Mountain View Voice
News - April 4, 2014
Councilman irks colleague over 'bribery' charge
Inks cites last-minute $100,000 cost to Prometheus project
by Daniel DeBolt
Council member John Inks says his colleagues are guilty of taking a "bribe" because of the way they recently required a developer to cough up $100,000 at the last minute.
Inks made the accusation on March 18 and again at the start of the March 25 council meeting, saying that requiring developer Prometheus Real Estate Group to pay $100,000 towards bike and pedestrian improvements near its 66-unit project at 1616 El Camino Real was "effectively a $100,000 bribe to get a project through."
When confronted about the accuracy of his use of the word "bribe" in a phone interview, Inks said, "It's not exactly like money changing hands but that's what it was to me, watching the meeting on television" after watching it in person.
"I think what I witnessed was effectively a $100,000 bribe to get a project approved," Inks said when restating his issue on March 25. "It had no stated rational basis for the amount that was asked and certainly no basis for the cost estimate. I hope I don't see any more motions like this."
Fellow council member Ronit Bryant said she couldn't let the repeated accusations pass on March 25.
"To use a word like 'bribe' is really offensive and I don't think it fits with the collegial relationships we have had," Bryant said. "I would ask the council member to recall how we treat each other here. I am very proud of how we usually treat each other and accept each others' opinions and that was really inappropriate."
Inks responded to Bryant with: "I would just like to say thanks for letting us all know how you feel."
Inks stood by his comments, calling them collegial in a phone interview.
"I think Ronit was right, we discuss these items very collegially," Inks said. "The comment I made was collegial was as well. Ronit replied back and my response was collegial as well."
Inks is known for opposing fees and requirements on development, including those that subsidize affordable housing projects. Though it was before his time, he surely would have balked at the $6 million pedestrian tunnel under Central Expressway the City Council required of the Toll Brothers Mayfield Mall redevelopment in 2008, for which 450 homes were proposed at the time (the housing project and tunnel were never built when the recession hit).
"It is entirely within the council's authority to require public benefits on certain projects, including those that go in advance of the precise plan," said City Manager Dan Rich in an email. "Council has done it many times. What the benefit is can vary significantly."
Inks added that he objected to making the requirement at the final meeting for the project, saying he agreed with council member Mike Kasperzak's complaint that it should have been done earlier.
"Kasperak summed it up pretty well. There was plenty of time going all the way back to gatekeeper (an initial City Council meeting on the project) if somebody wanted to to do that."
Rich also addressed the timing of the requirement, saying, "While it is usually preferable to provide direction on the types and level of public benefit early in the process, on the (latest Prometheus) project, there really wasn't an earlier opportunity; unlike some major projects, there were not a number of study sessions or times the project came in front of the Council."
Email Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Linda Curtis,
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 7:39 pm
"Property values are obviously increasing, but you can't attribute that to high density developments. Having a high density development next door would, if anything, diminish the value of a home. Unless, perhaps, the resident's land is also zoned for high density..." Having high density housing next door to one's home indeed does ruin your enjoyment of living there AND does NOT increase the value of your land TO YOU. This is because your property is also rezoned (as it is adjacent to the "P" zoning that our City Council creates every time they want to come up with a "precise plan" so that a high rise can go right next door to you). So you are now in non-conforming use of your own land because the zoning is now for mixed use retail/housing. And should you ever need a major repair of your home which is wrong for the new zoning you are now in, or if you ever want to do any add-on building or change much of anything, you will not be allowed to continue your non-conforming use any longer. Even if you vacate your home for six months in a row, your "non-conforming use" is discontinued and typically you lose the right to reinstate that use. You are "grandfathered in" but only while your existing use continues with no changes like major repairs, adding on, interruption of living on the premises, etc.
So you think, if you have enough land with your property, I'll also build a big stack of condos or apts. and really profit! Next to impossible as: You cannot quality for a loan like the big guys who can really guarantee that they don't go broke since condos and apts. sell/rent from the top down, so you are hugely in debt before you get anywhere near the penthouse. If you're in a redevelopment area (and this scenario pretty much indicates that you are), you are ripe for eminent domain, and possibly you end up as the holding company for some favored developer who can come along later and get the City to take your property at a discount because it's "legally non-conforming" and "blighted." All any developer needs to offer the city is a monetary bribe, as we are discussing in this blog, or offer the people/the city their favorite: A few affordable housing units (which usually really isn't affordable). Look at the development going up where our handy Harv's car wash is now: These condos will go for at least an estimated (by the developer) $1.1 million for a tiny one bedroom and $1.2 million for a tiny two bedroom. The five "affordable" units allowing the developer to exceed set & step back requirements (at the cost of all their one story neighbors) are deemed a "public benefit." (Certainly not to the neighbors.) The five "affordable" units were recently described by a city official in a meeting at City Hall as probably going for $100K less that the other units in the building. So how affordable is that?
And after allowing towering building to dominate over your home, the City will discount your property, even if it's perfect and full of up-to-date finishes or whatever, because it is now worth less, or maybe even worthless, because the risk will be higher for a lender or buyer since investment is all about risk and return. The best combination for an investor is a low risk and a high return, obviously. As your property is probably "legally non-conforming" now, since the zoning change for the big build next door to you includes everything in the zone declared a PDA=Preferred Development Area (as is everything along ECR for a block+ deep), then the risk increases that it can't be rebuilt should it ever burn, repaired if it partially burns or has a tree fall on it or whatever, or the City won't allow the current use to continue if the tenant moves out, or that it will have to be demolished if needed repairs are extensive. Banks will demand a higher interest rate & higher down-payment on higher risk property. Your property value drops. Why would someone pay the same amount for your place that they would for a property that doesn't have these issues? They won't and they don't have to in order to get it. You can't afford to build like the big guys and they know it. You'll have to settle for whatever crumb is the best crumb any of them offer you. And don't wait too long, as the NEW definition of "eminent domain" allows any property that could earn more tax base for the City with a different use on it than its current use, to be declared "blight!" Your beautiful home that you've kept perfectly and spent your whole life improving and paying off (or almost paying off) and that you planned to retire and spend the rest of your life in, now is wrecked for you and worth less. You can't get a loan on it. You can't even afford to turn it into a small business, since those generate less tax revenue than larger, national chains. Too many local businesses are dragging down the whole town compared to big corporations and franchises, so the City says out with the old and in with the new! People assume that more housing will lower the rents, you know, supply and demand, but the new housing is exactly that: New. So it can run $8000/month for renting a tiny two bedroom like at Madera. And as more and more of the older places are torn down and replaced with new housing units, rent will climb more and more. GENTRIFICATION of the City continues, and those who were comfortable here and thought they had it made, will get priced out or forced out so something else can be build. It all comes with the new City Plan. I know this because it's happening to me.