Teresa Highsmith, both Harabedian and Koerber’s concerns were appeased through the assurance that the ballot measure was written in as-specific-as-possible language that would best inform the voters.
“There isn’t going to be a ‘bait and switch’,” said Highsmith. “The ballot question is meant to, as clearly and succinctly in 75 words or less, be something that the voter can look at, grasp and know what it is they are voting on, even if they don’t read further,” that is, the actual Specific Plan referenced in the ballot question. Highsmith explained that the ballot language effectively describes its purpose, which is to limit the Measure V amendment to an assisted living facility consistent with the Kensington Specific Plan for only the two parcels concerned at Hermosa Avenue and West Sierra Madre Boulevard.
According to the city attorney, the ballot language will read as follows: “Shall an Ordinance be adopted to amend Sierra Madre Municipal Code Section 17.35.040 (“Core Density Limit”) of the People’s Empowerment Act (a.k.a. Measure V) to permit development of an assisted living facility consistent with the Kensington Assisted Living Facility Specific Plan and not exceeding two stories, 30 feet in height and 75 assisted living suites, for the parcels located at 33 North Hermosa Avenue and 245 West Sierra Madre Boulevard?”
The proposed Kensington project violates only the density restrictions of Measure V, which allow only for 13 dwelling units per acre downtown. Fountain Square Development West is proposing a 75-unit project at the 1.84-acre site.
In addition to approving Resolution 12-69 for the actual ballot language, the council also approved 5-0 the following resolutions: 12-68, allowing for council members to submit arguments to amend Measure V; 12-67, allowing for the public to file rebuttal arguments; and lastly 12-66, allowing for the consolidation of Sierra Madre’s special municipal election with the statewide general election in November.
City Clerk Nancy Shollenberger said that council members have until Aug. 7 to file their arguments on amending Measure V that would “permit development of an assisted living facility consistent with the Kensington Specific Plan.” The city attorney’s impartial analysis of the initiative is also due Aug. 7. And the public has until Aug. 17 to file rebuttals to the council’s arguments.
Shollenberger said that she would place a public notice requesting rebuttals to the Measure V arguments. Explaining how this works, the city clerk said, “Usually they (the public) will call me (after the notice has gone out) and say that they would like to respond; I will give them the form, and they will receive (the city’s arguments).”
The council also approved 5-0 a Kensington Election Indemnification and Hold Harmless Agreement, securing the developer’s promise to pay the actual costs of the election, which, according to Highsmith, are estimated to be nearly $30,000.
Highsmith explained that the agreement also contains “risk-shifting” provisions, that is, transferring risk to the other party. “It is a waiver of claims against the city,” she said, “having the developer promise upfront that in the, hopefully unlikely, event the community does not elect to amend Measure V in order to create this density exception for this project … that the developer will not come back later and take a position against the city through suit or otherwise that there was no Measure V vote required with the city in the first place because these are not really ‘dwelling units’.”

July 25, 2012

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