Mountain Views News, Combined Edition Saturday, July 16, 2022

MVNews this week:  Page 3

3 Mountain Views-News Saturday, July 16, 2022 CONVERSATIONS.......THE MEADOWS 3 Mountain Views-News Saturday, July 16, 2022 CONVERSATIONS.......THE MEADOWS 
Preserve Sierra Madre has always 
sought out the truth and tried to 
provide all of us with the facts to 
base our decisions on. 

The following charts and information 
is from the City Council 
meeting last Tuesday the 12th. 
The first chart shows the development 
potential for the Meadows project, starting with the 42 homes all the way 
up to the maximum based on the initiative by the Stop the Housing Project 
group. Council was unanimous in their decision to go with the track of 42 
homes. That decision is curious when you look at the potential with ADUs/
JADUs based on SB9 and SB10 which was used across the chart based on maximum 
gross floor area. 

The following chart is a comparison of money to the city based on what project 
is approved. 

Regarding the Initiative Opponent’s 4 Legal Arguments below, Aleks Girago-
sian, our City Attorney stated in his staff report to the Council that with item 
#1, potential legal exposure is possible but that Items #2, #3 and #4 are signifi-
cantly less. 

Aleks Giragosian our City Attorney with the law firm of Colantuono, High-
smith & Whatley, PC (CHW) stated that since his statement on 92-12 he has 
soften his tone with the claim that reconstruction of the Monastery would not 
be permitted and now states with the benefit of what he now knows that state-
ment is not true. 

Preserve Sierra Madre looks back at the past council reducing the Planning 
Commission to 5 members, not informing us of SB9 & SB10, expressing con-
cerns of law suits and not responding to the community with questions like the 
EIR, etc. etc. has caused a lot of conflicts in the community and caused orga-
nizations to form like the Stop the Housing Project group, Neighbors for Fair-
ness and Citizens for Truth. The tension is high and people try to get involved. 
With incorrect information coming from the city attorneys office and council 
failing to inform on SB9 & SB10 its understandable people are concerned. 

Mountain Views News 80 W Sierra Madre Blvd. No. 327 Sierra Madre, Ca. 91024 Office: 626.355.2737 Fax: 626.609.3285Email: Website: 


The city attorney’s scathing 32 page report came out 
last week which identifies the impacts of the ballot 
initiative to rezone the Passionists' property to the 
Hillside Residential zone. It’s hard to believe but it is 
worse than even we imagined. 

Our concern from day one has been that the rights 
of the Passionists will be violated due to overly restrictive 
spot-zoning. The report states that “The 
Initiative targets the Mater Dolorosa Property specifically.” 
This is not a general rule applied to all institutional 
properties, they are only going after the 
Monastery property. Yes, they are doing it in the 
name of “protecting the hillsides,” but as we will see 
they are also failing to do that, too. 

The report continues, “The Initiative severely constrains 
the Passionists' alternatives to develop their 
property for religious purposes.” This puts the city 
at huge financial risk and the taxpayers will be liable 
for any lawsuits the city loses. Depending on what 
the attorney fees are and damages the Passionists 
might get, it could be devastating to the city services 
we love. The first to go will be things like Community 
Services and the Library because the city is 
not mandated to operate those like Police and Fire. 
Imagine spending the $10 million grant the city just 
got to upgrade the library only to not have the funds 
to operate it. 

More from the report: “However, the Initiative's 
conversion of the religious uses at the Mater Dolorosa 
Property to non-conforming uses may substantially 
burden the religious exercise of the Passionists. 
As explained above, the Initiative converts 
the Retreat Center and the Stations of the Cross into 
non-conforming uses that cannot be altered or enlarged. 
Further, the Mater Dolorosa Property's nonconforming 
status would prevent the Passionists 
from establishing new religious uses, such as the reconstruction 
of the monastery or the construction 
of a chapel or shrine.” There is some question as to 

how this would play out in any given circumstance. 
The city can’t say definitively at this point because 
permits have to be subjectively interpreted by city 
staff due to ambiguities in the ordinances. 

What isn’t ambiguous is that the intent of the initiative 
is to prohibit all expansion of the Passionists' 
buildings and Stations of the Cross. It also makes it 
clear that the city leaders have no power to circumvent 
the intent of the initiative. 

