Good News, Bad News for Sufism Project Neighbors

Since my last article about Sufism’s controversial Walnut Creek, California building project, there are new developments to report.  Readers are encouraged to add comments regarding ongoing events, as the situation remains fluid.

  • Building Permit to be Issued Soon

 As of this writing the Sufism building permit has not yet been issued.  However, the Contra Costa Times has reported the permit should be issued this month.

  • Safety Issues at Entryway Appear to be Addressed

 After several public requests and intervention by the Contra Costa Times, county officials finally granted public review of final project building plans.  The plans on file with the county’s Public Works Department show the perimeter wall in a different location than shown on plans submitted to other county departments.  The Public Works plans appear to satisfy the 250-foot sight distance requirement, though no drawing showing the precise sight distance measurements is currently on file.

 Project neighbors are feeling relieved because the Public Works Department has assured the neighbors that the perimeter wall will be built in a safe location.

 One neighborhood resident told me she’s “crossing her fingers” that the project gets built consistent with the plans submitted to Public Works, rather than the plans submitted to other county departments.  “Given all we’ve been through, given all of the lies we’ve been told, it’s tough to trust until we see how this project is actually built,” she said.  “But we’re definitely hopeful.”

  • County Officials Willingly Misled by Fraudulent Documents

 The biggest bone of contention with neighbors remains offsite parking.  Residents say the project’s offsite parking requirements have not yet been met, as set forth in the project’s conditions of approval, which state:

 The Project Sponsor shall maintain an enforceable written parking agreement with an off-site parking provider for use of the parking lots for overflow parking for evening, weekend and special events held at the subject site . . . [in a] location within two miles of the site, for the parking of no fewer than 54 vehicles . . . Prior  to commencing  construction-related   activities, issuance of grading permits or issuance of building  permits, whichever occurs first, the project sponsor shall submit an application  for Condition of Approval Compliance Verification . . . Submittals for this application shall include a checklist describing how each condition of approval has been or will be  satisfied and applicable proof that each condition has been satisfied (i.e., appropriate documentation, plans, photographs etc.) . . . .

Last year, in a clarifying e-mail to the homeowners’ association, county senior planner Lashun Cross stated that the “enforceable written parking agreement” was required before a grading permit or building permit could be issued, as follows:

 —–Original Message—–

From: Lashun Cross

To: Richard Galton

Cc: abhat; stu flashman; wfettig

Sent: Mon, Jan 9, 2012 12:32 pm

Subject: Re: Sufism Reoriented COA #8

 Mr. Galton,

 Thank you for email.

 Condition of approval #8 also states, “If the site {meaning Meher Schools} becomes unavailable, the project sponsor shall notify DCD and provide another off-site location within two miles of the site, for the parking of no fewer than 54 vehicles.” This means that if LAFSD has not authorized the agreement, the applicant can present another location within 2 miles. The traffic study and traffic and circulation section of the EIR covers the LOS intersections and roadway operation. The EIR also covers a projection of projects approved and or pending within the County and City of Walnut Creek that were taken into consideration.

 The conditions of approval will and must be complied with prior to the issuance of any building or grading permits issued [emphasis added]. The applicant is not obligated to show or meet them now or prior to a Board of Supervisor hearing. The applicant has agreed to the conditions if approved, as they were by the County Planning Commission. At this point the applicant must met them or file for a modification or appeal. Your opinion of recirculation is noted.

 I will share your email with the applicant and if any new correspondences or information arises and is submitted to me, they will be made public. The appeals to the Board of Supervisors will proceed accordingly because an assumed inability to comply with a condition in which the applicant has agreed to meet does not warrant a stoppage of a hearing on appeals.

 Lashun Cross, Senior Planner

Department of Conservation and Development

 To satisfy the offsite parking requirement, in 2011 Sufism executed a “parking agreement” with The Meher School, which leases nearby property owned by the Lafayette School District.  In September 2011 the District informed The Meher School that the “parking agreement” was not authorized.

More than one year later, Sufism executed another agreement with The Meher School.  The new agreement was essentially the same as the previous one, but retitled as a “parking license.”  Sufism submitted this “license” to the county on November 27, 2012 as evidence it had “an enforceable written parking agreement with an off-site parking provider.”  At the time, Sufism was pressuring county officials to issue its  building permit by mid-December.

 The “license” agreement between Sufism and The Meher School was executed without prior knowledge by the District, in violation of Meher’s property lease and contrary to the District’s direction to The Meher School given in February 2012.  While the District does not recognize the validity of this “license,” county officials may be willing to accept it for the purposes of satisfying project requirements.

Notably, county officials may be backing away from previous commitments to require final parking arrangements before issuance of a building permit.   In recent phone conversations with residents, county officials sound willing to issue Sufism a permit now and clarify the parking issue later, as a means of avoiding further project delay associated with the “parking license” controversy.

 Concerned residents observe that issuance of a building permit under these circumstances would violate two of the project conditions established by county supervisors (COA #8, regarding offsite parking; and COA #6 requiring satisfaction of all conditions).

Moreover, neighbors say the current “parking license” controversy is the result of Sufism’s failure to provide for suitable offsite parking.  “Waiting until the eleventh hour to identify alternative parking locations and address offsite parking needs is Sufism’s own doing,” one resident said.  “Actions have consequences and Sufism has only itself to blame for project delays due to its game-playing and unwillingness to take care of business in a responsible way.”

