Sunday, September 18, 2016

Riverside Drive: Neighbors Question Grading Project As It Crosses Onto Red Car Property

Photo: Red Car Property Neighbor, September 17, 2016.  Saturday morning, neighbors let me know the developer of the Riverside Drive lots (between Gilroy and Clearwater) was moving earth perilously close to the Protected Coast Live Oak Tree. The Coast Live Oak is on the Red Car Property. Checking the Building & Safety website, I saw no grading permits issued for either of the two adjacent Red Car Property lots.  (Click on photos to enlarge.)

The Red Car Property line is about 20 to 30 feet downslope from the flat part of the Red Car Property as well as the oak tree.  In the photo above, the backhoe is working on the edge of the flat part. So the Riverside Drive developer was definitely moving earth around the Red Car Property.

The ancient concrete post property line markers, in place since at least the dawn of the Big Red Car Trolleys, marked the rear property line of the Riverside Drive Lots where they back into the Red Car Property. They're about 3' tall and 4" square.  Whenever these lots have been surveyed, the new property line markers line up with the concrete property marker posts.
Photo: Red Car Property Neighbor, August 27, 2016.  Last month, neighbors were alarmed when a developer began clear cutting trees on 13 vacant lots on Riverside Drive adjacent to the Red Car Property.  

The most consistent comment I'm hearing from neighbors about the Riverside Drive/Gilroy development is, "How is it possible they didn't need approval from the City [Planning] for this?"  I'd like to know that too.  It appears that by submitting applications for building permits for each of 8 lots separately, they seem to have snuck in under the radar for hillside grading and retaining walls.  (There seems to be a question of lot ties and parcel map cases because there are actually 13 legal substandard lots they're using for 14 units, but they only submitted 8 or 9 lots, and I'm not seeing lot ties.)

If you've ever lived near a construction site - you know there are environmental impacts like the constant vibration during grading.  I wonder how much damage the hundred year old homes next door will incur on this not so stable slope.

With no discretionary actions by City Planning (i.e., size of retaining walls, height, setback, parking, yard variances) there was no public review.  Thus, the protected native tree removal permits were issued in August this year, prior to granting grading and retaining wall permits. (It's not clear if grading permits have been issued on all the lots yet.)  

In practice, granting protected tree removal permits prior to issuing grading and retaining wall permits is just poor urban forest management.  Grading is the single most important decision that dictates how things are designed and built on hillside lots.  So often, we see lots sit denuded of trees for decades, before someone comes along willing to throw enough money at it to build it.  Even then, it doesn't always get built.  That is one reason the City's Protected Native Tree Ordinance was favored by environmental and neighborhood groups.
Photo: Diane Edwardson, May 24, 2016. Earlier this year, neighbors were happy seeing many of the protected California Black Walnut Trees growing back after the last tree carnage in 2014When you live so close to a freeway, EVERY TREE MATTERS.

It appears the City, in its rush to streamline the building permitting process, is ignoring the fact that Hillside development is not always urban infill (redevelopment).  This is greenfield development (lots in a natural state supporting wildlife) that actually attach to a known wildlife corridor (the Red Car Property).  There was a thriving protected native tree habitat on the 13 lots before the developer began cutting down trees without permits (apparently without much of a penalty) 2 years ago.

Clearly this 8/13 lot project is one project, involving a lot of grading between the already built lots on Riverside Drive. 

Related: Silver Lake Neighborhood Council Wants To Clean Up Riverside Drive (Yes, you should always ask "Why and who is sponsoring it?")