February 09, 2004

Murphy’s Lament Re-Visited

The Saga Continues
By Fred H. Arm
By now, as most of you know, Anthony Murphy was denied the creation of a new parcel map and a variance that would have permitted him to build on his five undersized lots on Pacific Avenue. On Tuesday night, February 10th, our good friend will publicly howl and lament to the City Council how he has been wronged by the Planning Commission and the Planning Department’s refusal to let him make all those hundreds and thousands of dollars he would have made building his three unsightly behemoths.

I expect that Murphy will whimper to the Council that a sort of wholesale variance allowance exists in Point Richmond and why should he not be able to have his slice of the pie. It is true that the Planning Department and the Planning Commission have occasionally tolerated owners to build upon lots that are less than 6,000 sq. feet, as the zoning ordinance requires. However, if the government has turned a blind eye to a crime over the years, is that really a justification for continuing to do so? Before environmental laws were passed not too may years ago, one could pollute, litter, or build whenever or wherever they pleased. Just like any other inequity or injustice, there comes a time in the affairs of man when the people say “enough”.

I am convinced that Murphy will revisit that infamous legal interpretive letter by the City Attorney’s Office, dated January 28th, 2003, that purported to give landowner’s carte blanche to build on sub-standard lots so long as they were in existence and recorded before January 31, 1949. The Planning Department armed with this explosive missive, happily permitted applicants to proceed with their permit application without the need for a variance hearing. Apparently, many lots fell into this time slot and were each granted permits without formal variances.

Some time later, on June 30, 2003, the City Attorney partially reversed its position, indicating that sub division maps or variances should first be obtained. He qualified his reversal by citing broad interpretive language to the effect that the Planning Commission may still grant, under the Sub-Division Map Act, essentially what amounts to variances for two or more small-sized lots, as first conceptualized at their creation, by granting a parcel map exception. Or, as the case may be on a single lot, the variance procedure may grant such permits to lot owners “if the it appears that the zoning ordinances deprives the lot owner of privileges afforded other property owners in the immediate vicinity”. They want to justify future variances by citing old variances as authority for new variances. This absurd notion is much like stating that the sale of hard drugs should be permissible since 100 years ago it was perfectly legal. The bottom line of all this double-speak is that one upon a time the City was in favor of anyone building on any size lot!

Since a lot owner has only to show at the Planning Commission hearing that other lot owners have been given variances, why not he or she? Does this sound similar to the childish ranting of a toddler or teenager who demands to be given privileges that his/her friends have? “Why not?” says Murphy?

Conceivably, the Planning Commission and the Planning Department with their unenthusiastic departure from giving the world away at the Murphy hearing, have seen the error of their ways and have decided to follow the zoning laws as they are written.

As stated in the City of Richmond’s Municipal Code:
“15.04.015 Interpretation--Purpose and conflict.

A. In interpreting and applying the provisions of this chapter, they shall be held to be the minimum requirements for the promotion of the public health, safety, comfort, convenience and general welfare.”

Although at first blush it seems blatantly unfair to single out Mr. Murphy, however, “the buck has to stop someplace”. One can only hope that the recent publicity and opposition of the neighborhoods have ingrained a new sense of responsibility upon the City to follow its own zoning laws and not allow Point Richmond to become wall-to-wall housing such as Daly City. The low-density zoning laws were put in place by virtue of the wisdom of the City Council and are enforced to help make the City a safe, beautiful, and well-ordered environment we can all be proud of. Enough of this whining developer whose only concern is how much money he can squeeze out of the land.

Posted by fredarm at February 9, 2004 03:47 PM
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