THE OLD ROAD FROM EL GRANADA TO MILLBRAE
LA NINA IS HERE

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Christine: It does not matter that there are some similarities between Vista Mar and a different project submitted by a different applicant 30 years ago to a different Planning Commission. It is still irrelevant. Every project submitted to the Planning Department is reviewed "de novo," meaning that it is examined anew. Your insistence that some other project submitted 30 years ago is relevant reveals your lack of understanding of the process that planning applications go through for conceptual review. The Planning Commission approval of the Vistamar project is based upon the evaluation of the project before it now.

Time has moved on. We have a different Planning Commission, with its own expertise. We live in a place where we do not have the luxury of killing off every residential development proposed. Too many people are sleeping in the streets or in their RVs and cars. Too many people are being priced out of their own community. This is what happens when there is not enough new housing created in a community. NIMBYism is dead. The new view is YIMBY-- Yes in my backyard!

Have you listened to the city's experts who have evaluated each of your arguments against the project? Every one of them has been slapped down. For example, you say there is a wetland at the southwest corner of the property, when the reality is that there is a broken inlet to a storm water pipe overflowing in the winter with runoff from the neighbors to the south. This is not a natural wetland. You have undermined your own credibility with bogus arguments and personal attacks on the planning staff, Planning Commission, and Javier Chavarria, project engineer.

In the final analysis, the facts and the law will decide the outcome. The facts are on our side. The law favors those who act properly and follow the rules, and that is what we have done here.

See you at City Council.

Did you actually review the '91 application, John? Because I did. The elevation details are different and the driveway has been modified to add the exit path for visibility, but the basic approach with the driveway looping to the top of the site, the scale of the project with three-story-high units and roof decks, the massing, the ridiculous amount of grading and retaining walls, are identical. The same 1980 General Plan applies to both projects.

And you continue to give Bob and me way too much credit. There is a broad coalition of neighbors opposed to your project, not all of whom spoke at the hearing. To give you an idea, Bob and I have not paid any attorney fees or expert fees beyond $300 to offset the cost of the biological expert for the wetland. I encourage you to think through the comments Marijo gave you verbally last week.

We continue to disagree with you, John, and obviously the discussions here are a waste of time. We look forward to being able to make our presentations to the City Council at the appeal hearings. 

Permit me to reply to Claudia's comments on 11/1/2020.

I was not dismissive of the participants from Tree City Pacifica. I was pointing out that they had the largest number of participants at the Planning Commission meeting (six out of 18), they presented their concerns, and were listened to carefully by the commissioners and the applicant. Their concerns were met voluntarily by the applicant. Others expressed views at the meeting in a repetitive manner that were duplicative of the points raised by Christine and Robert Boles. Those points were either addressed by the planning staff and its technical consultants to the satisfaction of the Planning Commission or were outside the scope of Conceptual Review. Issues raised that are outside the scope of Conceptual Review will be addressed in the Technical Review phase of the project after the applicant submits the required technical documentation.

Also, please permit me to explain why a different project from almost 30 years ago is irrelevant while a 40-year-old General Plan is. The factual details of the prior project do not match those of the project that is under review. We are comparing apples to oranges. The General Plan is the law in Pacifica and remains such until it is amended or replaced. The law defines what is allowed to be developed in Pacifica, not any individual's or group's wishes or opinions. We live in a country of laws that determine both our rights and obligations as citizens. If a project complies with the law, then it should be approved.

This debate will be carried out in forums outside of this one in the months and quite possibly years to come.

But two comments made by Mr. Kontrabecki warrant a response.

"Participants from Tree City Pacifica"

I attended the entire meeting, which wrapped up around 11:30 p.m. because so many of our neighbors took the opportunity to raise their concerns. Trees and landscaping are being used (again) to detract from the real concern of developing that piece of land. Those concerns are centered around hillside destabilization, drainage, erosion, further stress on city infrastructure, emissions and air quality, and environmental impact.
But even if every single neighbor was a part of Tree City Pacifica, trees were not the only issue raised, and it's disingenuous for anyone to suggest that.
Further, that comment seems to be very dismissive of those "participants from Tree City Pacifica" and I wonder why anyone would be dismissive of an organization that is trying to help the environment not only by making sure trees are replaced but perhaps, more important, by working to make sure that funding is in place for tree maintenance. As Californians, I think we, more than most, understand how important it is to take care of trees.

