Pages

June 2, 2013

State law violations in Pleasant Hill Dome demolition? Among the many concerns emerging in the wake of SyWest's destruction of Contra Costa landmark



We can’t bring the CineArts Dome movie theater back. 

But at the Pleasant Hill City Council meeting Monday night, the citizens of Pleasant Hill and surrounding communities can voice their concerns about how the city, in dealing with this highly sensitive project, violated the spirit of an open and fair public process and possibly violated state laws regarding open meetings.

Bottom line: City officials didn’t listen when citizens rose up to say the Dome movie theater is a historical and cultural resource worth saving. Intentionally or not, city leaders gave SyWest Development the window to swiftly move in and demolish this treasured building in a manner that can only be seen as an act of disrespect and vengeance to the entire community. 

SyWest showed a total lack of respect for all the residents of Pleasant Hill who crowded the City Hall chambers on May 6 to say, please wait. Stop. Think! 

Once again, we can't get bring the Dome back, but we can let these leaders know we will continue to hold them accountable for the decision-making processes that led to the Dome's destruction—processes that could further harm the community's safety and quality of life. 

We also can share our hopes for a better future for the city and the region, which would include ideas for commemorating the Dome and for finding new venues for screening independent and alternative film.

Certainly, when we came together to fight to save the Dome theater, we were under no illusion that we had a good chance of winning.  It was always an uphill battle for a number of reasons, but we had to try. The Dome deserved an all-out effort, given its landmark historical and cultural significance in our community.

We “Domers” were coming late to the process. As city officials and SyWest Development liked to remind us, they had been discussing demolishing the Dome movie theater and replacing it with some kind of new development for years.

But hold on. It's not as black and white as they present it. 

Despite those claims, Sywest, the owner of the Dome property, put on hold any kind of development plans in the “Sub-Area II” portion of the Crossroads Shopping Center for more than four years. The recession hit, and it wasn’t financially advantageous for SyWest to move forward.  The whole issue of what was to happen to the Dome fell off everyone's radar. 

Meanwhile, SyWestled all along led city planners and officials to believe that it would create some kind of independent, art house cinema in that space, along with restaurants and other amenities that would make the shopping center a Pleasant Hill destination for culture and entertainment. 

This is just one of the many ways Sywest misled city officials and the public. 

When SyWest finally unveiled its development plans for the project in December 2012, obviously there was no movie theater, restaurant and other attractive design amenities in the proposal. 

Just a big, hulking big-box-style Dick's Sporting Goods.

But alas, city officials went along with the wishes and whims of a company and its president, Bill Vierra, who had kept telling the city how SyWest was a good corporate citizen.

As least, we of Save the Pleasant Hill Dome thought, going into this fight, that we ordinary residents could expect the city and its process to treat us with fairness and respect and to act in accordance with state and local law.

The fact is: We were dealing with a city that was seeing the world through SyWest-colored glasses.

Certainly, there were moments when individual staff were gracious and helpful but the city’s overall conduct throughout this whole process should worry any Pleasant Hill resident.

Notably, Pleasant Hill resident Dorothy Englund has filed a complaint against the city, raising concerns that the city failed to comply with state open meeting laws – under the Ralph M. Brown Act –in conducting its May 6 Building Board of Appeals meeting on the issuance of the permit to allow SyWest to demolish the Dome.

Among the number of concerns Englund has cited was the fact that the city failed to make available to the public the final agenda for the meeting, as well as the staff report and other pertinent documents related to the permit issue -- until the morning of the meeting, some eight hours before the meeting was to start.

The city’s failure in this area is akin to a prosecutor failing to turn over evidence—or discovery—to the defense until the morning of the trial. 

There are other possible violations Englund cites. And it’s reasonable to wonder: How else did the city possibly skirt the law to assist SyWest in its aims to destroy the Dome and move forward with Dick's? 

The questions are just beginning. 

I contend that the city's decision to refer Englund’s appeal of the demolition permit, which was issued on April 1, to the Building Board of Appeals for consideration was an attempt to essentially cover their butts for an error the city made in violation of the California Enviromental Quality Act. 

