Tuesday night's City Council addressed multiple concerns from the community. The highlights were: property crime, rezoning in the Villa Terrace neighborhood, Cornfest temporary use permit, the City's budget and Fire.
The evening started with a concerned resident addressing the council about the increased home burglary rate in the city. She felt that the city hasn't done enough to warn the residents of Brentwood of the increased burglary rate. She vividly recounted the burglary of her own home and informed the council of five break ins in her neighborhood. She requested more daytime patrols and community alerts.
Carissa's Opinion: I really appreciate this resident's strength to come up to the podium and share her story. One of my goals is to provide more police support in Brentwood. I'm hoping that the City of Brentwood will take this opportunity to get some more police on the beat! Property theft and home burglaries have been discussed around town and on the media lately, as these crimes have indeed increased. I feel with all adversity there is opportunity for growth, and this is no exception. This is an excellent chance for us as a community to come together and look out for each other. The one thing that really struck me about Brentwood 7 years ago when we moved here, was how closely knit and neighborly we are with one another. Please join your local neighborhood watch and band together. There is strength in numbers, and coming together as a community will go a long way torwards deterring crime. Please, be watchful at this time and call in suspicious activity to the Brentwood Police.
In another public comment a gentleman brought up concerns about white structures that were built in his neighborhood and caused damage to sidewalks. He expressed concerns that the people responsible should pay for the damage, and that the damage needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. The council was very receptive to his concerns, and promised quick response.
Consent Items 1-20 approved with Item #12 pulled for discussion.
Agenda Item #12: Temporary Use Permit for Cornfest was pulled.
Vice Mayor Steve Barr recused himself from the proceedings due to perceived conflict of interest.
Public comment: Three concerned residents of the Coppergate community stepped forward to bring to light some issues that they felt were not being adequately addressed by the Chamber of Commerce. They stated that they were concerned about privacy issues, as the Cornfest is very close to their homes. They felt inconvenienced, as they were asked to provide names of the community members who would be coming in and out of their neighborhood for security purposes. And, they were concerned about the emergency exit access to and from their neighborhood.
The Chamber of Commerce came forward to the podium and addressed each of their concerns. The Chamber representative promised that precautions to stop privacy violations would be taken by putting up yellow "do not cross" tape on the back side of the community. He assured the residents that the Chamber would take responsibility for getting the names of the residents and providing passes in and out of the neighborhood. Chief Evenson let the residents know that there would be extra police patrolling in the area during Cornfest to deter unlawful activity, and he assured the council that emergency access was available and safe per the City's code. Erick Stonebarger stated that he would ensure that the community got a few free ears of corn for their inconvenience!
The Cornfest recieved the TUP with a 4-0 vote from the council.
Carissa's Opinion: That's what I call lending an ear! (Was that too corny?) In all seriousness, the council showed real concern and compassion for the residents. And, the Chamber was quickly responsive to alleviate any distress.
Personally, I can't wait for Cornfest! I must confess, last year was my FIRST year in attendance at Cornfest. I LOVED IT! This is such a cool, fun event. There were so many vendors and fun things to do last year, that I wished that I could go all three days. I was certain to save the date months in advance for this year. For those of you who haven't attended in the past, the fireworks are to die for! Last year's display was one of the best I've seen put on by a town of Brentwood's size. Impressed!
As a bonus, this year the Downtown Brentwood Coalition is putting on a special Pre-Cornfest event as well! For those of you who haven't been, Downtown Thursdays have arrived to Brentwood, and they are sure to be a smashing success! I love that all of the retailers downtown have committed to staying open until 8 pm on Thursdays, and over the course of the summer there will be a new theme each week. What a great way to showcase the beautiful new downtown revitalization! There are also opportunities on Thursdays to set up vendor booths for those of you who have businesses or nonprofits that you'd like to showcase. Here's the link, go take a look see! http://www.brentwooddowntown.com/news-events/
Back to council business...
Agenda Item #21: Consideration of an ordinance approving a Rezone (RZ 12-003) to adopt project-specific development standards for accessory structures within a small lot residential neighborhood consisting of 78 attached townhouses, known as Villa Terrace, located north of Dainty Avenue and west of Walnut Boulevard.
In a nutshell, this rezone was brought to the Council by the Villa Terrace HOA to do bring the majority of structures added to the townhome lots such as sheds, patios, etc... up to zoning standards. Apparently, the many of the added structures were "out of code" for this particular PD.
Public Comments: One homeowner in the PD spoke up in protest of the rezoning, as it precludes the structure that he built according to the City's code. Apparently the City's code is less restrictive than the HOA's code and his structure violated the HOA's zoning code. According to the HOA, the investigation of the zoning was prompted because his HOA violation illuminated the fact that multiple properties were violating the zoning code. The new code loosens the restriction for most of the properties; however a handful of town homes will remain in the "red zone" of violation.
