Thursday, January 8, 2015

Torrance Planning Commission Meeting: January 7th, 2015

The meeting I had been planning for, the Torrance Planning Commission Meeting, had more people attending than I had expected.

The main topic of discussion, setting apart two acres of land for the Southern Tarplant, and approving this division, would take up the majority of the Commission's time.

Before I spoke on the issue, residents of Central Torrance, near Sepulveda and Eriel, voiced heated displeasure regarding the construction of an auto shop on the corner of Eriel and Sepulveda Blvd. The owners of a pre-school/day care center listed a number of environmental concerns, plus their frustration that they were not given appropriate notice of the project.

Other members of the community, including parents whose children are enrolled in the school, also shared their upset with the Planning Commission. One of the commissioners, Steve Skoll, asked the city attorney if the residents had another chance to stop the project. The attorney told them it was too late. One of the residents, a mother of a child at the pre-school, even cried at the meeting, frustrated that she might have to tell her child that he cannot attend the pre-school. A retired engineer shared with the council the environmental and traffic impact of an auto shop on that corner, too.

I did not have a chance to get the rest of the story, but at least I learned that a number of Torrance residents have voiced their opinion on deep, controversial matters before, and I was not alone.

Throughout the first oral communications, I felt that the Commission Chairman, Steven Polcari, presented uninviting and less approachable setting than the City Council. From the outset, anyone wishing to comment had to state their names, spell their last name, and their address. Something which I was not used to.

After the first communications, the Commission breezed through items on time extensions or sign hearings, continued hearings on other matters, and waivers. The members then moved to discuss approval of a Conditional Use Permit for the North Torrance Transit Center.

The key point of conflict, the setting aside of two acres for the Southern Tar Plant. Commission members agreed that the project was a great idea, years in the making, and were glad to see it moving forward.

Southern Tarplant

A hired environmental consultant, Karl Osmundson of Helix Environmental Planning, explained that the city was not necessarily required to set aside land for the Tarplant. I was not satisfied with the reasons why the city had to set aside two acres, when the Madrona Marsh has 43 acres, and beyond that there is the South Coast Botanical Garden.

Another creature impacted by the project, the fairy shrimp, is so abundant in a number of natural settings, that its demise in the Transit Center would not diminish its numbers.

Commissioner Steve Skoll shared his concerns about the cost of maintaining the Southern Tarplant in the preservation lot. This issue did not come to my attention before this meeting. Not only would the city of Torrance have to put aside two cares of land, but the city take on a wide variety of responsibilities.

From one of the supplemental materials on the project:

The city or successors and assigns shall fund the long-term management of the open space ,which shall include implementation of are specific management directive for maintenance and biological monitoring. At a minimum, maintenance directives shall include trash removal, treatment of non-native invasive and exotic plants, maintenance of operation BMPs, and fencing and signage upkeep. At a minimum, biological monitoring directives shall include periodic botanical surveys, including biological inventory and vegetation community assessment; general wildlife surveys; inspection for non-native invasive and exotic plants; inspection for pest and nuisance wildlife species; and reporting. Biological monitoring directives shall be performed by a qualified biologist.

One of the civil servants commenting on this project informed the Commission and the audience that the costs associated with the maintenance of the plant remain To Be Determined.

Clint Paul arrived to the Commission hearing after I did, and after reading of the supplemental materials, he read of the list of items cited above. The fact that these costs had not been determined concerned him.

After Paulson addressed the Commission during the econd Oral Communications, I addressed the members. First, I told them that I had learned about this meeting in the Daily Breeze, and I was surprised that the city was  setting aside two acres of land which was on neither an official state or federal list of endangered plants. The California  Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) did enlarge the required actions of any project to consider the impact on near-endangered species like the Tarplant. I informed the Commission that I had spoken with two city councilmembers, who both shared  my concerns about two acres of land getting set aside for a plant not official listed. I further mentioned that I had contacted one of the commissioners about the project, and this hearing.

Because no one had investigated moving the plant to other sites, besides Madrona Marsh, plus the potential costs, I asked for the Commission to vote No on the Mitigation Plan.

After my comments, members of the Commission discussed whether the city would have the opportunity to move the plant in the future. The environment advisor at the meeting said that could happen. All that the Commissioners were voting on was whether to designate two cares of land for the plant. One of the project managers, Ted Saaman, mentioned that the city already has staff who can fulfill the maintenance obligations described in the Mitigation report.

The Commission decided to move forward on the project, 7-0.

North Torrance Transit Center (Model)

Anyone can file an appeal to the city council with fifteen days, but the cost was not clear. Not just filing an application, an appellant will pay a fee. Then the city council will consider the matter within the next forty-five days.

After the meeting, I spoke with Planning Manager Gregg Lodan and Senior Planning Associate Danny Santana. They informed me further that the two-acre lot was a compromise which would permit the city to move forward on the project while satisfying all legal concerns brought in from CEQA and the California Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Game. Santana told me that the DWFG wanted seven acres, which would have upended the project entirely. The conflict goes beyond the local concerns of private citizens and city staff. Lodan showed me a picture of the Transit site plan, which referenced the westernmost corner of the 15-acre lot. Lodan explained to me that that section of line would not be open to reasonable development anyway, because of its sharp corners.

Although I was not happy with the lack of information on the subject at the outset, and the cold reception from some of the Planning Commissioners, I was able to get more information about the project, and share my concerns. I also met with some of the members after the meeting, who gave me their contact information afterwards.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah dear, the meeting rooms where the Torrance Planning Commission Meeting was held was full of audiences. I think this land issue should be solved as soon as possible otherwise it may cause trouble.