CITY OF RANCHO PALOS VERDES
JULY 30, 2003
CALL TO ORDER
The meeting was called to order by Chairman Long at 7:04 p.m. at the Fred Hesse Community Room, 29301 Hawthorne Boulevard.
Commissioner Tomblin led the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Present: Commissioners Cartwright, Lyon, Tomblin, and Chairman Long.
Absent: Commissioners Cote, Duran Reed, and Vice Chairman Mueller were excused.
Also present were Director of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement Rojas, Associate Planner Schonborn, Assistant Planner Yu, and Recording Secretary Peterson.
APPROVAL OF AGENDA
Commissioner Tomblin moved to approve the agenda as presented, seconded by Commissioner Cartwright. There being no objection, it was so ordered.
Director/Secretary Rojas distributed an e-mail regarding the habitat protection ordinance.
COMMENTS FROM THE AUDIENCE (regarding non-agenda items)
1. Grading Permit and Minor Exception Permit (Case No. ZON2003-00066):
5 ˝ Rockinghorse Drive
Associate Planner Schonborn presented the staff report, explaining the scope of the project and the need for the Grading Permit and Minor Exception Permit. He stated that staff has found all findings could be made for both permits and staff was recommending the Planning Commission approve the project.
Chairman Long asked staff to briefly state, from staff’s point of view, the highlights of the circumstances of the property that justify the increase in lot coverage.
Associate Planner Schonborn answered that building footprint, covered patios, driveways and parking areas constitutes lot coverage. He explained that in this situation it is the driveway and parking area that creates the abundant lot coverage. He noted that Fire Department requires a 20-foot wide access, which needs to be maintained along the entire fold of the property. That, along with the fact that the easement that creates Rockinghorse Road is already paved increases the lot coverage on the property to a point that exceeds the City standard.
Chairman Long opened the public hearing.
Mike Nichols 1010 Crenshaw Blvd, Torrance, stated that he was the civil engineer for the project and was available to answer any questions. He stated that he has read the staff report and agrees with the report.
Raul Podesta 30 Miraleste Plaza stated that he is the architect for the project and available to answer any questions.
Philip Califano 2412 Baywater Drive, San Pedro, stated that he is the owner of the property and that he and his wife are very much looking forward to living in the house and being members of the community.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Lyon moved to adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2003-35, thereby approving Case No. ZON2003-00066 as presented by staff, seconded by Commissioner Tomblin. Approved, (4-0).
Director/Secretary Rojas presented the staff report, stating that in June an Ordinance was presented to the Planning Commission in an attempt to try to adopt a non-urgency version of an urgency ordinance adopted by the City Council regarding weed abatement. He stated that in June there were comments from the members of the public regarding that version of the ordinance, and staff has now, in this version, tried to address some of those comments. He explained that the purpose of this ordinance was try to prevent the loss of habitat through weed abatement actions that may be done on a property where there may not be a fire order. He also noted that there are many vacant properties in the City that may have some habitat with some legitimate weed abatement activities going on, which may have been required by the Fire Department, L.A. County Weed Abatement, or the City. He stated that this version of the Ordinance tries not to involve those properties, as the City does not want to impede property owners from clearing property for fire protection. He explained that staff was recommending the Planning Commission review this draft ordinance, take public testimony, and give staff direction before forwarding this ordinance to the City Council.
Commissioner Cartwright asked the Director if he was in agreement with the e-mail comments received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that the comments are focused on the introduction to the ordinance with language relating to critical habitat, and is in agreement with the proposed changes.
Commissioner Cartwright asked why the City Attorney was recommending against language regarding notification be included in the ordinance.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that the City Attorney felt it was out of the ordinary to require noticing ahead of time to property owners affected by an Ordinance. However, if the Planning Commission wants to do that and the City Council agrees, staff can undertake such a noticing process.
Commissioner Tomblin was concerned that if this ordinance passed there would be an added restriction placed on some private properties without notifying the property owners.