"a different project almost 30 years ago"

"What happened in a different project almost 30 years ago has no application to the Vistamar project today." Mr. Kontrabecki raises a valid point and I have to wonder how it can be that 30-year-old data is not relevant to the project but a 40-year-old General Plan is. I understand that it's what the city has, but what I don't understand is how the city can continue to make these decisions based on a 40-year-old plan. I understand that the city is working on that. In fact, two different General Plan draft updates under consideration would outright deny the Vista Mar project.

The Vista Mar Sustainable Preservation Alliance will continue to raise the issues of concern around the Vista Mar project, but there is a much larger issue here.

The City of Pacifica is making decisions that will change the landscape of this lovely community based on a General Plan that is 40 years old and that, in no way, addresses the current and future issues this city faces.

Christine Boles' op-ed of 10/23/2020 contains many statements about the Vistamar project that are factually inaccurate and misleading. They include the following:

She says the project “ignores the history of major erosion and landslides in the area.”

While there have been minor landslides in the area, all were outside of the area proposed for the Vistamar development.

She says the project “proposes to pave over a wetland.”

This is false. There is no natural wetland on the site. There is uncontrolled storm water drainage coming from properties to the south of the site that are draining onto the site and spilling over a clogged drainage inlet to the public storm drain system. Drainage will be contained by the proposed Vistamar improvements and the flow of storm water properly controlled.

She says: “The project violates the General Plan.”

The Vistamar project has been thoroughly reviewed by planning staff and city counsel, who have determined that it complies fully with state and city law.

She says: “The project's environmental analysis under CEQA is a joke.”

The environmental analysis was conducted by Raney Planning & Management, Inc., an independent consulting firm hired by the city, in strict compliance with CEQA guidelines. Raney is a respected consultant with vast experience conducting environmental reviews under CEQA.

She says: “On the issue of aesthetics … project plans do not include ANY elevations of the entire project showing the view from the street….”

3D renderings and elevations have been prepared and submitted from every angle as seen from the street. The renderings and elevations were considered by planning staff, Raney, and the Planning Commission during project conceptual review.

I am not attacking Christine and Robert Boles. I am speaking the truth and offering facts so that the public will be informed that the Boleses' commentary is hyperbolic, not factually accurate, and therefore misleading. My replies to their commentary are not personal criticisms. But when they mislead, their misstatements are fairly subject to public correction.

As for the 1991 project records Christine Boles found in dead storage, they are irrelevant. We are in the year 2020. What happened in a different project almost 30 years ago has no application to the Vistamar project today. Ironically, the geotechnical report from 1991 unearthed by Boles validates the geological findings of the more current report we submitted with our application.

Patronizing comments? I was giving the Boleses the benefit of the doubt when I said they appear to have little experience as architects taking projects through the conceptual design approval process. Either they lack experience or they are intentionally misleading the public by deliberately conflating conceptual design review with technical design review. What I can say with confidence is that they are new to Pacifica and have never designed and processed for conceptual approval a project the size of Vistamar here, and therefore do not understand the process. I can also say that their lack of civility as evidenced by their personal attacks on the planning staff, Planning Commission, and Javier Chavarria (project civil engineer) has no place in our community and will not go unchallenged.

As for the Boleses’ comment about a submittal in 2015, all I can say is it is a different project and therefore irrelevant. What the late Todd Bray, as a then-planning commissioner, said in a study session for a different project has no application to the Vistamar project today.

Finally, I want to make a very important observation. California has a serious housing crisis that has been felt particularly hard in Pacifica. We have people sleeping in RVs parked on side streets and in shopping center parking lots at night because they do not have proper homes. Pacificans are being priced out of their own community. The children of families that have lived here for generations cannot afford to stay in their community because the cost of buying or renting a home is beyond their means. Pacifica has to do its part to support new housing in the community. Obstructionist behavior, like that demonstrated by the Boleses, is not helping to address this serious problem.

Attack us all you want, John; there is a large group of us opposing your project.

Did you read the '91 project records where the project was unanimously denied approval? Someone we both know was on the Planning Commission at the time. I laughed out loud at City Hall when I found those records. That's when we found the landslide records that your engineer conveniently forgot to disclose to the city, too. He even acknowledged in a letter to the city when he withdrew that project that the city would be researching the history of the project before reviewing it again in a new submittal. It is common practice, and it was not done here.

