JOINT LIVINGSTON CITY COUNCIL AND
PLANNING COMMISSION SPECIAL MEETING
JUNE 10, 2008
The Livingston City Council and Planning Commission held a Joint Special Meeting in the City Council Chambers on Tuesday, June 10, 2008. The meeting was called to order by Mayor Samra at 7:00 p.m.
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
The pledge of allegiance to the flag was recited.
Council Members Present: Mayor Samra, Mayor Pro-Tempore Ingram, and Council Members Soria and Vierra
Council Members Absent: Council Member Espinoza (excused)
Commissioners Present: Chair Avila, Vice-Chair Benafield, and Commissioner Blevins
Commissioners Absent: Commissioner Alvear (excused) and Commissioner Silva (excused)
Staff Present: Arredondo, Kenney, Lewis, Warne, and Donnelly
Others Present: Warren Urnberg, Colette Alvernaz, Frank Borges (Joseph Gallo Farms); Judy Blevins, Katherine Schell Rodriguez, Gene Okuye, Joe Valdez, and others in the audience.
Mayor Samra turned the meeting over to Chair Avila.
Chair Avila thanked everyone for attending the joint workshop. He stated that the Planning Commission would like to meet with the City Council occasionally to be on the same page with the Council so that they can make better recommendations to the City Council before items go to 2 them for final approval. He added that items on tonight’s agenda were for discussion only; no action will be taken.
DISCUSSION ON COMMERCIAL PAINT COLORS AND THE 2004 LIVINGSTON DESIGN GUIDE.
Communit y Development Director Kenney presented the item and stated that this issue has
Been discussed in previous Planning Commission meetings. The concern is that the 2004 Livingston Design Guide discourages bright colors on commercial structures for other than as trim, but is not prohibited. When the medical office at the corner of “E” and Main Streets recently repainted their building burgundy, it caused some concern. During staff’s discussions with the Planning Commission, it was mentioned that the graffiti truck has several colors of tans and creams available and the possibility of requiring the downtown businesses to paint their buildings in those colors was discussed. Another comment was made that only the alley facing walls could possibly be all painted the same color so that as the graffiti truck moves down the alley to coverup graffiti, they would only use one color of paint and they could take care of all the businesses at one time.
Chair Avila relayed Commissioner Alvear’s opinion as she was unable to attend the meeting. She feels that the City should first hire a Code Enforcement Officer before any changes are made in the Code so that there is someone available to enforce the Code.
Commissioner Benafield stated that prior to 2004, the City went through several planners and a lot of discussions and somehow over the years things have been changed and have not been noticed by the Planning Commission. That is why when certain things come up, such as the color of the building downtown; it causes turmoil because that is not the way they remember it from before.
There is a sentence in the current Design Guide that says bright colors are discouraged, but not prohibited, in the downtown commercial area. She questioned why is a Code needed and why is this issue being discussed. She added that the reason the Planning Commission wanted to meet with the Council in a joint meeting was to discuss this issue and try to determine if they want to have a specific color scheme and, if not, how to go about approaching businesses so they can tone down their building colors. She thinks it is important to keep in mind that there are homeowners in the downtown commercial area that can be affected if they want to paint their house a certain color.
Commissioner Blevins asked Community Development Director Kenney if she had a list of the colors the graffiti truck uses.
Director Kenney responded she does not have a list, but it is her understanding that colors range from light to dark color tans and creams.
City Manager Warne said graffiti colors could be changed to be whatever the City Council and
Planning Commission want.
Chair Avila said that he spoke to a couple businesses about their building colors a few years back when he thought the City had a Code prohibiting certain colors and they were generous enough to change the colors to the City’s satisfaction. He remembers that even Napa Auto Parts came before the Planning Commission for permission to paint their building their national color and they really did not have to, according to the current Design Guide. He thinks changes were made over the last 2-3 years that the Planning Commission was not aware of.
Chair Avila hopes that during this joint meeting, they can resolve some of these issues and clarify things so that they know what to tell people when approached. He thinks homeowners living in the downtown area would get upset if they were told to change the color of their home.
Council Member Vierra thought there was an ordinance in place. He said he got calls when the medical building downtown was painted red. He thinks the change happened when PMC, (planning consultants) brought forward the updates for the Design Guide. He thinks the only two buildings to be concerned about right now are the medical office which is now closed and the “El Diamante Bar.” He added that he has no problem changing the Code back to what was in place before.
