BlogaBarbara

Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

ABR Chair Bait and Switch?

This little tidbit appeared on Edhat.com today related to the Agricultural -- errr, Architectural Board of Review meeting about the St. Francis Medical Center site:

Yesterday, at the meeting of the Architectural Board of Review on the development of the St. Francis Medical Center site, observers were stunned to watch ABR chairman Mark Wienke get up from his chairman’s seat and walk around the table, sit down with the architectural team designing the St. Francis project, and advocate for the project before the board he chairs. This flabbergasting appearance of conflict of interest becomes even more suspicious when one considers that Wienke was added to Cottage’s the team of architects AFTER he became chair of the ARB. It leaves one wondering what is going on here?

One of the problems with how ABR is contructed is that not many architects either:

1) Live in the City of Santa Barbara and can be on this commission -- although I have some recollection of talk that the rules might be changed so that more members could be from neighboring cities. The cost of living in Santa Barbara keeps many people who could serve from serving.

or

2) Do not have potential conflicts with local projects. Not many, however, are chair of the commission.

Strictly speaking, Weinke can recuse himself and it would be perfectly legal. Taking off your ABR hat and putting on your St. Francis hat, however, appears like a bait and switch. This can't instill confidence in the public that decisions are made fairly and if Weinke voted on this project last year at a time that was close to him being hired by Cottage Hospital -- one would have to wonder which came first.

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30 Comments:

Anonymous bias on the dais said...

I think that Monday was the first time the ABR has heard the project in quite sometime. But the fact remains that the Chairperson of a Board has an elevated position to the other members. It's tough to make the case that his getting up and moving, literally, from one side of the table to the other, moments after he was chairing the meeting then promoting a project (any project) has no effect on the other voting members.

5/17/2007 7:31 AM  
Anonymous allegro805 said...

Oh great, even more reasons (the last thing we need) for some wingnuts in my neighborhood to start screaming bloody murder over the St. Francis project.

In the interest of even the remotest appearance of impropriety, I think Weinke should abstain from voting on the final project. How many people sit on the ABR (yes, I could look this up on the internet myself)...?

However, I also don't think the situation is as bad as it seems: organizations of many types (governmental, private, and nonprofit) have internal review boards, censuring committees, etc., made up of employees of the organization, and it doesn't necessarily make the review process any less effective. I'm not saying this is exactly the same, just somewhat analagous.

5/17/2007 9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome to our world, Blogabarbara. I know a lot of you folks think those of us who live in the neighborhood around St. Francis are a bunch of NIMBYs who don't want to see any development at the medical center site, but that just ain't so. Most of us would LOVE to see the site adapted for worker housing. What we have objected to all along was 1) the density; 2) the segregation of worker housing from "luxury housing", 3) the inadequate and canted EIR and Historical Structures Reports, and 4) the incestuous and probably illegal relationship between Cottage and the city government and administration. The Planning Commission and City Council went through the kind of shenanigans observed at the ABR the other day over and over again, repeatedly ignoring the neighbors requests, suggestions, and pleas that their input be taken seriously. And when we tried to point out that the process seemed awfully corrupted by insider influence and brokering, we were pooh-poohed and pshawed. Maybe this incident will wake you all up to how things are really done in this city.

5/17/2007 10:07 AM  
Anonymous eggs_ackley said...

like the newspress, it appears that this thread is a "shoot first, don't bother asking questions kind of repartee."

My understanding of the conflict of interest rules that govern this type public body are that a sole proprietor may represent his client before the board of which he is a member. Those practitioners who are not sole proprietors must have their projects represented by another member of their firm. I think chair Weinke fits the former description.

I have a slightly different take on the proceedings the other night. From what I saw and heard, having more architects designing components of the project will increase the diversity of the architecture of project making it less cookie cutter, repetitious. Have they gone far enough? No, about halfway there. As I watched the deliberations, I noticed a sub-current of dissatisfaction with the unimaginitive, overly rigid, linear design by two members of the applicant's team, Weinke and Naylor. Hopefully the two will be able to exert enough influence to soften the site plan, add some sense of organic relationship, reduce the scale around the perimeter to be compatible with the pattern of the adjacent neighborhoods, and create a rythm along the street frontages that is in sympathy with the existing residential qualities. They probably need to reduce the massing throughout the project and increase the spacing between some of the units otherwise this thing is going to look like a hotel, a hillside of homogenous bildings with insufficient space for any substantial landscaping to break down the scale and density of the architecture.