And yes, despite your further patronizing comments, we have decades of project experience at planning commission review levels in many Bay Area cities, and some do require full civil engineering to be done at this stage, even for a single-family house. While Pacifica does not generally require that level of detail at this stage, the 1980 General Plan specifically calls for thorough geotechnical analysis on your site as part of the planning review process.

And I did post a new rendering of the project; the editor merged a couple of my posts, and the image was lost. The other documents are from the 2015 submittal, as John said, which were not my posting. Did you read the comments on that post by the way? I especially liked the ones from the late Todd Bray, a former planning commissioner, who also had the luck of reviewing this project in a study session where it was also unanimously turned down.

We'll see you at the upcoming City Council appeal.

Robert Boles has made many inaccurate statements in his most recent posting about the Vistamar project. Allow me to correct the record.

I have accurate information about the public comments period in the recent Planning Commission meeting because I took copious notes on every speaker and what they said. There were 20 speakers, three of whom were members of the Boles family: Christine, Robert, and Elisa. Of the remaining 17 speakers, six identified themselves as members of the Tree City Pacifica organization. Their sole concern was the replacement of trees removed to construct the project. The sponsor had already planned to replace every removed tree, and for the six heritage trees had offered to replace them at a ratio of two new 24-inch box trees for every tree removed. Upon hearing the concerns of the Tree City Pacifica members, the sponsor volunteered to increase the ratio of heritage trees to three new trees for every tree removed, as requested by the Tree City Pacifica members who testified.

Robert Boles says that the geotechnical report submitted with the project application was “grossly inadequate.” What he does not say is that it was peer-reviewed and found to be adequate by both the Planning Department staff and the city consultant, WRA, for this stage of the approval process. Christine and Robert Boles are architects, but they appear to have little experience in processing development projects for conceptual review. Every real estate project presented for approval in California actually undergoes two reviews. The first is called a conceptual review and the purpose is to determine what is to be built under the law regulating real estate development. For a project to be approved, it must conform to the city general plan, zoning ordinance, and other provisions of the municipal code. It also must be evaluated under CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. Finally, it must pass a discretionary review for aesthetic design. During the conceptual design review, the planning staff and Planning Commission review the project for feasibility. The kind of geotechnical report required is one that answers whether the project appears to be feasible in this location. It is not the kind of investigation required to design the project for construction purposes.

After the project passes conceptual review, it enters into the technical design review phase. In this phase, the purpose is to determine how the project will be built. The geotechnical engineer enters the site and conducts the kind of investigation needed to give the structural engineer guidance on how to design and build the foundations and the civil engineer guidance on how to design and build the civil works required for the project. Here, the geotechnical engineer will make many more soil borings in the exact locations where works will be constructed to determine the soil conditions. Robert and Christine Boles do not appear to understand there are two different steps in the review process and are conflating them into one.

Robert Boles mentions that an earlier soils report from the 1990s was discovered in an old project file in storage with the Planning Department. Neither the planning staff nor I were aware of this file. Javier Chavarria, the project civil engineer, had no recollection of this report since it was prepared almost 30 years ago. Boles suggests that the planning staff and Javier Chavarria were hiding this information from the public. No such thing occurred. In fact, the earlier report substantiates the feasibility of this project with findings that fully support the geotechnical study provided by the sponsor of this project.

Robert Boles says he declined to meet with Mr. Chavarria, one professional to another, three days before the first Planning Commission meeting because he was too busy. Then he says he made the same offer to us afterward. This is not accurate. The Boleses at this point were objecting to the technical aspects of civil engineering. Out of respect, Mr. Chavarria offered to meet with them to have a technical discussion about his work, to listen to their concerns as architects, and to respond with technical solutions. When the Boleses offered to meet, it was after we had completed the first Planning Commission meeting and received precise direction from the commissioners to address their concerns. The Boleses attended the first Planning Commission meeting and we listened to their concerns expressed at the meeting. There was no reason to meet to hear their concerns a second time.