Director Kenney stated that El Diamante Bar had already repainted their building and removed the illegal signage.
Council Member Soria remembers discussing the Design Guide when PMC presented it to the City Council. Some members thought that including the word “prohibited” was too harsh; therefore, they decided to use the word “discouraged” instead. He believes that it would help to change the word to prohibit.
Mayor Pro-Tem. Ingram said that when PMC updated the City Codes, some of the Codes mysteriously disappeared and some wording was changed and it slipped right by the City Council. He remembers when the Tequila Bar and the Winton-Ireland buildings changed their colors to please the City and when they worked with the Napa business to let them keep their national color. He added that he doesn’t think all the downtown businesses should be required to look the same as the City buildings. What he means by this is that the City buildings are all one color that people recognize and he does not think they should require new businesses to paint their buildings all the same color. However, he likes the idea of using the colors that are on the graffiti truck. He asked that staff find out what those colors are and bring them back to the Planning Commission and City Council and then list them as desired downtown colors, but not as prohibited, so that people can have an option. He reminded everyone that they are trying to bring businesses to the City and not drive them away.
Mayor Pro-Tem. Ingram thinks it is good for the City Council to schedule about 30 minutes to meet with the Planning Commission, either after regular meetings or in a special meeting to go over City Codes. He added that they should get together to come up with acceptable downtown colors like they did for the street trees.
Mayor Samra thinks earth tones are good colors to go with. He asked how many colors the graffiti truck can carry.
City Manager Warne responded the graffiti truck can have up to seven colors. If the City Council wants specific colors downtown, they can change the colors. He noted that the way one other city dealt with the same problem was by choosing colors in earth tones and that eliminated the bright colors, such as greens and reds.
City Manager Warne said one option is setting specific colors such as the graffiti colors. The other option is to leave it like it is now – people can paint whatever color they want, and then staff can come up with some language like bright colors are prohibited or all the buildings should be earth tones.
Mayor Samra thinks the wording should be stronger than just the word “discouraged.” He is not sure if the word to use is “prohibited”. There needs to be some sort of flexibility so they don’t discourage businesses.
Director Kenney said the Design Guide currently says, “bright colors are discouraged other than as trim,” so a national chain coming in would still be able to use their bright colors as trim on their buildings should they choose to stick with the earth tones.
Mayor Samra said he is not sure if he really wants homeowners included in having to paint specific paint colors. He asked for a word in between discouraged and prohibited.
Assistant City Attorney Donnelly said she could work with staff to try to come up with some language in between.
Council Member Vierra thinks we can still work with businesses if the Code says “prohibited” because applicants have that option to come back and negotiate with the City. He does not think coming up with a word in between discouraged and prohibited will help. He asked that if residents are not treated the same as businesses, then what happens if the house next door paints their building red.
Mayor Samra thinks homes should be treated differently than businesses. That is where people live and raise their children. They should have more flexibility.
Council Member Soria said that the way to distinguish that is when some of these structures change from homes to businesses. The commercial rules and procedures would trigger when they apply for a business license.
Mayor Pro-Tem. Ingram agrees that they cannot require a home to be a certain color and agrees with Council Member Soria that if they change their home to a business, then the commercial rules and procedures would apply.
Vice-Chair Benafield remembers that prior to the current administration, back when the City had the Design Review Committee, it was always said that colors were to be earth tones. She remembers clearly that there was a document that said earth tones (even though planning staff has not been able to find it). She thinks that adding a phrase that colors should be in earth tones will take care of the problem – that would be the light browns, tans, whites, etc.
City Manager Warne said he has seen the language of earth tones work with the word “shall” and that seemed to stop bizarre things that they are referring to, but it didn’t require a specific color and it eliminated the problem with bright colors.
Council Member Vierra asked staff if the new developments are required to stay within a certain range of colors.
Director Kenney responded it depends on the C, C and Rs that each subdivision has. The C, C\ and R is a pretty comprehensive document, so each subdivision might be different.
Council Member Vierra asked if it really matters if the alleys have two, three, or seven colors when nobody can really see it.
Vice-Chair Benafield said we have alleyways that face the freeway. She thinks it would be better to have it all one color rather than a patch here and there.
Chair Avila opened the workshop for public comment at 7:40 p.m.