How much more appropriate would it be if this project was going in on Chapala Street(instead of the poorly planned edifices being constructed now) and a half dozen market rate houses were built at the St. Francis site. Put the density where it belongs??

5/17/2007 1:45 PM  
Anonymous developer-in-training said...

Gosh, maybe if I hire an ABR architect like Wienke, an Historic Landmarks Commissioner like Susette Naylor (who has actually voted for a piece of the project twice) and who knows, even throw in a Planning Commissioner and maybe a city council member or two, then I can get my pet project approved by the city. I just don't know how to start the conversation, or how much money to pay them for their er, services.

5/17/2007 1:48 PM  
Anonymous Shane Stark said...

Whether or not the ABR member's moving from one side of the table to another violates California conflict of interest law depends on whether the member qualifies for the “design review sole practitioner” exception to the disqualification rule of the Political Reform Act. If this exception applies, a design professional who is a member of an architectural review board may lawfully represent clients before that board. The exception applies only where the ARB member is a "sole practitioner" -- the only licensed design professional in a business that he or she owns.

This is a complicated rule, interpreted by the State Fair Political Practices Commission. See 2 CCR 18702.4

Whether moving across the table creates an appearance of impropriety is a separate question, on which I express no opinion.

Shane Stark
Santa Barbara County Counsel
(For identification only)

5/17/2007 2:32 PM  
Anonymous groundjordan said...

Routine observers of ABR processes will know that this situation happens regularly, due to some of the issues above- # of architects, # of good architects, it's not a big city by any means, etc.

Having paid attention to a few of these instances, it is clear to me that ABR members are as demanding, if not more so, of their own than not. This should speak credibly to the process.

Weinke will not abstain, nor vote, on this project now that he is involved financially.... that's why he is on the other side of the table.

As to "inadequate and canted... incestuous and probably illegal... shenanigans... ignoring... corrputed... poo-poohed," you had your opportunity to make those cases and you FAILED. On the other hand, local in- and out-patient health care will survive at a level that benefits the entire community.

5/17/2007 4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You "don't think the situation is as bad as it seems."

Who are you? Neville Chamberlain? ...don't forget how well that ostrich stance turned out for him...

What would it take for you to think that the situation IS as bad as it seems? Would you like to actually see the Chairperson of the Board get up and accept an envelope stuffed with dirty dollar bills?

5/17/2007 5:58 PM  
Anonymous Disgusted said...

THis act of the ABR Chair---- LITERALLY SWITCHING SIDES during a public hearing----- pretty much illustrates the pathetic state of Santa Barbara land use politics----beyond the appearance of impropriety---- it renders the whole Commission appointment process a farce--- shame on the City Council for sanctioning this kind of blatant promotion

5/17/2007 7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allegro805, don't let your feelings about the so-called "wingnuts" color your perceptions so drastically. Check the record. The ABR gave only cursory review of the project, more than three years ago, and then, only four members voted on it...and only two members of today's ABR have ever seen it at all--Chair Wienke and Vice-Chair Manson-Hing. An enormous project like this one requires a lot of review, not just a rubber stamp--and it certainly needs the voice of leadership, not leadership silenced or neutralized by cash. We wingnuts aren't as dumb as you might think. And after all our yelling, we still have some critical thinking skills.

5/17/2007 7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's making a "mountain out of a molehill". Sara already said it - the very same workforce housing crisis that Cottage is trying to mitigate with the St. Francis project is what leads to not enough architects living in town and being able to serve on the ARB. It's pretty much the same story with all the City boards and commissions.

If people don't like it, the choices are simple, either build more workforce housing or stop requiring micro-review of every single project.

Or, we could use Goleta's example and have a review board made up of NIMBY citizens that don't know anything about planning or architecture that finally has to get disbanded by the Council.

