Riggy on a Rampage
In the immortal words of those one-hit-wonders, the Baha Men, "Who let the dogs out?! woof woof, woof woof"
Planning Commissioner James Righeimer - the carpetbagger who holds his seat because his buddy, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, boosted our young jailer/mayor's campaign last year - showed us the real "Riggy" at the Planning Commission meeting on Monday, April 23rd. He slipped his leash and went straight for the throat of an applicant who was attempting to get approval for a condominium conversion project in our city.
Righeimer, in what fellow commissioner Eleanor Egan would later refer to as a "cross-examination", read developer Barry Saywitz the riot act with a level of aggressive rudeness not seen in this city in recent memory. Watching "Riggy" in action, it's clear that he's been watching too many "Law and Order" re-runs, and that patience is not his long suite.
From Righeimer's very first question, "Mr. Saywitz, what does "intention" mean to you?", you knew Saywitz was in trouble. That was the start of an interrogation that questioned Saywitz about his "intentions" for this project and his veracity. Righeimer questioned his management skills and strongly suggested Saywitz fire his property manager at the location in question. He nit-picked the project to pieces like a man looking for a golden needle in a haystack - chaff was flying everywhere!
At the end of the discussion, after Righeimer flexed his muscles and berated Mr. Saywitz mercilessly for the best part of an hour, the Planning Commission approved the project, but only after they "conditioned" it to reduce 3 units from the proposed 12 unit project. It sure seemed to a few of us watching the proceedings that Old Riggy seemed determined to be sure Mr. Saywitz was going to have a hard time making a profit on the project. I found myself wondering if Righeimer might have a ax to grind with Mr. Saywitz beyond this project. It's difficult to explain his conduct otherwise.
Later in the evening the commission declined another condo conversion project outright, despite the fact that the developer was already underway with significant improvements. Unless the applicant appeals to the City Council and the denial is overturned, this project will remain apartments.
I've got strong mixed emotions about what I watched last night. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to upgrade our requirements for the conversion of apartments to condos as we try to encourage greater home ownership in this town. However, as Commissioner Egan so eloquently put it last night, if we think people are going to buy high end homes in that neighborhood (referring to the Saywitz project), we'd better think again. Developers are pretty savvy guys. They're not going to spend a pile of money on a product that won't sell.
Of greater concern for me is the attitude of Commissioner Righeimer. To approach this developer, or any developer, with virtual brass knuckles and berate and belittle him from the dais is well beyond the normal bounds of civility I expect from those on our commissions. Mr. Saywitz had, as far as we know, given Mr. Righeimer no reason for such belligerent behavior. After the dust settled, almost every issue Righeimer rattled on and on about had already been addressed by Saywitz and/or were included in previously agreed-to conditions. Righeimer's pontificating about his 28 or 29 years (he used both numbers) as an owner/developer/manager of "hundreds of units" as he flailed Saywitz looked at the time - and even more so with the passage of a few more hours and a review of the tape - like political posturing. Hmmm, isn't that interesting? A political pay back appointee posturing like a potential candidate for "something". We already know he was a candidate for the state Assembly - the seat Van Tran holds. It looks to me, as I've said in the past, that Old Riggy was given a high visibility perch from which to squawk as the clock ticks until the next round of elections.
Sandwiched between the deliberations of the two condo conversions was a request by a resident, Mr. Hernandez, to build a large home on the Westside. Many of the neighbors stood and complained about the size of the proposed building, fearing that it would be out of scale with the community. During the discussion, rookie commissioner Sam Clark speculated about the future use of this home ten years downstream "when all the kids are gone". He speculated that it might become a "group home for (pause) 20 college students or God-knows-what, I can't predict the future." He made a motion to reverse the planning staff's approval based on the fact that it's not compatible nor harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood. Even though the plans met all city requirements and was recommended for approval by the staff, Egan seconded his motion and expanded the findings which seemed to have a vague inference that she was afraid of it becoming a 5,000 square foot flop house for illegal aliens. Riggy chimed in, trying to establish new guidelines without agendizing the question first. He was on a roll, for sure.
As we know, the City Council passed an urgency ordinance this month to put a moratorium on all condo conversions in the city until tighter standards are established. This is in the wake of their "ready-shoot-aim" approach to the redevelopment of the Westside, where, because of the lack of vision on the part of the council majority, the floodgates of development were opened without proper consideration being given to the result. Now they've forced all the developers to mark time while they try to figure out exactly what they want. This lack of foresight is typical of small people in big jobs.