Warren Urnberg, 1331 Eighth Street, believes there was a downtown development document that had the colors of the buildings in earth tones and he remembers the canopies to be something like blue or red. He remembers talking to the NAPA store owner about painting the building their national color. He asked that the Council and Planning Commission remember that some new businesses coming in are chain stores that have their national colors, so they should accommodate them. He thinks it is a good idea to inform people what colors are permitted when they go to City Hall for their business license.
Mr. Urnberg asked if the Council and Planning Commission have thought about what they are going to do when the buildings at Winton Parkway and Hammatt area are developed.
Colette Alvernaz, P.O. Box 255, Livingston, said she likes the idea of earth tones, but she thinks the City should be respectful to the homeowners. Choosing the color of their own home may be very important to them. She asked that the Planning Commission and City Council not show partiality between small and large businesses. She added that Livingston has various cultures and she thinks some of the colors people are using have to do with their culture; to some people that red color may be a form of art and that should also be taken into consideration.
Katherine Schell Rodriguez, P.O. Box 163, Livingston, agrees with Ms. Alvernaz’s comment about culture. She has seen that same red color or variations of it popping up in several places across Merced County. She suggested that once the Planning Commission and City Council settle on the color scheme and the plan they want, they contact the graphic artist teacher through the Merced County Office of Education (MCOE) and arrange to have their graphic arts students work on something such as a brochure or magazine so that when the business owner goes to City Hall to apply for his/her business license, he/she can see pictures and examples of colors, trees, etc. that the City would prefer. The City gets something that they can use to show to future business owners and the artists get something that they can include in their portfolio to show to potential employers.
Frank Borges, representing Mike Gallo, stated that in the Winton Parkway area, Mr. Gallo has a set of C, C and Rs that regulate color, signage, street trees, and landscaping. They have national chains out there and they have their national colors, but they all have complied with the C, C and Rs. That is a good example of how C, C and Rs on a major commercial development can occur.
Chair Avila is in favor of changing the word, “discouraged” to “prohibited.” Also he thinks that people should be informed of the color requirements when they apply for a business license.
Vice-Chair Benafield would like staff to reword the paragraphs that they are concerned with. Staff should change the word “discouraged” to something in between “discouraged” and “prohibited,” and add the earth tone color scheme in the wording, and then bring it back to the Planning Commission for review before they send it to the City Council for approval.
DISCUSSION ON CITY LANDSCAPING REQUIREMENTS.
Director Kenney explained that when a project is approved by the City Council, usually there is a condition of approval that the applicant must submit three sets of landscape plans to staff for review and approval before they install the landscaping. The issue of landscaping came before the Planning Commission because several applicants had installed the landscaping without submitting the plans and receiving approval. When staff requires them to remove trees or large
areas of sod, they refuse to do it because they say it is something they already paid money for. 7
Director Kenney reviewed the Water Efficient Landscaping and Irrigation Code. As landscaping plans do come across her desk, the irrigation sections, especially, are quite complicated. There are a lot of new timers and new scheduling and fittings and things of that nature that have come up that staff is not familiar with. Therefore, staff would like direction from the Planning Commission and City Council on how to handle this type of situation.
Director Kenney thinks sending out the plans for review by a landscape architect is an option for Livingston. That is what some other cities are doing, such as the City of Galt. The applicant
submits the three sets of landscaping and irrigation plans and staff sends them out to a landscape architect for review and approval. The landscape architect reviews the codes, the plant list, and the street tree list. He/she looks at the site plan and the irrigation plan, and modifies the plans so they fit the City’s needs.
Director Kenney stated that the issue that precipitated this discussion is that some industrial properties installed their landscaping without landscape approval, including the requirement to construct a fence and to add the slats and vines. There has been some concern on the part of the applicant that covering up the fence with vines would make the property less safe because the police coming by would not be able to see through the vines. There have been some questions by the developers about what is good landscaping in the industrial areas, so staff is hoping that the Planning Commission and City Council can come up with a good plan to solve this problem. Staff is requesting direction to amend the Code or leaving it as is.
Vice-Chair Benafield thinks this is something they do need guidance on, but doesn’t really know what to recommend.
Chair Avila said he read LMC Section 9-11-8, and sees that the landscaping and irrigation plans used to be approved by the Public Works Director and the Parks Director and how it has now reverted to the Community Development Director. He added that it is getting a lot harder to be able to conserve water, so he agrees that using drought resistant plants is important.