5/17/2007 7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Snuck a peek at the condos at Paseo Chapala (Bermant)which recently had the lottery for the "affordable" units - the construction fence was down and it was open so anyone could take a look at the floor plans.

The "affordable" units line the inner courtyard and are a total waste of open space that deserves to be far better used for the residents of the pricy periferal units.

They are small, grim, almost windowless and have a tiny expose patio area. They have the charm of a bad Motel Six and are no bargain for any of the "lucky" lottery winners who now are locked into a pathetic equity limitation making this a very bad housing choice for anyone other than a frail senior citizen or comitted single person, certainly not for anyone younger who contemplates having a family.

Read where the market rate one bedrooms are going now for $1.3 million when they were promised to start at $600,000 at the inception and approval for this project. No problem with market rate at all and it is needed down town.

But what I am saying illustrates how stupid city housing policies are and they in fact only irritate the market rate people and do nothing at all for those few who win the windfall at everyone else's expense and were arrogantly mistreated in the architectural plan in the first place -- and now a blight to the entire project by compromising its true downtown livability.

These "inclusionary" units were clearly tacked on as an afterthough. And 6 or so "affordable" units are NOT going to save the middle class in Santa Barbara.

Go down and take a look and see what bad planning tacked on to a good idea (bringing economic vitality with well-planned market units into downtown).

Be sure to track this whole "inclusionary
housing farce that is in the process of getting even worse as this current council wants to demand even more forced tack on units. Stop this beast while you can. Staff is moving in for one more kill and you had better move fast to stop it.

Public Hearing on Increasing Inclusionary Housing: May 24, 2007
1:15 - 4:30 - David Gebhard Room
630 Garden Street.

5/17/2007 8:41 PM  
Anonymous fed up said...

Oh, please, not as bad as it looks? If it looks bad it is bad! Let's just save our taxpayer dollars forcing these board members to take Ethics in Government training The training cautions to always avoid even the appearance of conflict. In these matters there are legal fine points and there are issues that just don't look right. And this doesn't. Not only that, take a look at the draft minutes of Monday's ABR meeting. They indicate that the chairman stepped down--they do not, however, indicate that he then proceed to join the other architects representing the client and make a presentation to the Board... Check the record--his name isn't listed and his presentation isn't recorded. Whoops! That's not as bad as it looks, either, I guess. The only breaches of ethics, bias and improper behavior in SB are at the News Press. Nowhere else. And anybody who claims otherwise must be a selfish, wealthy NIMBY who exploits the working class at every turn. Silly me.

5/17/2007 8:48 PM  
Anonymous anonymous #5 said...

Well said, anonymous #4. Mr. Weinke is first and foremost a knowledgeable and astute architect who has made substantial contributions to this city, among them being the time he continues to dedicate to the ABR - lines typically do not form to fill an opening on local review boards in case anyone has noticed. As a local architect, Weinke has every right to represent his work before the board on which he serves without there being any conflict of interest, implied or otherwise. And for god's sake give the other ABR members a bit of credit, will you? They're not a group of NIMBYs pushing their own personal interests. They're law-abiding, tax-paying, hardworking, professional citizens who take the time out of their busy lives in an effort to make this city a better place for all who live and visit here. Weinke and all of the other architects involved on the worker housing project are educated professionals and it seems to me the review process is working just fine. Yet another "red herring" attempt...

5/17/2007 9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GroundJordan is right. We FAILED... so far. But the question we are raising here, with evidence to support -- not that we didn't always have evidence to support -- is why we failed. We failed because come hell or high water the city was going to give this project to Cottage, and it didn't matter if there was collusion, behind the scenes manipulation, or illegal or immoral actions on the part of the city. Cottage was going to get their way.
I'm going to say what one of the earlier guys said again. Nobody who opposed this project wanted to see no development or no worker housing at St. Francis. We wanted to see more worker housing and less segregated luxury units. We wanted to see density more in line with the original zoning of the property and more in line with the rest of the the neighborhood. We wanted to see more care taken with environmental impacts. We wanted to preserve a building whose historical significance was completely overlooked in the historic structures report.
I don't think our position makes us "wingnuts" or NIMBYs or any of the other names some of you derive so much satisfaction in tossing around. We are concerned citizens participating in an ongoing process, as is our right. We don't intend giving up exercising our right to speak out against a process and a project which we see as wrong and corrupt; wrong and corrupt for our neighborhood AND for the city we live in.

