Sunday, December 12, 2010

COMMENTARY Carmel-by-the-Sea: Theatre of the Absurd

In City Administrator Rich Guillen’s oral presentation, Agenda Item Summary and Staff Report for the City Council’s 7 December 2010 holiday lights in the Business District agenda item, he stated that “Policy No. C95-08 allows the temporary placement of lights in or on commercial property during the holiday season. According to the policy, the “holiday season” begins on the third Wednesday in November and continues until the second Wednesday in January. Last year Council extended this period to the Monday following the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Golf Tournament or the second Monday in February.” However, City Policy No. C95-08 HOLIDAY LIGHTS states The “holiday season” is defined as the period beginning with the third Wednesday in November and continuing until the Tuesday following Presidents Day. Presidents Day is always celebrated on the third Monday of February.

City Administrator Rich Guillen also stated that the existing Holiday Lights Policy is out-of-date. Specifically, Guillen cited item 6 of the Policy as being out-of-date and in need of revision. However, item 6 states “Lights shall be removed if, in the opinion of the City Forester, they are damaging a tree.” Guillen stated that it read “Forest, Parks and Beach Director” and since the City “no longer has a Forest, Parks and Beach Director,” “City Administrator” should be substituted for the Forest, Parks and Beach Director. Parenthetically, Mike Branson is the City Forester, Parks & Beach. Adding to the confusion is City Policy No. C95-08 which City Administrator Rich Guillen appended to his Staff Report which states: The “holiday season” is defined as the period beginning with the third Wednesday in November and continuing until the second Wednesday in January and item 6. “Lights shall be removed if, in the opinion of the Forest, Parks and Beach Director, they are damaging a tree.”

Furthermore, at the City Council's 2 November 2010 meeting, the City Council authorized the installation of LED lighting in the Ocean Avenue medians and approved lighting beginning the Monday prior to the Thanksgiving holiday and extending through the beginning of Daylight Saving Time, or the second Sunday of March. However, City Administrator Rich Guillen stated in his Agenda Item Summary and Staff Report that “the City Council may want to amend the Policy C95-08 to make the placement of lights consistent with the action taken on the Ocean Avenue medians” when he should have known from Fire Marshall Art Black’s statement of January 2009 that decorative light strings are for seasonal use and “cannot be used for more than 90 days.” The number of City Council approved lighting days between the Monday prior to the Thanksgiving holiday 2010 and the beginning of Daylight Savings Time on the second Sunday, 13 March 2011, is over 110 days. And according to Fire Marshall Art Black, “As well as the fire safety concerns with these light strings, the Municipal Code of the City prohibits display in commercial occupancies of these seasonal light strings.”

During the public comment period, resident Jonathan Sapp submitted a petition to the City Council from 36 retailers, restaurateurs, innkeepers and commercial property owners commending the City Council for “expanding the time for lights in the center medians of Ocean Avenue to run through the beginning of daylight savings time” and encouraging the City Council to “consider the lights on all year round.” Further, the signers are in favor of “low intensity lights on sidewalk trees throughout the downtown to make it easier for residents and visitors alike to walk around the area especially during the dark period.” However, seemingly unknown to Jonathan Sapp, the signers of the petition and the City Council are the pertinent provisions in the City’s General Plan/Coastal Land Use Plan Land Use & Community Character Element, as follows:

P1-54 Limit exterior lighting to prevent glare and preserve the traditional low levels of illumination during hours of darkness.

O1-13 Maintain diligent control over signs and other advertising or notice attracting facilities in order to avoid unsightly, bizarre, and/or out of scale visual impacts, including exterior lighting and lights from window displays.(LUP)

P1-80 Prohibit unsightly design elements such as excessive numbers of signs, nonfunctional awnings, exterior displays, interior displays, and excessive interior lighting used primarily as advertising or attention-getting features visible from the public rights-of-way. (LUP)

Moreover, Ordinance No. 96 passed on 5 June 1929 states, as follows:

“THE CITY OF CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA is hereby determined to be primarily, a residential City wherein business and commerce have in the past, are now, and are proposed to be in the future subordinated to its residential character; and that said determination is made having in mind the history and the development of said city, its growth and the causes thereof; and also its geographical and topographical aspects, together with its near proximity to the cities of Pacific Grove and Monterey and the businesses, industries, trades, callings and professions in existence and permissible therein.”

In sum, the City Council should adopt policies which honor the spirit of Ordinance No. 96 and refrain from adopting policies which lend credence to Wall Street Journal travel writer Matt Schwartz’s recent characterization of downtown Carmel as “kitschy.”


Amazing said...

So do the colored lights come down in January, February or March? Do the white twinkling lights come down in January, February or March? Why is it politicians think they have to micromanage everything, lest they be accused of not doing their jobs? And why do we have a city administrator who has to ALWAYS ask for policy direction from the council? From the council member who made the motion to extend lighting to the groupthink, rubberstamp council to the Chamber to some residents, Carmel’s dysfunctional government never ceases to amaze. And these council members had the audacity to want more governance power over the proposed desalination plant when they cannot get the simplest things in Carmel right.

Anonymous said...

The buck stops with the council. The Carmel Chamber of Commerce advocates for more lights. It is the job of the council to balance the interests of the businesses and the residents. Our council joins the city administration in not being up to the task of addressing important issues of the day and making decisive decisions in the publics' interest.

This council may think that once the new year begins they can get on with business as usual, but for some of us watching we will not vote for any of the five for any future public office. Council members cannot let a proven liar city administrator with a record of poor judgment continue in his position without dismissal or censure and be a credible council on any issue going forward.

Anonymous said...

Theatre of the Absurd, indeed! Discussion on this website of twinkling lights in downtown Carmel borders on irrelevant, but it's nice to see that the comments start to address the more devastating long-term failure of the City to look out for the future sustainability of our community.

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