Council Member Soria thinks that it would have been a lot nicer if they had put up a block wall. As for using a contract landscape architect to check the landscaping plans, that is fine with him. Council Member Vierra commented on the requirement of slats on applicant’s fence. If the applicant already agreed to that when his project was approved, how can he question it now? He needs to follow through. Council already lessened what he wanted to accommodate him and now he wants less than that.
Council Member Vierra added that this area along the freeway is going to have a lot more light industrial and that is what people are going to see as they are going down Highway 99. He has been watching new development in other cities. They are aesthetically appealing because they are having these companies build nice fences and such. If we are having a wrecking yard, for example, right along the freeway with fences with slats and then slats break, people are going to see wrecked cars from the freeway. The Planning Commission and City Council need to keep in mind how they are presenting themselves to the people along the freeway because that is where 8 the entire City’s commercial and light industrial is going to be.
Council Member Vierra questioned staff about the tires stacked up outside one of the industrial buildings. That is definitely not what he wants to see.
Director Kenney responded she is aware of the situation and she has talked to the business owner a couple of times. She added that she is going to do more code enforcement on that issue.
Director Kenney said she recalls a discussion on the block wall and there was an issue with placing the cost as a burden on some of the smaller businesses and how that could discourage them. She added that she is currently going through an issue with Travel Centers of America. They have not completed their landscaping requirements and put in all the street trees that staff requested. They do have a temporary occupancy certificate in order to begin business and generate sales tax, but staff has not signed off on the project. The same course of action has been followed with the industrial project. They do have temporary occupancy in order for them to start generating some rent so they can finish their project, but at this point, the landscaping is not the way they agreed to at the Council meeting and in their conditions of approval; therefore, staff has not signed off on the final.
Vice-Chair Benafield asked staff what recourse the City has if they don’t comply. Do their businesses get shut down?
Director Kenney responded they have a temporary occupancy permit, so staff doesn’t shut the business down, but staff will not issue a final on the building.
Mayor Pro-Tem. Ingram stated that both the Planning Commission and City Council have to work with staff to determine if they want a wall that separates the buildings from the freeway. They also need to build in a clause in the approval requirements that clearly states that if no landscaping requirements are met, no further permits will be issued for occupancy on their buildings.
Mayor Pro-Tem. Ingram questioned who would pay for the consultants to check the landscaping plans. It seems to him that too much is being referred out to consultants. He thinks the City has capable staff that can handle this.
Director Kenney explained how this is handled in the City of Galt. The applicant submits an application, three sets of landscaping plans, and a $2,000 deposit. That money and the plans go to the landscape architect, he works off of that deposit, then when the plans are complete and approved, they come back to the city with the remainder of the deposit to the applicant, so the city puts out no money.
City staff does not issue a building permit until the landscape plans are approved. Another way that issue would be solved is by calculating a bond for the landscaping improvements when they are calculating the bond for engineering improvements, so that if they have someone do
something that does not go with what they agreed to, they always have the potential of calling them on it.
City Manager Warne stated that he does not necessarily think the City needs a landscape architect, and that what has been happening is that the Community Development Director is getting a lot of pressure from applicants questioning what she knows about landscaping. In regards to masonry walls vs. fences,
City Manager Warne thinks that properties with fences over time will look like trash because typically an industrial use involves tires, lumber and junk, and if they only have a cyclone fence with the slats, that whole area eventually goes downhill and it is even harder to attract good businesses because no one wants to locate next to a place that is a piece of garbage. His recommendation would be to put up masonry walls.
City Manager Warne thinks that the installation of a masonry wall would resolve that problem. They can then store the stuff outside because it could not be seen from the outside, and then you don’t have to worry about going after that business to get them to comply.
Director Kenney said trying to decide what trees are approved on the list is the easy part, but the difficult part comes when developers start asking other technical landscaping questions that staff cannot answer accurately.
Mayor Pro-Tem. Ingram and Council Member Vierra think the approved bush and tree lists should help answer those questions.
Vice-Chair Benafield thinks staff should put the burden back on the applicant and have them figure out what they need.
Director Kenney said that you can get a landscape architect to do that for the developer, but then staff needs to review it and that may take six or seven hours.
Council Member Vierra thinks that if the applicant installs the landscaping without Planning staff approval, then they should be required to dig it up if it was done incorrectly.