5/17/2007 9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Wienke's possible "sole propietor" exception still counts when he is working as a part of a team of architects as in this case? And when was he hired by Cottage, anyway?

5/17/2007 10:03 PM  
Anonymous allegro805 said...

Groundjordan's comments are probably the most rational here and also shed more light on the process. Thanks.

Does anyone really feel that allowing architects who are non-SB city residents (from, say, Orange Cty.) sit on the ABR would be a good idea? That's my idea of a nightmare, but probably a developer's dream!

To others: you're neck deep in what Buddhists would call Creating your own suffering. Really. My prediction is that you'll be quite ok (maybe even happy... if you want to be) when all is done and built.

5/17/2007 10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonder how much more high profile it makes one and how many more contracts members of the ABR have gotten past and present since their "service".

5/17/2007 11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep in mind one of the perks sitting on the ABR is that developers like to hire that person's firm to help ease any passage.

The whole ABRboard approval concept can be so easily corrupted and when you see them tear other projects apart that are not part of your clique, you have to wonder if they all should have been censured for being just plain mean and petty.

ABR is a luxury only for larger houses. The city doesn't care what crap gets put into smaller neighborhoods - they are exempt from ABR review - too small to care about is the official word.

One more way the city officially keeps the Golden Triangle gilded and screws the rest of the city.

5/18/2007 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

Interesting read Sara, all these architecture wonks and their take on the process here in "Stand Fast Santa Barbara."

I sat through the Granada garage deliberations--now there's a public process for you!! It killed poor George Gerth. Everything on everybody's architectural wish list got thrown in there. Watch out for the pubic and those who pander too much to it.

While cogitating the heated issue of the color of the bike showers, they just might overlook a street entry and don't forget the whopper of where to site the building-- that boo boo cost a bundle and now the building is way too close to the street. I remember all those landscaping conversations led by Edward Chella whose hard work was suddenly eliminated when the new building's movement toward the street so late in the process axed the tree plantings. It all HAD to be finished in time for Christmas to please the merchants! And so it goes.

City projects get really tweeked by the pubic. City Hall really listens to the pubic. Could it be that politicians pander too much to the democratic beast? Plaza de la Guerra (our dear Sara de la Guerra take note!) IS still waiting for resolution. WHY? Only fifty years now of public deliberation and spineless council members.

All hail the Santa Barbara public process!!

5/18/2007 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

On the issue of the self-interestedness of the people who serve on the city commissions, let me say I never met a more dedicated collection of diligent public minded civil servants exercising their duty to their city, anywhere. You cannot imagine the time and energy that such service takes. The job descriptions require architectural expertise and one even requires and credentialed architectural historian. Now these kinds of people don't just grow on trees.

All hail the unpaid, hard-working citizens of our architectural commissions. Just look around, their fine work is easy to see.

Everyone read, Kevin Starr's book, Chapter 10, "Material Dreams" and you'll see how Santa Barbara squares up with the competition.

Heroes, unappreciated in their own town...disgraceful.

5/18/2007 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only failure was in the City's refusual to heed any experts who provided opinions that might affect this project in any way. The people made their case, and in any legitimate evaluation process, would have been listened to, and the project modified accordingly.

5/18/2007 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Passing-by said:

This deal of ABR members coming around to the other side of the table to push their own designs to their peers is nothing new under the sun. It is a built-in problem that has always existed. People only notice it now because of the St.Francis furor. But it'll happen again Monday - tune in on channel 18 and watch the last agenda item.

It is a weird situation to see and one that is always worrisome and worth attention. Mostly, the ABR appears to behave ethically. The bigger problem is that they are overworked and eager to just get things done so if unhappy citizens don't show up to complain about things the ABR is fully capable of approving all manner of horrible plans if only to get home before midnight. It's a classic squeeky wheel situation.