  • Opportunity for Public Comment Denied

 The Sufism project was approved with a “Transportation Demand Management Program” (“TDMP”) that permits fewer parking places in exchange for Sufism’s use of commute alternatives, such as walking, biking and carpooling.  In September 2012 Patricia Perry, a retired planning professional and neighborhood resident, made a standing request to the county to be notified when the TDMP was submitted because she wished to review it and make comment before its approval.

Perry says her request was ignored and the county failed to notify her when it received the TDMP.  Perry says she understands the county did not want, nor did it believe it was obligated to accept public comment on the TDM Program.

Review of county records reveals the following:

  • October 23, 2012:  County received TDMP submitted by Sufism.
  • October 24, 2012:  Perry inquired with the county regarding the status of Sufism’s TDMP and was told it had not yet been received.
  • October 30, 2012:  Five days after receipt, county approves the TDMP.  The county did not notify Perry (or anyone else) regarding the TDMP’s receipt or approval, denying Perry the opportunity to comment prior to its approval.

 Even as the project was slowly working its way through the building permit approval process, the county managed to revise, finalize and approve the TDMP in record time.  Perry had placed the county on notice multiple times regarding her desire to review the document before approval.

Neighborhood residents are surprised and disappointed the county approved the TDMP so quickly, without notifying Perry or anyone else that it had been received.

  • Request for Public Records Yields No Response

Perry says she has received no response to her request for county records made in person at the December 11, 2012 county supervisors’ meeting.  “I’ve received no reply whatsoever, other than the invitation to review the Public Works Department building plans,” she says.  “I plan to resubmit my request to review records.  They should know by now that I’m not going away or giving up.”

Perry says she’ll also make a direct appeal to District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen regarding the county’s landscaping codes.  “The codes approved by the Board say one thing, but the rules staff use say something else,” says Perry.  “How can any average person know which rules to follow:  the adopted county codes or what staff says?  Doesn’t this issue, at the very least, deserve an explanation?”

Good questions.

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Comments

  1. Wendy Lack says

    Below are some questions area residents posed to county staff this afternoon, after receiving word of the county’s approval of the project building permit. I’ll post the county’s responses here, when they are received.

    1. Who in the Contra Costa Department of Conservation and Development (DCD) is responsible for building permit approval? Who made the determination and attested to the fact that this project applicant met the conditions of approval?

    2. Does DCD supply a written statement of compliance to the Building Department, in order for the building permit to be approved? We’d like to see a copy of this statement and any/all attachments thereto.

    3. Was the building permit issued based on any changes to the conditions of approval and, if so, what were the changes? Please identify and provide a copy of those changes.

    4. Did the County contact the Lafayette School District at any time, in writing or by email, to confirm that the parking “license” is permissible under the terms of the Meher School lease? If applicable, please provide a copy of the correspondence/e-mails.

    5. Did the County receive a written answer from the Lafayette School District in response to the County’s inquiry, if any, regarding the parking “license”? If so, please provide a copy.

    6. Did the County contact the Lafayette School District at any time by phone or in person to confirm its position on the parking “license”? What was the District’s answer and with whom did the County speak? Who at the County made the contact? When?

    7. Did the County require any confirmation from Sufism Reoriented that it has ever documented using more than 29 parking spaces at the Meher School lots? If so, was documentation supplied, what form was it in? When was it supplied and what was the date on the submittal? Please provide a copy.

    8. Since receipt of the letter to Gayle Uilkema on February 15, 2012, did the county submit a written request of the Lafayette School District asking whether it had granted authority to the Meher Schools to enter into a third-party agreement for use of the Meher School Parking lots? If so, please provide a copy of that request.

    9. Regarding Item #8, above: If the County sent such an inquiry to the Lafayette School District, did the County receive an answer? Please provide a copy.

    10. If the County made a verbal request of the Lafayette School District as regards the Meher Schools’ authority to enter into a third party agreement with Sufism Reoriented, with whom did the County speak at the District (which owns and insures the property)? Please advise who participated in these conversations and share the District’s response.

  2. Wendy Lack says

    This afternoon, in response to my inquiry, Gayle Israel from District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen’s staff sent me the following e-mail message:

    “Contra Costa County Department of Conservation and Development has just informed Supervisor Andersen that the building permit for the Sufism Reoriented project was issued earlier today.”

    Many questions remain regarding this project, on a wide range of issues. For example: Last year county planners said the applicant was required to secure offsite parking before a building permit would be issued. Nonetheless, the building permit was issued without this condition satisfied. No wonder residents feel betrayed.

    Perhaps things like integrity and consistency are too much to expect from a politicized, uncaring government bureaucracy. As Mark Twain put it: “That’s the difference between governments and individuals. Governments don’t care, individuals do.”

  3. Wendy Lack says

    Questions are being asked about the county’s project inspection and permitting process. Here are a few that I’ve heard:

    - If no building permit has been issued, why if there a crane on site working each day, tons of rebar already laid and tied and construction on the foundation pour underway?

    - Is the county inspecting? How frequently?

    - Did the county hold a pre-construction meeting before commencement of this work that is being done WITHOUT a permit?

    - Will the county issue a press release or otherwise explain to the public the answers to these questions? The neighbors would like to be clued in.