Mr. Boles states, “Architects are required to have a broad knowledge of all the construction engineering and design disciplines, … as we are the 'orchestra conductor' coordinating their activities… .” This is true, but it does not mean that the Boleses are knowledgeable and experienced with the administrative and legal processes that are required to be met to receive conceptual approval of a project. Because of their lack of expertise in this area, they have muddied the project approval process by conflating conceptual review with technical review, disrupted the approval process, and wasted planning staff time and resources with excessive correspondence and demands for meetings to advocate points that are outside the scope of conceptual review. Additionally, they have in correspondence addressed to the city, in public testimony, and on the Pacificariptide.com website made comments that disparage the planning staff, Planning Commission, and Javier Chavarria, the project engineer, accusing them of negligence, recklessness, incompetence, and dishonesty. Robert Boles said in his comment regarding the planning staff: “But the fact remains that if they had done their work properly, … it [this project] would not have gotten as far as a public hearing in its current form.” These personal attacks are improper and unprofessional and must stop.

Finally, while professing that they are not NIMBYs, they acknowledge that they oppose the Vistamar project so “we, our neighbors, and the rest of Pacifica will [not] have to look at Vista Mar and perhaps suffer the consequences if it goes sour for years to come.” The real reason they oppose the project so vociferously is that they do not care for the architectural aesthetic design. They have stated publicly that they would like to see a different design that is more in keeping with their personal taste.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kontrabecki is the one who is spreading falsehoods about his project and the Planning Commission hearing.
The public comments for the project lasted for about 90 minutes. At three minutes per person, there were something like 25 participants. From memory, three or four people spoke about the tree situation, mostly people representing Tree City USA, and not the Vista Mar Preservation Alliance. See for yourself. There is a recording of the meeting: https://www.cityofpacifica.org/government/live_video.asp. Public comments start at 1:36. The replacement trees John mentions have been added to the project only in response to public concern about the existing trees being removed. At the center of the lot, the retaining walls go from property line to property line, and all existing trees and landscaping are being removed, along with thousands of cubic yards of soil.
Mr. Kontrabecki is correct about the landslide situation, as far as we know. And we do know more about the geotechnical situation at the site than we knew when the project was first submitted – again because of neighborhood concern and research. The geotechnical report submitted with the project was grossly inadequate and was based on two borings done where the excavations and buildings were NOT going. The neighbors discovered that other soils reports from the Nineties were in the city’s files. Neither the staff nor the current project civil engineer – who worked on the Nineties project – released the previous reports to the public until they suddenly mentioned them at the hearing, nor did they mention the other landslides in the near vicinity of the project site.
Even the earlier, more complete geotechnical reports do not tell the whole story, but as the borings they did are mostly shallow and don’t go down to the level of the proposed excavations. The General Plan clearly calls for intensive geotechnical studies to be done before planning approval of projects on hillsides. We have asked for this since day one; eight months have gone by and Mr. Kontrabecki has made no effort to provide them and the planning staff has not called him on it. So we still don’t know what sort of underground water and unstable soil conditions might be waiting within the hillside for the bulldozers and backhoes.
Incidentally, Mr. Kontrabecki has made some patronizing comments about me and my wife Christine’s professional knowledge. I’d like to remind him that builders don’t do geotechnical tests – geotechnical engineers do — and they don’t design foundation systems – structural engineers do. His understanding of design and construction practices seems to be minimal.
Mr. Kontrabecki offered to meet with us three days before the first Planning Commission hearing on August 3, in the midst of deadlines on our own work, and we declined due to time constraints. When we made the same offer to him afterward, and wanted to include other concerned neighbors, he declined. Look it up yourself in the public agenda record, page 534 of the staff report, found here: https://pacificacityca.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=1321&Inline=True
Architects are required to have broad knowledge of all of the construction engineering and design disciplines, including geotechnical, civil, structural, landscape architecture, etc., as we are the "orchestra conductor" coordinating their activities in the design of building projects. I would challenge my expertise against Mr. Kontrabecki’s any day of the week. As for the experts, our own consultants, not to mention our own analysis, showed many errors in his civil engineer’s documentation. Again, many of the improvements to the project’s drainage, garbage storage, landscaping, guest parking, etc. are only now in the project documentation because of the neighbors' tireless review and comments.
As to the planning staff, I’m sure the effort needed to respond to public comments has been stressful, and they have done their best perhaps to be professional in their actions. But the fact remains that if they had done their work properly, as did the staff who unanimously rejected the previous version of this project in the Nineties, it would not have gotten as far as a public hearing in its current form. The project does not comply with the plain language of the General Plan, it still has – even after several revisions -- numerous violations of the Zoning Code, and we can only guess that it is being rammed through due to political influence.
We are not NIMBYs and would be happy to have a responsible developer do a more reasonable project on the site. The project is not actually in our backyard, but the storm water that the project will produce will be, and we, our neighbors, and the rest of Pacifica will have to look at Vista Mar and perhaps suffer the consequences if it goes sour for years to come.

