Saturday, December 13, 2008

Meanwhile, in local news ...

The local news is about the ongoing saga of the All Saints Church new buildings project.

In October, the Pasadena Design Commission approved our Master Plan project by a vote of 6-2, after we made a number of changes in response to their input in earlier meetings. The next step was a Planning Commission hearing on December 10th.

The hearing lasted until after midnight and at the end the Planning Commission voted 8-1 to deny approval of the project and require an EIR (Environmental Impact Report).

From the December 12th article by Pasadena Star-News reporter Janette Williams:

Richard Bruckner, the city's director of planning and development -- who was not at the meeting -- said Thursday that it was unheard of for a complete EIR to be requested at the end of the planning process. The city does not require an EIR for every master plan, Bruckner said.
Environmental reports on the All Saints project, he said, did not reach the threshold that triggers requirements for more detailed reports on traffic, air quality, noise, dust and other impacts.
"The Mitigated Negative Declaration was brought to the Planning Commission on May 28, and they concurred with the decision -- in fact they moved for approval," Bruckner said. "We moved forward on that basis."

So what happened?

Quoted in the same article was Claire Bogaard, a founder of something called Pasadena Heritage. Mrs. Bogaard (AKA Mrs. Mayor of Pasadena -- her husband, Bill Bogaard, is Mr. Mayor) said:

"The church must recognize that the project has become so controversial that approval would be "premature" without a complete EIR."

And how did the project become "so controversial?" Easy. Pasadena Heritage made it that way. They never liked the concept of 21st century architecture in dialogue with the historic All Saints buildings -- never mind that it's a brilliantly designed and beautifully executed program integrating new design concepts and state-of-the-art green technology which will be not only an extraordinary instrument for the mission and ministry of All Saints Church but a gift to the City of Pasadena.

Their challenge at Wednesday's Planning Commission Hearing was that design issues were not on the agenda, so the game changed -- and it started to feel like Lambeth 1998 to me -- with Claire Bogaard in the role of David Anderson.

Just like the bishops' committee on human sexuality went to Lambeth having done what they were charged to do -- write a report that reflected the diversity of our experience on the issue around the communion -- when they got there they found that the rules changed in the middle of the game as a well organized, politically connected "cabal" presented resolution 1.10 writing "incompatible with scripture" into the record. It passed by a huge majority while "we" were still trying to figure out what happened to the process we entered in good faith.

What we're dealing with here in Pasadena are Architectural Literalists ... and they are every bit as convinced they have sole possession of the Capital A "Absolute" Capital T "Truth" as our biblical literalist friends.

They clearly came to the meeting Wednesday having changed their strategy to delay the project by staying with the "letter of the law" and avoiding the design issues by pushing for the EIR.

Here's the Catch 22 that I keep coming back to: the primary argument for insisting on the full EIR on this project is that it has become a controversial project.

Who made it a controversial project? The people who want it not to happen.
And how do you make it happen? By adding delays that run up costs and discourage potential funders. And what's the first step? Get the Planning Commission to add a last-minute, expensive, time-consuming EIR.

So if this ruling stands ... if we don't fight it and/or find a way around it ... the precedent will be set that in the City of Pasadena for ANY project ANYBODY doesn't like, all you need to do is whip up enough controversy about it, so an EIR that would not be required for any empirical reason becomes a requirement.

None of this has anything to do with making Pasadena a better city and everything to do with preserving the power and influence of those who appear to be willing to stop at nothing to impose their narrow, literalist "proof texting" of the Holy Scripture of the something called "The Gray Book" on a city that deserves better.