Commissioner Cartwright agreed with Commissioner Tomblin and felt the City should be pro-active in making sure that the people who could be affected by this ordinance know about it.
Chairman Long agreed with the concern, adding that the restrictions in this ordinance are different than changes made in any other ordinance. He agreed that the City was not required to give notice to property owners, however he felt this was something that steps outside the bounds of what people’s normal expectations would be. He was interested in knowing if there was some reason it would be very difficult for staff to give such notice.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that the City has access to the County Assessor data and could do a query for every lot in the City over two acres that is vacant, and do a mailing to those property owners.
Commissioner Tomblin was concerned that there should be this mailing before the Planning Commission makes a recommendation to the City Council.
Chairman Long opened the public hearing.
Barbara Sattler stated that she was representing the South Coast Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, and very much appreciated the need for this Ordinance, however, she had some concerns with some of the wording of the Ordinance as now drafted. She noted that one of the concerns was the reference to the NCCP map as the base line of information. Her concern was that these maps are based on a number of various sources and not done to the same standards. For that reason she would not like to see the NCCP map alone be relied on for habitat determinations. She felt the biological survey would be very important to determine what the true value of the vegetation subject to this ordinance. She was concerned with the definition of weed abatement, which she felt was very complicated and that in turn makes the intent and scope of the Ordinance to understand. She did not think it was appropriate to classify the removal of Coastal Sage Scrub as weed abatement. She was concerned about broadening the scope of the L.A. County Fire Department regulations to be compliant with the regulation in general, and noted that there are exemptions in state law for properties that contain habitat sensitive species and the Fire Department can modify their rules accordingly. She asked that Section 17.170 (a)(1) be modified to add that vegetation had been removed lawfully under a city-approved permit. Further, Section 17.41.070 (a)(2) should be modified to specify that the biological survey should be prepared by a qualified biologist who is hired by the city and paid for by the property owner. She felt that all biological surveys should conform to the California Department of Fish and Game guidelines as well as to the CNPS Botanical Survey Guidelines. She asked that the biological surveys be peer reviewed by two other qualified biological consultants and these reports and peer reviews should be public documents. Additionally, the peer review process should include public comment and public review, and should be submitted to the resource agencies for verification of compliance with their codes and policies and to get their review. She felt that it was important for Coastal Sage Scrub be protected whether or not it is currently occupied by endangered species, because Coastal Sage Scrub in itself is a special status habitat, and the proof of occupancy should only be a concern for non coastal sage scrub areas. She felt that any public notice of an application for an appeal of a decision should not be restricted only to the neighbors.
Chairman Long asked Ms. Sattler, if the City does not use the NCCP map as a baseline to define where the relevant property is, what does the City turn to as a source of clear definition in the Ordinance.
Ms. Sattler felt that it comes back to biological surveys to make determinations on individual properties.
Chairman Long did not think it was appropriate to tell property owners that they may or may not be subject to this regulation depending upon whether or not a biological survey is done and the results of that survey, since the survey and the review of the survey may take many months to complete.
Ms. Sattler replied that the City could relate the survey to the NCCP maps, however she did not want it to be exclusively dependent on that mapping.
Commissioner Cartwright cautioned that making the process too onerous and difficult for the property owners to maintain their property themselves, will cause the property owners to stand aside and let the county come through and do the weed abatement themselves for fire abatement purposes. He felt the City should think about what result the City is looking for and to make sure it is relatively easy for the property owners to do the work themselves.
Chairman Long asked Ms. Sattler if some of her concerns would be addressed if the NCCP mapping were improved in its level of detail.
Ms. Sattler agreed that would handle some of her concerns.