After the Planning Commission approved SyWest’s Development proposal on March 26, the city’s chief building official Mike Nielsen on April 1 issued a one-page demolition permit to SyWest – with a disturbing lack of supporting material, I might add, from Sywest explaining just how this demolition would occur in a manner that would not harm public health and safety. 

On April 8, members of Save the Pleasant Hill Dome filed their appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of SyWest’s development plan. Under all city records related to this project, the demolition was always a chief component of the overall development plan. Once the appeal was filed, SyWest’s development project had to be put on hold pending the outcome of the May 6 appeal hearing before the City Council. Putting on hold these project plans should also have included a hold on the demolition permit. CEQA says components of a project cannot be separated out. 

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the city did when it issued the permit but  refused to rescind or put on hold the demolition permit until after the City Council appeal hearing. 

When Englund and others raised this issue, the city’s response was not the honorable one – to say, yes, you’re right, that permit needs to be put on hold. 

No, the city got its attorney, Janet Coleson, to drum up some “kangaroo” court-like procedure, referring the demolition permit matter to the Building Board of Appeals—a city committee that had apparently never met once since it was created by local ordinance back in 2008.

This kangaroo court-like procedure made it necessary for Englund and others to go on this wild goose chase of figuring out how this permit did not meet the requirements of the California Building Code – a code that really only professional builders and contractors ever have need to deal with.

Oh, but, again, what does this all matter now, some of you would say?

The Dome is gone.  Putting in so much effort to challenge the city won’t bring the Dome back.

No, it won’t bring the Dome back. But I believe there is value in letting city officials know its constituents are watching how they conduct business—and possibly abuse the public trust in favor of developers. Such scrutiny, we hope, will make sure that the city doesn’t shut the public out of fair and open hearing processes on future controversial issues and developments. 

Englund’s concerns about the Brown Act violations in the manner of how the Building Board of Appeals hearing was conducted may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg in how some city staff and elected and appointed officials broke faith with their constituents in an apparent rush to accommodate SyWest Development’s timeline to get the Dome demolished and Dick’s Sporting Goods built -- no doubt in in time for the holiday shopping season.

So, that’s why we who cared about the Dome and continue to care about what it represents to the community will be at the City Council meeting Monday evening. We’ll gather first outside at around 7 p.m.

The City Council Meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. There will be a public comment period near the beginning of the meeting. This is when members of the public can speak on matters not on the meeting's agenda.

And, this is the chance for you to share your concerns, disappointments, and anger about the Dome's destruction—as well as your hope and determination for Pleasant Hill to do better in the future.

For more information about Save the Pleasant Hill Dome, visit our website, or the Facebook page, Save Independent Theater and the CineArts Dome in Pleasant Hill.  

15 comments:

CMLion said...

I used to work for SyWest (when it was Syufy Theatres) and this is pretty much par for the course. They don't really care--they give lip service to caring, but they don't.

Interesting side note: when they were battling another theater company for the rights to build in a Bay Area city, which prompted one of the Syufy execs to say, "If you ever want to see taxpayer money thrown about without any regard to the public, look at local government."

Syufy had offered to BUY the land from the city to build a theater, but the city wanted control. So they leased the land--WAY below market rate--to another company. That company bailed (ducking out literally in the middle of the night). They've now leased to another company for a buck a year. Money well spent...

City government: a lot of money and power in the hands of idiots.

Anonymous said...

Those interested had the imagination against all odds to save the dome~ I don't see why we can't have the imagination to create a new one though it may take many years. Just creating another cautionary tale does not seem to be what we truly want.

Josh Campbell said...

There is no doubt in my mind that regulations and laws were broke on both sides. I would not be surprised if palms were greased either. If laws were broken, why couldn't we sue to have the theater rebuilt? If not there then in another spot? The blueprints still exist don't they?

Denise Wright Reinhardt said...

Time for City of Pleasant Hill residents to track/follow the campaigns of those who voted and VOTE them out at the next election.

Chris Lange said...

This whole episode and blog post proves true the saying about knowing just enough to be dangerous. The Domers know enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be effective. Also, something about not sending on boys/girls to do a mans/womans job. Sad.

Anonymous said...