Mayor Samra thinks the City should push for more drought resistant landscaping for water conservation. Additionally, he thinks the City should have maintenance requirements in place that all property owners need to adhere to.
Mayor Samra said he is a strong believer in the City’s Planning Commission. He thinks the decisions need to originate from them. He feels that the Council and Planning Commission need to have ongoing communication.
Council Member Soria would still like to encourage the masonry wall in the industrial area. He thinks that whatever industrial is left in the City should have masonry walls.
Chair Avila opened the item for public comment at 8:22 p.m.
Katherine Schell Rodriguez thinks a landscape architecture design computer software program would help. Staff should coordinate with Merced College or other colleges in the area to help out with resources – maybe they have students that are looking for internships. They could take some of the burden off of staff in looking at these plans and coming up with ideas.
Colette Alvernaz wrote a letter addressing water conservation. (A copy of the letter was provided to Ms. Arredondo.)
She said Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a statewide drought. Farmers’ water has been cut by 40%. Farmers’ trees and crops are hurting for water. The economic loss is great. We all need to work together to conserve water. The farmers in the Central Valley are doing their part with micro-sprinklers, drip irrigation and other water conservation techniques. It is essential that the City requires drought resistant plants or artificial grass. It should not allow business owners to install ornamental landscaping that takes extra water.
Ms. Alvernaz thinks using college interns is a good idea. She added that the people at the nurseries can also provide lots of information about the plants.
Chair Avila closed the comment period at 8:30 p.m.
Mayor Pro-Tem. Ingram agrees that it is a good idea to consider using college resources. It will help staff and cost a lot less.
Commissioner Benafield thinks the City should state in their Development Agreements that any new businesses should go into a drip system and not sprinklers to save water.
Chair Avila asked for a conclusion on this item.
Vice-Chair Benafield thinks they should go back and study the Water Efficient Landscaping and Irrigation ordinance and think of ways to improve it to enhance staff’s ability to enforce compliance. They can also try to come up with a way to incorporate the list of ideas that City Manager Warne brought up so that they can help resolve this situation.
Chair Avila stated that along with Vice-Chair Benafield’s suggestions, they also need to think of ways to avoid some problems in the industrial area – maybe they should consider pushing for the masonry wall. He requested that they all work together to get things accomplished.
DISCUSSION OF CITY COUNCIL AND PLANNING COMMISSION GOALS AND
Chair Avila gave Commission Alvear’s input regarding goals and priorities. Ms. Alvear had worked on a list of priority items, but Council and Planning Commission never met again to discuss them. She realizes that money is an issue, but she thinks they should work together to finish what they started.
Vice-Chair Benafield recalls a joint Planning Commission and City Council meeting was held in August 2007 to discuss goals and priorities. The Planning Commission was asked to put together a list of goals and priorities for the downtown area and other areas of the City. It was then said that a follow-up meeting would be scheduled to discuss the priority lists. However, after that meeting, there has been no further discussion on this issue. This is why this item is on the agenda tonight. The Planning Commission listed all their ideas and nothing has materialized. She thinks they need to get their focus back together and do something that would be productive.
Mayor Samra commented that even when they did not meet again, some of the projects discussed have been accomplished, such as the installation of sidewalks and street improvements.
City Manager Warne stated that staff hasn’t been idle on many of the goals the Planning Commission and City Council wanted to accomplish. He gave an update on City projects completed.
• Installation of sidewalks for pedestrian safety.
The City, over the last two years, has installed $1.5 million worth of new sidewalks primarily in the downtown area.
• The Court Theater project.
All the architectural drawings have been completed. Since the last meeting, the City received an additional grant of $350,000 bringing the amount of grants the City has obtained to $1,350,000.
• Street paving.
The City will spend approximately $900,000 to $1,000,000 from street funds from gasoline taxes as well $400,000 the City received from the Proposition 1B bond. The project is out to bid right now. Staff will probably open bids sometime in July and the project will be completed sometime in August.
• Installation of water lines.
Over 18,500 ft. of water line has been installed, primarily in the older parts of town to address the water quality issues.
The City has completed Memorial Park and bought the retention pond located next to Little Guys/Gals Park and that retention basin has been filled. In addition, Council has already awarded the bid for the Peach Avenue basin where grass and a sprinkler system is going to be installed.
• Water Meter Installation.
The City has been aggressively installing meters for water conservation. Only 3% of City businesses are not metered. Staff hopes to have every house and every business metered by the end of Fiscal Year 2009.