The City Council very seriously considered both the townhome owner's and the HOA representative's statements. Mayor Taylor spoke about the potential for unintentionally setting a precedent that could result in a request for rezoning PD's each time a structure violation occurs. City Staff acknowledged that this indeed could set an example for other PD's to follow. The City Staff carefully explained that when we buy property in a community that has an HOA, the HOA determines what can and can not take place on the land. Essentially, the home owner only has control over what happens on the concrete slab that the home is built on.
Carissa's O: UGH! HOA: the association that everyone loves to hate! So, I feel HOA's are a bit of a double edged sword. When you buy a property in a community with an HOA, you are usually buying a home in a tract community that has special qualities that attract you. The homes have a similar "feel". Your neighbors must comply with the standard set by the HOA. And, property values tend to hold a little bit better because of the standard that is set for the neighborhood. The flip side of that coin, is that YOU TOO have to comply with the HOA rules. That can feel a bit like "big brother" having control over what takes place on your property. Further, the dues can be prohibitive.
The bottom line: when you buy into an HOA, make sure you know what the standards are and that all of the structures on the property comply with the HOA rules and regs. The HOA is in charge of this domain and is allowed to be stricter than the City when it comes to code compliance and enforcement. If you don't like it; don't buy into it!
Item passed 5-0
Agenda Item #23: Ahhhhh.... the City's BUDGET
The item before the council was staff's recommendation to approve the City's Budget. The city carefully outlined the projected budget for 2012-2013, 2013-2014. The City Staff detailed the projected budget as balancing with the help of the City's Budget Stabilization Fund. And, the City Staff projected good budgetary health for the foreseeable future.
Public Comments: I stepped up to the podium with the following:
"Good Evening, my name is Carissa Pillow. I am a concerned resident of Brentwood. I want to address the City Council regarding the projected operating budget. Over the last six months, the Council has had several discussions about the City's General Fund and Budget Stabilization Fund being used to supplement the General Fund. From what I can understand of the budget, it seems to be at this time projected to balance. However, over the course of the last six months, there were concerns voiced from our council members of deficit spending to the tune of half a million dollars; then a few months later 2 million dollars, with the most recent projected deficit spending as high as 4 million dollars and a complete depletion of our Budget Stabilization Fund within 4 years. My question is: Is the budget truly balanced? And if so, why was there such a discrepancy in the information released previously? Are we deficit spending? What has changed to create positive numbers? Thank you for listening to my concerns and providing us with this information."
Pamela Ehler, the City's Treasurer expertly fielded my questions, and gave me a reason to cheer her from my chair! Yes, she confirmed, the budget is balanced. There were major labor contract changes that helped the city's budget immensely. Although we are borrowing money from the Budget Stabilization Fund (1/2 mill this year, none next year, 2 mill the following year); these are monies that were set aside during the housing bubble to buffer for the possibility of an economic downturn. We are using the funds now, and will replace the funds as the economy improves.
Carissa's Opinion: As I have listened to the City's business over the course of the last year, I have been extremely concerned about our town's economic security. Hearing the projections of deficit spending going up, and up and up have worn a pit in my stomach, especially given the State of California's money grabbing of Redevelopment Funds and the news of surrounding cities financial turmoils. Hearing that Pam and her team have worked out the kinks in Brentwood's budget, made me breath a deep sigh of relief!
Now, hopefully, we can get to the business of hiring a few extra police to work Brentwood's beat and combat the rise of home burglaries that we've seen over the last year!
Old News: Fire.
As we all know, July 1 st, our downtown Brentwood station closes and half of our fire department will be laid off. This is the unfortunate consequence of measure S failing. Council Members Steve Barr and Erick Stonebarger reported on the proceedings of the Fire Board Meeting on Monday. The 3-0 staffing model was approved and the remaining stations will stay open: Brentwood's Balfour station, Discovery Bay's station and Oakley's station. The board discussed the possibility of a volunteer firefighter service and an elected board or appointed citizen's board to replace the current Fire Board that is comprised of 9 city council members from the cities within the district. Vice Mayor Steve Barr, who serves as a representative on the board resurfaced 9 possible agenda items that had previously been discussed as cost saving efforts.
Public Comments: One resident of Brentwood spoke up during the fire discussion. He informed the council that he had researched the legality of an appointed citizen's board to replace the current council members sitting on the board. He confirmed that this indeed is a viable possibility, and advised that the "Johnny-come-lately" that suggested the citizen's council and a few others be indoctrinated gradually into the Board to allow for acclimation to the Board.
Johnny-come-lately's O: From my fresh perspective, I think that a citizen's board is just what the nurse ordered! This Fire Board is worn OUT. It is unusual to see such exasperation streaking across the faces of council members. Usually, they are able to conceal such frustration from the public. However, the worry on the faces of this Fire Board is very obvious and really difficult to watch. We really do need to go through each and every one of Steve's recommendations again and put a fine tooth comb through the Fire District's budget, regardless of how painstaking that effort may be. And if there are Council members who need relief from this monumental task, they should be given that relief. How very frustrating that we've come to this point!