While Sierra Madre Neighbors for Fairness is not 
for or against the Meadows project, we don’t want 
to see an initiative that will compel the Passionists 
to leave the city. The initiative rezones the entire 
property to a residential zone, not just the southern 
portion they want to develop for homes. In addition 
to infringing on the rights of the Passionists, the report 
states that “The Initiative Likely Increases the 
Residential Development Potential.” In other words, 
the initiative makes the property more valuable if it 
is all developed. This, along with making it harder 
to alter, expand, or change the use, would incentivize 
the Passionists to sell it all to be developed with 
homes. Big homes! 

This is where we get to the worse part. Under SB9 
the city attorney determined that sixty-eight (yes, 
68!) 6,500 sq. ft. homes could be built on the property. 
Sure, they will be on 34 bigger lots, but to get 
the two units on a lot they need to be configured 
as a duplex, so you would have two 6,500 sq. ft. 
buildings placed together as a single 13,000 sq. ft. 
structure. We definitely are opposed to that sort of 
development in Sierra Madre. The city also has very 
little discretion over what is built under SB9. Plus 
we lose the park, the net-zero water offsets, and the 
hillsides in conservancy. The Initiative is literally a 
disaster waiting to happen. 



It was just five months ago when I wrote my editorial, “NIMBYs Seek to Vote Away Religious Rights.” 
Many people were upset with the title, but it is just as fitting today as ever. The initiative, created by three 
neighbors of the Monastery, have taken drastic measures to try and stop the Meadows project that only 
ends up making everything worse. 

The legal opinion from the city’s report on the initiative is that it will likely violate the rights of the Passionists 
and possibly lead to even more development. It does this through overly restrictive downzoning 
of the Retreat Center while also increasing the development potential for homes. The downzoning will 
make all future expansion, and possibly any alterations, substantially burdensome. This is a clear violation 
of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and makes the city vulnerable to a big 
lawsuit with no power to administratively rectify the problem. 

The response I keep seeing is that the development of homes is not a protected religious right. No one 
ever said it was. How many times does this have to be repeated? There is a difference between the Passionists 
doing religious development where the Retreat Center is and their selling off the southern part of 
the property to develop homes? I’ve never seen anyone say the Meadows project is protected as a religious 
right. The issue is that the initiative rezones the Retreat Center and Stations of the Cross and makes them 
nonconforming uses violating the Passionists’ religious rights. 

By the way, in my original editorial I mentioned the $50,000 cost of putting an initiative on the ballot. 
That estimate came from an earlier conversation I had with the City Manager. He said he didn’t have the 
exact numbers but that it was probably a safe guess and that the city budgeted about $125,000 for the election. 
For comparison, the simpler measure ALF initiative (The Kensington) cost over $30,000. 

This whole initiative fiasco couldn’t have been much more poorly designed by trying to turn the entire 
property into a residential zone in an attempt to stop residential development. Almost everything it is 
trying to prevent becomes worse, despite the proponents’ misinformation asserting otherwise. 

The “Meadow” (or “last remaining open parcel of land in Sierra Madre”) will not be saved. Wildlife 
will still be displaced. The quiet solitude will be gone. All of this because homes are going to be built 
either way. What the proponents call a “natural firebreak” is actually a fire hazard that is lessened by the 
Meadows project. There is no telling how many trees will be removed, but it appears that Sunnyside Ave 
would still be realigned and that is about half the trees right there. The city’s ordinances do not prevent 
the removal of protected oak trees, it only requires that if removed they be replaced with even more trees. 

All the benefits that come from the Meadows project will also be lost. The three acre park that benefits 
the entire city… GONE! The 45 acres of hillside placed in conservancy… GONE! The net-zero water 
offsets… GONE! Yes, those same net-zero water offsets that the proponents keep saying are not real, but 
where the developer is putting up over $900,000 to guarantee. What are the proponents doing to save 
water if the initiative passes? Nothing! Who is going to offset the water usage of the 32 (or 68 if the entire 
property is sold) – SIX-THOUSAND, FIVE-HUNDRED(!) square foot houses that could be built on the 
property? No one! Tell me how the initiative is benefiting the city, again?? 

I’ve been fighting this initiative from day one because I saw that it would be horrible for the city. In February 
I didn’t know it would be this bad. It is bad… bad enough that our city council will be issuing a formal 
resolution opposing the initiative. The battle has only just begun. There are a little over three months 
until the election. Help spread the word to defeat this ridiculous rezoning that is bad for Sierra Madre. 
We have to preserve and protect Sierra Madre from bad development when no one else will. 

Robert Gjerde