• Alley paving.
Some alleys were paved to improve their appearance and keep the dust down.
City Manager Warne stated the one thing that was not done that had been discussed is moving forward with the hiring of a consultant to help staff with the downtown plan, and that is because building has basically come to a complete halt in the City and staff has been forced to cut back.
Vice-Chair Benafield thinks the problem is miscommunication. She asked that staff provide them with a quarterly report stating what has been done so that they know what is happening.
City Manager Warne said planning staff could give them a report update. In addition, he would be happy to attend some of the Planning Commission meetings to give them an update on City projects.
Mayor Samra mentioned a 43-page project list that City Manager Warne provides Council that lists all City projects. As projects get completed, they get crossed off the list. He suggested that maybe the Planning Commission could start getting a copy of this list.
Council Member Vierra feels their number one priority right now should be the completion of the General Plan because if the General Plan is not completed, there is going to be no more commercial or industrial property left in the City.
Mayor Pro-Tem. Ingram also thinks the completion of the City’s General Plan is the number one priority. He thinks the City has lost a lot of businesses to Atwater because the General Plan Consultants (PMC) have been dragging this on as far as they can.
Mayor Pro-Tem. Ingram feels they should hold more joint Planning Commission and City Council meetings. He also thinks that a project list would really benefit the Planning Commission so they can see where the City is going.
Commissioner Blevins mentioned that ever since he has been on the Planning Commission, they have talked about the importance of redoing the entrance on Hammatt Avenue. He thinks that needs to be a priority. He would also like to see the recreation building at the Sports Complex move forward because the kids really need that space.
Vice-Chair Benafield would like to have some discussion and plans set for attracting more need to think about continuing Winton Parkway.
City Manager Warne said it is apparent that continuing Winton Parkway through is a priority and added that staff is working with a developer on that issue.
City Manager Warne added that the General Plan is basically done. It is in legal review now and will soon go out for the 45-day comment period. He added that the day it gets printed, the Council and the Planning Commission will get their copy.
Vice-Chair Benafield thinks that if they have a quarterly review, they can work through these issues and will gain a lot of progress. Some of these items will become reality and they will have newer items to add to their list.
Chair Avila opened the item to the public for comment at 9:00 p.m.
Colette Alvernaz said she thinks the General Plan will be bad for the City of Livingston. She read a letter stating her concerns. (A copy was provided to Ms. Arredondo).
Ms. Alvernaz feels that due to the high foreclosure of homes in Merced County and the water crisis in the San Joaquin Valley, the City of Livingston needs to scale back on its proposed General Plan. She thinks that expanding the City of Livingston boundaries would be a poor fiscal decision. She also thinks that the City should take care of its community by using smart growth practices such as infill development. She added when the City of Livingston went before LAFCO, LAFCO told the City to hold more meetings with the public, but the City has failed to do so.
Katherine Schell Rodriguez thinks the City needs to communicate better and get its priorities straight, spending only on the priorities and saving wherever possible. It also needs to decide whether to code enforce or not to code enforce. It needs to determine what growth is realistic.
Plans based on the prior building boom need to be revised to meet the current realities. Future plans should consider basic rights of citizens making sure not to trample on private property rights. It should be using improved communications technology to improve effectiveness of government instead of increasing the amount of office space; it should be exploring alternative energy sources such as solar for government facilities instead of increasing the square footage to the unit; it needs to start thinking about using creative staffing solutions such as flex time, split shifts, and video conferencing; it needs to stop spending hours and hours on small issues such as fencing and free up more time to deal with the larger issues.
Public comment closed at 9:04 p.m.
Chair Avila said his goal for the last eight years has been to see the Hammatt entrance improved. He added that he feels that communication and community involvement is very important. He would like more joint meetings so that the Planning Commission and City Council can tackle some of these issues together. He feels their job is very important and they are trying their best to make good decisions. He would like to get a list of projects that are coming to the City and see them before hand to know what is going to the Planning Commission and be better prepared. He added that it is difficult for them to go through agenda packages in 2-3 days.
City attorney Donnelly reminded Chair Avila that projects cannot come to them before the meeting because that is a Brown Act violation.
Mayor Samra said what he thinks the Chair is asking for is a list of what is being proposed to be made aware of the projects that are coming down the road and what stages they are in.