5/18/2007 11:57 AM  
Anonymous groundjordan said...

sorry to chime back in on this, but anon 11:13, to answer your questions-

Undoubtedly a higher profile, and probably additional professional work.

Course their "service" as you so innocently put it in quotes, is a four year trial of weekly half-day committments, not only professionally challenging, but personally arduous due to relationships with peers, direct loss of free and billed time, and numerous hours spent keeping up with everything going on in the planning world.

And, gee, they probably end up being better at the project process because they've lived it.... yep, that's a shame.

This kind of outside - in complaining is cowardly. Get involved and give up your time and energy if you think it can be done better. Like the ABR, there are a bunch of other commissions, boards and committees that are continually wanting for passionate community participants. Of course, the easier committment is your (not so) subtle indictment.

5/18/2007 12:47 PM  
Anonymous donaldo de Santa Barbara said...

I FORGOT TO SUGGEST THAT THE CITY NEEDS AT LEAST TWO REPRESETNATIVE WHO ACTUALLY LIVE DOWNTOWN. I WOULD SUGGEST BUSINESS OWNERS BUT ONLY IF THEY DOWNTOWN. WE ALSO NEED 1 REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE RIVIERA HOOD AS WELL.

5/18/2007 10:18 PM  
Anonymous st. francis said...

Make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

5/19/2007 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Allegro for your insight into our Buddhist souls. I'm sure it is built on considerable personal knowledge of your neighbors, conversation, interaction, and an open mind. And GroundJordan, you really nailed us! Way to go. We are cowards who don't have the courage to get involved, that's why many of us have spent hours of our own time participating in this process -- blogging, writing letters, talking to the city administration and politicians, going to board and city council meetings, and generally being activist, as is our right in this society, in the hope of turning the city away from a project (in this case the St. Francis development) which we think was approved through corruption and which we think is wrong for our community. And by the way, if Cottage wants to retain their employees to maintain the quality of medical care here, they might think first and foremost about treating their nurses, techs, housekeeping, and food service employees better (the doctors all have pretty sweet deals) and worry less about getting into the real estate development business.

5/19/2007 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There needs to be representation from the land-owning residents in R-3/R-4 zoned neighborhoods - that is the missing official voice on most city planning matters.

There are too many R-1 residents planning what happens in R-3/R-4 (Commerical/Industrial zones as well).

5/19/2007 3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't take offense at being called a 'wingnut' but I do take offense at the City being so cozy with a developer to the point of not being honest and truthful.

I received the Notice of Public Hearing about this project.
It states that the buildings will be occupied by Cottage Hospital employees. That is misleading and not fully truthful. This project includes over 30 units that will be sold to the general public for profit. That information was not included in the City's own Notice.

This project has also been called “workforce housing” by the applicant but in reality, the true work force (janitors, housekeeping, cafeteria workers) will not be able to afford to live here. Yet, the City echos the name of Workforce housing. We can see Cottage operating the strings and the City barely tries to hide it!

Also, the Notice states that the project is located on a “5.94-acre site”. Actually, the Hospital owns over 7 acres but is choosing to not use all of the acreage for this project. If they did, they could have more green and open space and a less dense feeling and be more compatible with the rest of Santa Barbara. Cottage has refused to say how that part of the property will be used.

I wasn't shocked to hear about the ABR meeting table shuffle; it is par for the course with this project. Sadly, Santa Barbara isn't exempt from things that we think only happen in other places.

5/19/2007 7:44 PM  
Anonymous cherry ames said...

And then there's the small matter of how the health effects were covered up by the City, and the APCD caved under pressure. The UCLA doctor hired by Cottage uttered the chilling words in a neighborhood meeting, "Cottage has a serious problem on its hands," and detailed concerns about the threat to those with respiratory problems, compromised immune systems and other health concerns, due to exposure to fine particulate matter from the massive demolition and construction impacts. Our city response? Prohibit the placement of an air quality monitor. Cottage's response? Refusal to bring forth the physician, his findings, or any dicussion of this whatsoever. Check the record, it's all there. As if Public Health mattered to anyone but the people at risk...

5/19/2007 9:59 PM  

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