Gary Weber 6610 Palos Verdes Drive South stated he was speaking on behalf of York Long Point Associates, and noted that he would not address at this meeting some of the significant legal issues with respect to the ordinance. He stated that the attorneys would address that in a separate written document which they will be sending to the City. He explained that he would focus on the practical, fairness, and clarity issues of the ordinance. He did not feel there was any criteria or findings in the Ordinance that the Director must use to make a decision. He was confused about the two-acre criteria, as it appears to be arbitrary and exempts too many properties. He did not see any exemption for public property and assumed that an application to remove weeds on the City Hall site must go before the Director for review and approval. He felt the Ordinance was flawed with respect to some of the language. He questioned what type of biology survey or report would be necessary, as there are various levels of reports. He also questioned, if York Long Point were to propose weed abatement on a one-acre parcel, which is non coastal sage scrub vegetation, would they then be required to do a biology report for the full 212 acres.
Chairman Long noted that Mr. Weber felt the two acre criteria was arbitrary and asked him what limit, if any, he would choose.
Mr. Weber was not sure how to answer the question because he did not know how or why two acres was selected.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Lyon commented that on page 4, under definition of habitat modification, "inadequate irrigation" should be removed, because if irrigation were required then the habitat would not be natural. He noted that on page 5, paragraph e, refers to permits 4D and 10A. He stated that he had no idea what the permits are and asked staff to identify or define those in the ordinance.
Director/Secretary Rojas clarified that they are take permits, one being a federal take permit and the other a city take permit. He agreed that more explanation should be included in the language.
Commissioner Lyon continued, pointing out a grammatical error on page 5 and a typo on page 7.
Director/Secretary Rojas stated that, after hearing the comments of the two speakers, he would like to verbally amend the staff report to add another option, which would be to direct staff to work with the Barbara Sattler, Gary Weber, and the City Attorney to try to incorporate the comments into the ordinance and present a revised version of the ordinance to the Planning Commission. He noted that the August 26 and September 9 meetings are full, however this could be heard at the September 23 meeting.
Commissioner Tomblin strongly recommended that, before this topic goes to the City Council, a notice be sent to the public and all property owners that would be affected.
Commissioner Lyon suggested that the Planning Commission could adopt the recommendation as drafted, recognizing this is a draft, and let the refinements occur during the City Council process.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that he would not feel comfortable referring this to the City Council without some answers to some of the questioned raised at this meeting.
Commissioner Cartwright moved to continue the item to the September 23, 2003 meeting to give the staff time to get input from Mr. Weber and Ms. Sattler as well as the City Attorney to make any appropriate revisions to the proposed Ordinance.
Commissioner Tomblin suggested an amendment to the motion to require the notification of all property owners of two or more acres affected by the proposed ordinance, seconded by Chairman Long.
The motion passed by a vote of (4-0).
RECESS AND RECONVENE
At 8:45 p.m. the Planning Commission took a short recess until 8:55, at which time they reconvened.
Assistant Planner Yu presented the staff report, explaining that the request was to legalize an existing 6’1" block wall in the front yard setback area. She stated that staff concluded there were no exceptional circumstances relating to the property, and because there were no exceptional circumstances staff requested the applicant lower the height of the wall to a height of 42 inches. She displayed pictures of the wall, and stated that staff was recommending the Planning Commission deny the requested variance.
Chairman Long opened the public hearing.
Marisstella Marinkovic 29671 Enrose Avenue (applicant) distributed pictures of the property and the neighborhood to the Planning Commissioners. She felt that these pictures showed that the architecture was very different throughout the neighborhood. She stated that several of the neighbors have expressed their approval of the recent remodel and walls added to the home. She explained that the railing used on the walls was chosen because she has small children and this railing is not only decorative, but also safe. She felt that the railing enhances the house and the neighborhood.
Commissioner Cartwright explained that the Planning Commission must make certain findings in order to grant a variance, one finding being that there is something exceptional or extraordinary about the property such that if the variance were not granted it would be a hardship upon the property owner. He stated that he was having trouble making this finding, and asked Mrs. Marinkovic to help him understand what is exceptional or extraordinary about the property and why the Planning Commission should set aside the Development Code and grant a variance.