Vice-Chair Benafield said the Planning Commission gets questions from residents and they would like to be better prepared to answer those questions.
Council Member Soria commented that the City is moving forward on a lot of projects that seem like they are on hold. He asked City Manager Warne to elaborate on the status of the Hammatt Interchange and the Winton Parkway Interchange.
City Manager Warne explained the steps that must be taken before interchanges can be
1. Design Study Report
Caltrans looks at the broad project and the City and Merced County put up some money
(This has been completed.)
2. Environmental Document
Staff worked out an agreement to put up $543,000 and the State is going to put up $2.5 million. The cost of the environmental document for both interchanges and the widening of SR 99 from Stanislaus County all the way through the Hammatt Interchange and to the(1 5) end of the City limits is $3 million, so the City’s share which is $543,000 that will come out of development impact fees. Staff is in the process of finalizing the agreement.
3. Engineering, right of way acquisition, bidding, and construction. All this comes after the environmental document. If all the plans line up and everything falls into place, the interchanges will be improved in 2012. The total cost will be $45 million.
Mayor Samra brought up discussion on the Hammatt landscaping.
City Manager Warne said one of the positive things that has happened as a result of Council’s efforts working with Caltrans is that the landscaping has dramatically been improved between Winton Parkway and Hammatt Avenue. It is probably the nicest landscape area in Merced County. They have done a lot of work out there. He agrees that City entrances are very important and feels that they need to come up with something that everyone agrees on for both interchanges, as well as the main roads that come into the City.
Vice-Chair Benafield mentioned that some of the questions that are being asked in reference to Hammatt do not relate to Caltrans. They are referring to the areas in the City limits when you come off of the freeway to “F” Street. Those are the areas that the Planning Commission has been looking at for many years that they feel they need to do something with.
Vice-Chair Benafield said the Planning Commission wants to be informed of what is going on so that they don’t waste time asking the same questions.
Council Member Soria asked City Manager Warne to update them on the status of Blueberry Crossing and other commercial projects.
City Manager Warne explained that there are three shopping centers in progress:
• The Livingston Commons (Council approved Site Plan/Design Review December 2006) The developers have submitted a building shell for the anchor and some of the offsite improvements. The developers are also in litigation with the big box, so staff is hoping that the project moves forward and that they get their building permit soon. He added that the City had received a check for the special assessment districts, but when it was deposited, they discovered that there was a stop payment on it.
• The Blueberry Crossing
There is a big box involved in this project, and the developer and the big box are in nnegotiations about who is going to take charge of actually developing the parcel. That should be resolved in approximately 30 days.
• The “B” Street Commercial (between “B” Street and “F” Street) Staff has had numerous meetings with the developer, the owner, and the past developer. Hopefully that is finally going forward.
City Manager Warne added that one thing that is going forward and that appears to be very positive is the 83-room Fairfield Inn which will be located right next to McDonalds, and across from Travel Centers of America. The developers have already entered into an agreement with Gallo for the purchase of the property and they have completed the agreement with Marriott.
Mayor Samra proposed that he and Chair Avila and maybe another member of the Planning Commission meet on a regular basis, maybe once a month or once a quarter – whatever they feel is appropriate.
Council Member Soria thinks that giving a copy of the project list to the Planning Commission would bring them up to speed.
Vice-Chair Ingram presented his goals and priorities:
1. Completion of the General Plan.
2. Better Communication.
• Work better with the City Manager and City staff.
• Hold quarterly meetings between the entire bodies so that everyone is aware of what is going on.
• Hold biannual meetings with the public, so that people in the community can raise their concerns and make comments. He feels it is important to communicate with the public.
Vice-Chair Benafield asked that staff put on the next Planning Commission agenda a discussion about Conditional Use Permits for used car lots. There is a lot of vehicle maintenance being done at used car lots and other things that are not permitted and she thinks the Planning Commission needs to start reviewing their conditions of approval and questioning what is not permitted.
Colette Alvernaz wrote a letter regarding property owner notification of City projects coming before the Planning Commission and City Council. (A copy of the letter was given to Ms.
She stated that over the last two years, she has watched several members of the public come to the podium angry with the City of Livingston because they found out about development projects that affect their property after the project had been approved or when the project was in the very last stage of being approved.
The City notifies property owners’ right before a development project is voted on and property owners are only allowed three minutes during the Public Hearing to convince the Planning Commission and/or the City Council to vote against the project.
