Community Voices

Guest Opinion: City owes more than lip service to neighborhood groups

Bearpaw Village
A 42-unit development near Sylvan Corners was approved by the Citrus Heights Planning Commission on Jan. 24 and re-affirmed by the city council on April 12, 2018.

Editor’s Note: On April 12, the Citrus Heights City Council voted 4-0 to deny a neighborhood association’s appeal against a 42-unit townhouse project near Sylvan Corners that was approved by the planning commission in January. While denying the appeal, the council voted to impose four additional conditions on the project, including a condition to make the project’s southern access only for pedestrians and emergency vehicles, a requirement for additional screening trees near adjacent homes, a restriction that no oak trees be planted, and a condition that the pool area be moved as far away as feasible from adjacent homes. For context, see prior story.

Guest opinion by Jayna Karpinski-Costa–
I love the term “lip service.” Describes exactly what it is. Kissing without feeling. Movement without meaning. Words without action. Take, for instance, the city’s promise to let neighborhoods have a role in planning decisions. The idea is that when someone presents a project to the city, they are encouraged to contact the affected neighborhood association listen to any concerns.

Jayna Karpinski-Costa
Jayna Karpinski-Costa

Having served as president of Sylvan Old Auburn Road Neighborhood Association (SOAR) since the city first designated the 11 neighborhoods almost 20 years ago, I can vouch that SOAR has had no influence on any projects affecting our neighborhood. In fact, the only role we have really had is in protesting the decisions made despite our formal notice of disapproval.

Sylvan Corners. The heart of our city. Fast food and a second hand store. Then a shoe-selling magnate consumes the southeast corner with his corporate office. Gone are the former shops. Just two businesses remain that will probably disappear when their leases need renewal. Magnate buys the adjacent parcel and also owns Beer Dogs, Mr. Pickles, Goodwill and other properties along Auburn Blvd.

In 2016, SOAR received some drawings for a project of 42 townhomes for the 2.7-acre lot behind Bearpaw. Jammed in. No back yard (enough room for a lawn chair and a hibachi). Rentals only. No ownership. In addition to the driveway on Old Auburn, plans show the alley next to Wonderful Chinese for ingress and egress (later changed to egress only) to exit onto Sylvan Road. Limited parking. And more. We sent in our comments in August. After that, the project architect contacted me to come to a SOAR meeting. He came unprepared to discuss the objections to the project design but talked about the need for housing their corporate “dignitaries” and their need to displace the homeless campers.

Prior story: Bearpaw owner proposes 42-unit housing project near Sylvan Corners

It was presented to the planning commission in January 2018. Despite negative public comment and over SOAR’s objections, the project was approved 5-1 exactly as recommended by city staff. Commissioner Leah Cox the only one who said the project did not belong in this spot..

What’s a neighborhood to do? Answer: File an appeal to the city council with a fee of $250.

Now we (and city council) are sent all the same documents that went to the planning commission, a small mountain of paper. A new staff report. And hours upon hours of time spent by SOAR, city staff and city council.

And what did SOAR accomplish? Answer: The council unanimously voted to keep the alley closed except for pedestrian access and emergency vehicles.

Shouldn’t that decision have been made sooner in the process? How about when the plans were first proposed? Aha, the tree survey for the project was done in 2013! So these plans were at least that old! When were they supposed to contact the neighborhood? How about when the traffic study was done in May 2015.

Why didn’t the planning commission listen? Who are these people who give lip service to the neighborhood in their discussions but ignore our input? The majority are people who lost city council elections (thank goodness). They approve staff recommendations with no real insights of their own.

It had to go to city council for direction to plant a different tree, because the planning commission did not respond to testimony by a resident that she is allergic to oak trees? Do we really need a planning commission at all? It isn’t required. Rancho Cordova does fine without one. That leaves the city council, our elected officials, to make the decisions that will affect the quality of life in this city and for future generations.

It’s unfortunate that SOAR had to go through these hoops to accomplish the obvious. And it was a small success at that. We suggested the project be redesigned. Again, deaf ears (except for comments made by Councilwoman Bruins that weren’t addressed by rest, although Councilmember Daniels appreciated our participation).

Document: See the site plan for the Bearpaw Village Townhouse project

Why not put the clubhouse more central far away from the bordering single-family homes? Eliminate or disperse the 20 horse troughs lined up near the clubhouse and humorously designated as a “community garden.” Provide for on-site guest parking (there is absolutely none there now). Instead of all being 2-bedroom, vary with some 1-bedroom for people who can’t afford the full rent, some 3-bedroom for families, maybe some 1-story units for mobility restricted. Our demographics don’t support the claimed fact our residents will pay $1700 a month for this place with limited amenities, no green space, a one car garage and no guest parking.

Sure you have the right to develop your property, but not to the detriment of the community. I guess some can look through the lens and find this project a great addition to our city. Let’s look through this lens 20 years from now.

Too bad. So sad. I’d like to say that one benefit of participating in the neighborhoods is to have a say in what happens in the hood, but that would just be lip service.

Jayna Karpinski-Costa is a former Citrus Heights councilwoman and current president of the Sunrise Old Auburn Road neighborhood association.

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