Unfortunately, the description of the project and neighborhood participation at the Planning Commission hearings is factually inaccurate.

The majority of neighborhood participants were from Tree City Pacifica, and were concerned about the number of new trees that would be planted to replace the trees to be removed.

The project is at the front of the property and leaves vacant a large portion of the site. It does not pave over wetlands but instead diverts storm water runoff from neighboring properties properly into the city storm water drainage system. While it does remove trees, the vast majority are small and are replaced elsewhere on the site with trees more suitable to the ocean climate. And yes, six heritage trees are removed, but many are sickly and are replaced at a 3-to-1 ratio, with 24 in-box trees of a species better suited for the site and climate.

While there were minor landslides documented almost 30 years ago on the site, since then the site has been stable, and there are no landslides documented in the area where the project is going to be constructed. Moreover, the builder is going to conduct additional tests when designing the foundation system to ensure soil stability for the entire project. There is no danger of subsequent landslides or flooding. The city Engineering Department would not have endorsed the project if this risk were present.

Unfortunately, the author has no expertise in geology or civil engineering, and has made technical comments about the project that are flat-out wrong. When the civil engineer for the project offered to meet and discuss the engineering of the site, the author refused. Instead she continues to make accusations under the cover of her architecture license that are beyond her expertise.

The author also makes personal attacks against the Pacifica Planning Department staff, calling them incompetent and reckless, where the facts are that they are highly professional and have done a very thorough job reviewing every aspect of this project. It is no wonder that the project was approved with a unanimous vote by the Planning Commission. The commissioners made a special point of complimenting the Planning Department staff for their thorough analysis and hard work. When will the author's defamatory remarks end?

This is an eight-unit townhouse project being built for middle-class families. It is not a "luxury condominium project" as the author falsely claims.

The Planning Commission members are highly competent people with technical expertise in construction and development who carefully reviewed every aspect of this project's conceptual design. In addition to studying the project on their own time, they spent more than eight hours in two hearings listening to neighbors' concerns to make sure the project was well designed and safe. To suggest that they are either incompetent or are unduly influenced by outside forces is disgraceful.

The author holds herself out as an architect and environmentalist, but in reality she is just another NIMBY who opposes every project and stifles the construction of new homes so desperately needed in our community. Instead of promoting quality development in Pacifica, the author obstructs community improvement with her unfounded and inaccurate attacks on this project, the Planning Department staff, the Planning Commission, and the project's civil engineer.

Hi, Bill, you're absolutely right, water runoff is one of the key issues. The city says that as long as post-construction runoff does not increase pre-construction quantities, the project is allowed. Unfortunately, the preliminary calculations we've seen leave out a huge section of the site as the engineer calls them "permeable." Our civil engineer argues that this water that goes into the ground behind retaining walls actually must get piped away so the walls don't collapse, so the basis of their calculations is faulty. As they say, garbage in, garbage out.

I wonder how rain water runoff is managed with a 52% slope.

Is this going to be another development about which people someday say, "What were they thinking?" like the now-removed Esplanade homes?
But who is thinking long-term?

Neighbor opposition to this project was fierce at the Planning Commission Hearing on Monday 10/19. About 25 neighbors spoke up to complain about the project as it is on a very steep site (52% slope) and will pave over a wetland and remove 57 trees, 6 of them heritage. The hillside has experienced 10 documented landslides, 4 of them on the property. The dangers of subsequent landslides and flooding are great, especially given the inadequate city storm water infrastructure here where Hickey and Monterey converge. Neighbors insist the Planning Department has not done their due diligence as is required by the preliminary environmental analysis in the IS/MND process in several areas. The recommended approval in the staff report is therefore faulty, and the Planning Commissioners were forced to review and vote on an incomplete application.

Please join us in fighting this project as we appeal it to the CIty Council. As an architect and environmentalist, I am not against all development, I am pro smart development that is sustainable. This project is neither.

Neighbors also fear that the Planning Department, Planning Commission, and City Council have been affected by undue influence from developers and the San Mateo County Association of Realtors, who pour tens of thousands of dollars into our local elections. Please VOTE, and please research the candidates for the two open City Council seats. I urge you to consider voting for Mayra Espinosa in District 1 and Marj Davis in District 4.

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