When the members of the public have complained about not being informed earlier, they have been chastised for not being more involved at City of Livingston meetings. This has made for hostile feelings between the City of Livingston and its property owners.
Ms. Alvernaz feels that it would really improve the City-resident relationship if property owners were notified as soon as the City is contemplating plans that impact their land.
Katherine Schell Rodriguez said she wanted to publicly thank Vickie Lewis for taking over 40 minutes of her time on this date, at the last minute, on a meeting night and during budget preparation time, to meet with her and answer all her questions.
Ms. Schell Rodriguez also wanted to say that she noticed someone from Public Works picking up some branches that had fallen from a tree during the wind storm. These branches could have been a hazard and it was nice to see that someone was there taking care of the situation. It was
noticed and appreciated.
Jean Okuye, 10029 W. Olive Avenue, Livingston, noted that she heard positive things talked about at tonight’s meeting and added that she is glad everyone is talking about communication. She thinks it is a great idea to have the public and the City and County get together.
Ms. Okuye commented that she had attended the Board of Supervisors meeting and they talked about the Hilmar plan and decided that they wanted to have a small community. She added that they are going to ask the people to get involved in the planning process.
Ms. Okuye also commented that MCAG is holding a meeting on June 10, 2008, at 12:00 noon, where they will be discussing the abandoned vehicle abatement program. This topic is something the Livingston Citizens’ Advisory Committee is working on (she is a CAC member).
Some members of the CAC talked to somebody in Turlock who does their abatement and he said there is money available for that, so maybe the City of Livingston can find out how to get some of that money.
Ms. Okuye also mentioned that the M.A.G.P.I. meeting is Monday, June 16, 2008.
Council Member Soria brought up a discussion about the Sun Valley Packaging expanding their operation beyond what was permitted. Staff has not been able to find any documentation regulating the operation of this facility.
Chair Avila thanked the public and the City Council and staff for joining the Planning Commission at this meeting.
Vice-Chair Benafield feels that they have communicated a little better this evening. She thinks they are now on the same page with the City Council. She said that some of their questions came up because they did not know what was going on. She added they really don’t want to work against Council or staff; they just want to do what is best and what can expedite things. She thanked everybody for attending this meeting and she hopes they continue to meet at least once a quarter to discuss issues of concern.
Council Members Ingram feels this meeting was beneficial to all.
City Manager Warne said staff takes their jobs pretty seriously. A number of people have suggested that maybe communication has not been as good, but staff does their best to communicate. He keeps a project list which he shares with the Council as to what is going on, and Community Development Director Kenney updates the Planning Commission on all the projects that are coming up. Community Development Director Kenney said she is always available for questions. She added that bringing a project to the Planning Commission meeting is a really lengthy process and as soon as an application comes in, staff does encourage the applicants to talk to the neighbors and tell them there is a project coming and solicit their opinions to try to keep those lines of communication open. Not all applicants do contact their neighbors, but staff follows all the state requirements as far as public notification. She feels that staff goes beyond spending time with the people and does strive to do better and will strive to do even better.
City Manager Warne said that a lot of times a citizen that has a concern does not talk to staff, but just shows up at a public meeting (which they have the right to do), and attack staff and they do not even know what the issue is. He thanked Ms. Schell Rodriguez for going to City Hall and talking with staff. He would encourage people to do the same. He added that staff is not perfect and they don’t think they are perfect. There is a lot of room for all to improve. A lot of times things are said that are obviously not true and staff just quietly sits there.
City Manager Warne stated that he thinks this meeting was a good meeting and staff will continue to come and talk to the Planning Commission and the City Council about the projects that the City has.
Council Member Soria asked for the status on the Horisons project.
Planning staff said they have put together their offsite improvement plans and submitted them to the City Engineer. Unfortunately, they provided an incomplete application – they did not submit any plan check fees, so staff has issued them an invoice to collect those fees. The improvement have been reviewed by the City Engineer and he has a comment letter for them. Their building and landscape plans are complete. They will be submitting a building permit application hopefully within the next two or three months, when they have all the details worked out with the underground parking and other issues they need to deal with.
Council Member Soria said he wants the citizens to know that it is not the City Council or staff that is holding them up.
The joint special meeting was adjourned by consensus at 9:45 p.m.
APPROVED: July 8, 2008
Chair, RAMON AVILA Secretary of the Planning Commission,
DONNA M. KENNEY