Mrs. Marinkovic answered that, as far as exceptional, she felt the look of the wall and railing enhances the overall property values in the neighborhood. Further, if she were required to remove the railing she did not know what could be put in its place.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mrs. Marinkovic if she was aware that she needed a permit to build this wall over 42 inches in height.
Mrs. Marinkovic stated that she had a permit to remodel the house and thought the permit included the wall.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if she had considered applying for a Minor Exception Permit that would allow the railing that allowed for 80 percent light and air.
Mrs. Marinkovic answered that she was not familiar with the permit process and could not answer the question.
Frank Politeo 1300 S. Beacon Street, San Pedro, stated that he is the architect for the project and disagrees with the staff report, as only one small corner of the wall is 6’1" and the remainder of the wall is only approximately 5’10". He stated that the railing is very beautiful and enhances the neighborhood. He did not know what is meant by compatible with the neighborhood, as the neighborhood has varying architecture. He felt that compatible is in the eyes of the beholder, and that the incompatibility is merely an opinion of the staff. He felt that staff should concern themselves with the height rather than compatibility. He acknowledged that the applicant should not have built the railings, but asked the Planning Commission to allow the situation to remain as it is.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. Politeo if he has discussed any option for finding a solution to this wall with the staff.
Mr. Politeo answered that he has not discussed anything with the staff.
Commissioner Tomblin asked if the wall and railings were on the original remodel plans.
Mr. Politeo answered that the plans only had the addition and remodel to the house.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Lyon asked staff what the front setback is on this property.
Assistant Planner Yu answered that the front setback is 20 feet.
Commissioner Lyon asked where the front yard property line was compared with the curb.
Assistant Planner Yu answered that, according to plans submitted to the City, there is 10’6" of right-of-way area between the curb and the property line.
Chairman Long did not think the Planning Commission would be able to make the necessary findings to grant a Variance, however it was likely they could make the necessary findings for a Minor Exception Permit, if the railings were modified. He asked staff if applying for a Minor Exception Permit would be a reasonable solution.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that a fence that has 80 percent light and air qualifies for a minor exception permit, however the problem here is that the lower wall is only one foot from the next solid wall, therefore they are considered one wall.
Chairman Long stated that if the railings were taken off the two lower walls together are below 42 inches. If a fence that has 80 percent light and air were added to the top of the wall, would it then qualify for a minor exception permit.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that in that situation a minor exception permit could possibly be applied for.
Commissioner Tomblin agreed with the suggestion to modify the railing and apply for a minor exception permit, as he could not make the findings necessary to grant the variance.
Commissioner Cartwright agreed that he too could not make the necessary findings to approve a variance, and encouraged the modification of the railing and/or wall to qualify for a minor exception permit.
Commissioner Lyon stated that the only thing he really had a problem with was the appearance of the railing, as it is not typical in the neighborhood. He asked staff if modification of the railing was a reasonable thing to do from a cost standpoint.
Director/Secretary Rojas did not think staff could answer that question, as it was up to the applicant. He stated that, based on a quick calculation, the 80 percent light and air requirement may not be able to be met without removing almost all of the railings.
Chairman Long stated that he could not make the findings to support a variance, and that the more appropriate vehicle for this case was a minor exception permit. He felt that if the applicant were to come back with the top part of the structure being a fence rather than a wall, they would have an easier time getting an approval of the structure.
Commissioner Cartwright moved to accept the staff recommendation to adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2003-36 thereby denying Variance Permit (Case No. Zon2003-00295), seconded by Commissioner Tomblin. Approved, (4-0).
ITEMS TO BE PLACED ON FUTURE AGENDAS
4. Pre-Agenda for the meeting of August 26, 2003
The Planning Commission discussed the length of the agenda and unanimously agreed to move item 7 to the September 23, 2003 meeting.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:48 p.m.