I am particularly upset about the snarky remark by SyWest saying "next time" we should become more civic minded. Well, a sleeping project suddenly coming back to life under stealth of night and in closed door meeting without the benefit of the press is not civic minded either - it's cheating. I think SyWest and the city became very nervous about the fact Dick's is one of the largest retailer of firearms and ammunition. They were literally 'under the gun' to get things moving before we protested that, too. All the cities do this and it must stop. Take notes about this so you remember at election time. Be heard.

Anonymous said...

Would someone here be willing to post the names of the city officials that helped pushed this through? I would like to know who to avoid at the next election.

Anonymous said...

My sister worked there way, way back. The word she always used to describe the owners was "mafia", straight up cold callus. Often came home expressing needing to shower cause the slim had a life if it's own, I don't think she wasn't referring to butter for the popcorn either. She is gone, but I'd love to hear her take on this, but I would guess she'd say greased palms for some and fear of cement shoes and a sinking feeling for other.

On another note, I do believe that as part of the permit process, disclosure of materials that are/or potential hazards and health risks must be available for review for a period of time. Depending near by businesses and residents notified. That era of building material certainly included asbestos, and one micro fiber is capable of causing cancer and other health problems. There are some extremely strict regulations regarding removal of asbestos material. Including tenting, full haz-mat suits, respirators, collection, bagging storage and disposal. The processes can and should have taken months to remove and proper sealing of remaining surfaces to contain fibers that could not be removed.

I worked at a local research laboratory while several buildings underwent asbestos abatement and it took 6 to 18 months per and depending on size. Can't just knock it down with a wrecking ball or other equipment and hose the debris with water to keep dust down.

How did they demolish the building and what did they do with the rubble?

Anonymous said...

Jack Weir, David E. Durant and Tim Flaherty voted against The Dome!

Let them know How You Feel BY Clicking here:

Jack Weir
http://www.ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=738

David E. Durant http://www.ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=287

Tim Flaherty http://www.ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=886

Mayor Michael G. Harris and Ken Carlson voted for the Dome. But Voted Against it in March 2013. Let them know How You Feel.

Mayor Michael G. Harris http://www.ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=288

Ken Carlson http://www.ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=885

or you can write to them at:

100 Gregory Lane,
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

Therese said...

Thanks Martha for your efforts.

Francis Ha, Midnight's Children, Stories we Tell, Mud,and Kon Tiki are all critically acclaimed films that would undoubtedly have been showing at "The Dome" but now are only available in Berkeley.

It's depressing to read the theatre listings in CCCounty ... it's all the same regurgitated fare.

I remember when folks were fighting construction of the 14 screen theatre in downtown WC and Gwen Regalia said she would encourage Syufy to show independent films...I'm pretty sure her husband's law firm was involved with Syufy at the time.

Over 50 residents spoke out against leveling the hill to make room for the 14 screen theatre. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. A tree covered hill...including some oaks was leveled to make way for this megaplex that shows the same stuff as every other theatre in CCCounty.WC residents can sympathize with their PH neighbors...they know how it feels to be ignored by city hall while developers and contractors are given the red carpet treatment.

Vote the bums out!

avoid the blue said...

As usual more downerblog from M and crew. Perhaps you would be less blue if you found bigger things to believe in than midcentury movie houses. All of what you could see at cinearts can be found online.

Anonymous said...

50 people? Are you kidding me? Do you know how many people live in the conc-hill-creek metro.... find something bigger to care about. Go feed some hobo's or volunteer at a battered womens shelter. Get out of thinking of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Stop. You are embarrassing us.

Anonymous said...

For the first time, since the Dome is no longer, I made the trek to Berkeley to see Stories We Tell. Of course, the Dome would have been playing this film. Sad. It took only 20 minutes to get there. That's where my friends will be spending our dollars going forward. The Century theaters do not meet my needs. Pleasant Hill shows an independent film here & there but the Walnut Creek selection is a joke. Walnut Creek had a chance to keep the old theater for independent films but chose junky retail that will probably go down the drain eventually. Let's carefully select our leaders at the next election.

Anonymous said...

Vote the bums out!
Sometimes people vote to look like a good guy for the up coming election. They knew the 3/2 vote looked good and they still get their way.It is election time,Vote for honest and real NEW BLOOD.