By David Armstrong

The Carmel-by-the-Sea City Council went into its May 2018 public meeting Tuesday, May 1, and emerged well past the dinner hour, bleary-eyed and famished. A marathon it may have been, but the five-person council managed to polish off a number of agenda items, set the table for possible progress on several more and – once or twice – kicked the can down the road.

The council avoided, at least temporarily, addressing restaurateur David Fink’s legal action to stop the city from requiring him to remove a trash enclosure next to Piccadilly Park downtown. The item was pulled without explanation. Council members and members of the public could only be grateful. With the Fink standoff on the agenda the meeting could have gone to eight hours long.

More prosaically but perhaps more significantly, the council awarded a contract to Anderson Pacific Engineering Construction Inc. for construction of a Fifth Avenue, Torres to Carpenter streets storm drainage improvement project. The city gave this area a D- for drainage.

The council also approved the proposed capital improvement plan (CIP) and referred it to the planning commission for review of consistency with the General Plan. Included in the CIP for fiscal year 2018-2019 are plans for paving and slurry sealing many city streets. Some $225,000 will also go to sidewalk repairs.

Significantly, the council learned that the planned renovation and expansion of the Carmel Police Department compound needs another $400,000, raising total estimated costs to $1.9 million. The police department had originally asked for $800,000 to upgrade the 1960s facility, which has experienced several recent electrical fires. It was apparently the first public discussion of another spending increase in the ever-morphing police HQ project.

Deep into the meeting, the council denied an appeal of plans to build a stolid, two-story house owned by a senior city employee next to a traditional tiny cottage. Some residents see this decision as broadly emblematic of continuing threats to the city’s small houses.

Also:

  • Three $1,000 grants were approved, one each to the Prancing Ponies Foundation, Run in the Name of Love and the Carmel Art Festival.
  • Six of seven eligible community non-profit organizations were awarded small grants for fiscal year 2018-2019. The seventh non-profit, Sustainable Carmel, which helped lead the successful campaign to ban plastic utensils and straws from CBTS restaurants, will get nothing for now.
  • Limited home mail delivery continues. Noting that the 125 people who got their mail delivered to their homes at city expense last year has grown to 141, the council discussed whether to write new rules. In the end, councilors weren’t quite sure. The matter is expected to come up again. Meanwhile, subscribers, who attest they can’t make it to the post office, each cost taxpayers $35 a month. CBTS has spent a cumulative $750,000 to underwrite the service.

Break Time

As is the case with many meetings, some of the most interesting things happened in down-time. During a 15-minute bathroom, fresh air and stretch break, the council chambers were the scene of fervid networking. Resident Jeff Baron, seen in political circles as a probable mayoral candidate, bent down to huddle with a seated, inscrutable-looking Sue McCloud, former mayor and present-day king-and-queen-maker. Up near the dais, occupying her customary seat by the door, newspaper reporter Mary Schley was chatted up at length by a steadily grinning Bobby Richards.

Back at It: The Scattini House Appeal

An emotional, 90-minute review of resident Laura Spiegelman’s attempt to get the city council to overturn the planning commission’s approval of an 1,800 square-foot, two-story house in a 4,000 square-foot vacant lot next to her cottage was the most compelling discussion of the night.

Spiegelman, who rents out a 750-square-foot cottage near the southwest corner of Guadalupe Street and First Avenue to a military family, and sees it as a retirement home for her parents, charged that plans by designer Claudio Ortiz compromise the light in the cottage. The planning commission thought otherwise, voting 4-0 in favor of the project. One commissioner airily informed Spiegelman she could have bought the vacant lot herself – a perfect Let Them Eat Cake moment in pricey Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The lot and planned new house are owned by Carmel Finance Manager Robin Scattini and her husband, Greg Scattini, who wrote the council a letter. Greg Scattini, listed at the time of sale as a San Jose real estate developer, reminded the council that the house meets all city code requirements, comes in four feet lower than the rooftop height allowed and could have gone three feet deeper for the basement.

“Our agreement to anything more than that would result in a house and a fence that do not fit the needs of our family,” he wrote. “This would also require a substantial and unreasonable redesign simply to accommodate Ms. Spiegelman’s preferences.”

Nine members of the public spoke on Spiegelman’s behalf. All made intelligent comments and some were eloquent. One person spoke for the Scattinis – the realtor who sold them the lot.

Observed a Spiegelman supporter, “I used to tell people I live in a typical Carmel cottage. I can’t say that anymore. It’s not typical anymore. When these small houses get boxed-in, they become less desirable, so they’re going to tear them down to make more money, and the community as a whole loses.”

CRA President Barbara Livingston called for more pre-design dialogue in the future between architects and designers and affected neighbors. CRA board member Georgina Armstrong spoke in favor of reducing the large number of trees (13 of 22) slated for removal in Ortiz’s original plans.

Ortiz, a designer incorrectly identified by several commissioners and council members as an architect, dismissed the appeal and its supporters. “I don’t think there are any significant issues going on,” he said.

The council denied Spiegelman’s appeal, 3-2, with councilmembers Richards and Jan Reimers dissenting. Mayor Steve Dallas and councilmember Carolyn Hardy imposed mitigating conditions. Among them: work to find a less-flammable roofing material; raise the wooden fence between the Spiegelman property and the Scattini property to six feet from four feet;  plant replacement trees in the public right of way; and put protection in place for the trees designated to be saved.

Ortiz – who stunned some observers at the April planning commission meeting by demanding of commissioners, “Give me all of it or give me none of it” – was less obviously petulant this time, accepting the conditions on behalf of his clients, the Scattinis.

And so the meeting ended, almost six hours after it began.