For the record, here's the update sent by our wardens via email on Thursday to the news of Wednesday's hearing:


Dear All Saints Parishioners and Friends,

On Wednesday evening, we attended the hearing of the Pasadena Planning Commission at which All Saints Church presented its revised Master Plan for our new building project. Just two months ago, the Pasadena Design Commission approved that same Master Plan, commending All Saints for the changes it had made in its originally submitted Plan in response to recommendations from both the Design and Planning Commissions earlier in the year. Further, in advance of Wednesday’s hearing, the Staff of the City’s Planning Department had thoroughly reviewed our revised Master Plan and concluded that it complied with the requirements of the City’s Central District Specific Plan and did not require the preparation or issuance of an Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”). In light of the incredible work done by our project architects, led by Michael Palladio, and these favorable approvals and recommendations, we were optimistic that the Planning Commission would also approve our Plan.

We are greatly disappointed to report that our optimism was not born out. After a lengthy hearing and then a vote of the Commissioners that occurred long after midnight, the Planning Commission declined approval of our Master Plan and instead set a new requirement that we must undertake an EIR evaluation and report, a process that could take months and cost thousands of dollars.

We cannot refrain from reporting our own sense of unfairness in this process and decision. When the All Saints Master Plan was presented to the Planning Commission in May 2008, the Commission approved by resolution the Staff’s finding of a negative environmental declaration (i.e. that no EIR was required for the project) at the same time it itemized five specific concerns that it asked All Saints to address before approval. All Saints’ revised Master Plan, presented on Wednesday, addressed each of those concerns by making positive, significant changes to the Plan. In the words of one of the Commissioners, “this is the first time in my time on the Commission that I have ever seen an applicant make all of the changes we asked them to make.”

Nevertheless, at Wednesday’s meeting, the Planning Commission disregarded its finding of a negative declaration, concluded that All Saints now needed to go through the lengthy and expensive EIR process and stated that there were yet “additional requirements” that All Saints must meet, although the Commission itself was unable to articulate precisely what those additional requirements were or even agree what City planning documents apply to our project. Further, the Commission also chose to ignore its legal counsel, the City Attorney’s Office, which has concluded that the environmental impact of our project is so minimal that no EIR is required.

We are now in consultation with our architects and other professionals about the next steps we will take in our extended journey toward realizing our dreams of new buildings, and we hope to make recommendations to our Vestry about those steps at our next meeting. We continue to be filled with excitement and determination about the building and what it will mean to the vision and mission of All Saints Church. We were encouraged immeasurably by the quality of the presentation made last evening by the design team, the strong support we received in public comments from supporters of our project, including many people from outside of our parish, the attendance of so many passionate All Saints supporters and the leadership, passion and persistence of our Rector.

We will look for an opportunity early in 2009 to schedule another Listening Session where we can respond further to your questions and comments and advise you more thoroughly about future steps. While we are disappointed in last night’s outcome, we remain strongly optimistic about achieving our goals.

Cathy Keig, Senior Warden
Gloria Pitzer, Junior Warden


Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

It is a stretch to draw an analogy between the architectural review process on one hand, and the interminable theo-political shenanigans of Episcopalians.

The planning fight ASP unfortunately finds itself in (with not so much the City of Pasadena as traditionalist cabal in the City of Pasadena) is repeated in many places, in and out of California. Sorry to hear of it and I hope reason prevails.

Geez, some folks see a stick some kid planted in the mud yesterday and proclaim it "an historic heritage." Me, I'm in favor of most things declared "historic" meeting the wrecking ball. Not everything lasts or needs to. I may not be a theological, social, legal or ecclesial constructionist, but I am an architectural constructionist.


It may be "a stretch" but it struck me -- during the MANY hours I spent in the planning commission hearing on Wednesday-night-into-Thursday-morning that the same argumentation we hear about "the faith once delivered to the saints" in the church was echoed in "the architecture once delivered back-in-the-day" in the Pasadena Heritage movement.

Onward and upward.

Elaine C. said...

Might there also be a connection between discomfort with 21st century architecture AND the 21st century biblical/theological thinking it may represent. That is to say, are the open minds, activism and successes of the parish, at some unconscious level, frightening to the status quo of the neighborhood.