November 25, 2003

Obituary of Common Sense

By Fred H. Arm
I am sad to say today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend by the name of Common Sense who has been with us for many, many years. No one knows with any certainty how old Common Sense was since the birth records were lost millenniums ago in bureaucratic red tape.

Common Sense will be remembered as having cultivated such valued lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm and that life is not always fair.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not kids, are in charge). His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well-intentioned, yet overbearing regulations were set in place.

Events such as reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate, teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch, and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student only worsened his condition. His health declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student, yet could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Ultimately, Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments were pronounced contraband, churches became businesses, and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense finally lost the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, spilled a bit in her lap, and was awarded a huge settlement. It is worthy to note that Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust, his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by two stepbrothers-- My Rights and Ima Whiner.

Not many attended his funeral since so few realized he had passed away. If you are still in touch with him, pass this on, if not you can provide him a second passing.

Posted by fredarm at 04:08 PM | Comments (2)

November 24, 2003

Once More With Feeling

Murphy Appeals Sub-Standard Lot Issue To City Council
By Fred H. Arm
It looks like old Murphy is going to take another shot at salvaging his over-priced lots by appealing to the wisdom(sic) of the City Council to see whether they will buy his meager argument that he did not receive the same toys as his neighbors. Poor Tony, the over-bearing Planning Commission is simply discriminating against him. Perhaps he is hoping that the City will take pity on him, this being the holiday season and all.

His pleas are simply that he didn’t receive his absolution from the zoning laws while the rest of his neighbors at the Point were being given variances left and right without having to put forth a great deal of effort, and in some cases the applicants didn’t even have to make a formal application. If you will recall, after the City Attorney issued his memorandum last January that the lots were all “grandfathered in”, the Planning Department joyfully instructed their applicants that no further action was needed and granted them a “summary variance” on the spot. In July, that honeymoon was over, since another letter was issued by that same office, that said yes indeed, a formal application for a variance is necessary folks. Any change in the law would have to be made by the City Council issuing a new ordinance.

So here we are after that nonsense was promulgated to the masses and our friend Murphy, notwithstanding this revised position by the City Attorney, merrily purchases the property anyway, hoping that he can slide his “Club Med” mega houses past the Planning Department and Planning Commission without objection. Clearly, they have both spoken, much to the chagrin of the beneficent Mr. Murphy.
Murphy further contends that the comment by the City Engineer at the hearing somehow prejudiced him since he did not personally examine the site, nor research any paperwork surrounding his project. I was there and it only was a “what if” query about the drainage problem by one of the Commissioners. A much more detailed and knowledgeable presentation was made by Rod Satre, a neighbor and City employee, condemning the construction as being unsafe because of the existing drainage condition on the hillside.
No doubt the illustrious Mr. Murphy will bring in his own expert who will attest that all is well and good in the drainage department. Should Murphy be successful it should not come as a surprise to him later down the road when one of his monoliths washes down the mountainside during a particularly wet season. Let the buyer(s) beware! Perhaps we should all be there to put our own two cents worth into the organized confusion.

Posted by fredarm at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2003

GOTHIKA – A Movie Review

Gripping Tale Has A Profound Effect
By Fred H. Arm
Normally, a Gothic Horror movie has a series of clichéd unlikely scenarios that are designed to jolt you out of your seat. GOTHIKA, on the other hand, blends the typical horror genre with a realistic angst that is unrelenting with serial jolts of absolute fright and distress. Gothika stars HALLE BERRY, as Dr. Miranda Grey, a rational and highly respected criminal psychologist at a bleak criminal penal institution run by her rotund husband, (CHARLES S. DUTTON). Miranda treats dangerously disturbed patients like Chloe (PENELOPE CRUZ), an intensely charismatic and disturbed murderess whose confessions of satanic torture are dismissed by the prudent young Miranda as simply the meanderings of a paranoid mind. DownyEyesC5-20.jpg
Robert Downy Jr.

Miranda’s well-ordered and predicable life makes an abrupt turn after a brief encounter with a mysterious young girl that seems like a swing into the supernatural that ultimately sends Miranda into a nightmarish life beyond her wildest imagination.

Halle Berry
She transcends the dark and stormy encounter to find herself awakening in one of the special security glass cells at the prison and eventually being confronted by one of her former colleagues, Dr. Pete Graham, (ROBERT DOWNY JR.) about the brutal slaying of her husband. She is shocked and dismayed to discover that all the evidence points to her as the perpetrator, even though she has no memory of what had transpired. She maintains that she had always loved and admired her husband, thus having no motive to commit such an egregious and brutal crime.

Miranda now finds herself confined in isolation at the prison alongside her former unstable patients that she had treated with such methodical detachment. Her colleagues consider her claims of innocence and paranormal experiences as the beginnings of a deep decent into indisputable madness and are unsympathetic to her since she now appears to them to be a brutal psychotic killer. CruzC54-01.jpg
Penelope Cruz
A series of mystical events cause Miranda to begin to doubt her own sanity or possibly that she is possessed by demons that appear to guarantee that she will become psychotic. She attempts to befriend Chloe and finds herself drawn deeper into Chloe’s own personal hell that in due course merges with her own special demons.

Bewildered and desperate, she challenges these bizarre specters until the pressure builds to a crescendo of strange and frightening events that transcend the paranormal and blend into a harsh reality of everyday so-called “normal” evil personalities. The story climaxes with a series of clichéd archetypes, typically undetectable in their masterful guise of common people.

Director MATHIEU KASSOVITZ plays on such basic psychological fears of being accused of something quite heinous that one has no memory of. He grinds unrelentlessly ahead with scene after scene of spine-chilling fear, largely untainted by the conventional horror genre of incessant blood and gore. There is hardly any comic relief, so be prepared to endure an adrenalin-soaked experience that will leave you in a heightened state of angst for some time afterwards.

Halle Berry and Robert Downy Jr.

Stellar performances by Halle Berry and Penelope Cruz add just the right seasoning to this gothic broth to make this film a truly impressionable and unforgettable experience. This is not a movie for the meek to endure or the faint of heart to suffer through. It is a brilliantly conceived draining journey into the mystical world of so-called disturbed criminal minds, seasoned by the improbability of supernatural intercession. The film presents a balanced tightrope of sanity versus fantasy and the blunt trauma as we discover the malevolent weakness of human flesh.

Posted by fredarm at 04:31 PM | Comments (4)

November 17, 2003

Close The Firehouse- Are You Kidding?

Time To Stand Up For Our Rights
By Fred H. Arm

Recently, the City Council has announced their intention to close the Point Richmond Firehouse. The informed residents, as well as the firemen involved are up in arms and rightfully so. This would seem the final straw in a never-ending chain of blunders and mismanagement by the City Council.

Police and fire protection has traditionally been the cornerstone of government services since the dawn of modern civilization. If any services were provided by a new town or city, fire and police protection would always be paramount, even if no other services were provided. Traditionally, volunteer police and fire departments were made available if there were insufficient funding for them in rural areas, but no other services were generally provided. Once taxes were collected for public services, police and fire departments were usually the top priority. The safety of the inhabitants was always of primary concern.

Taxes are collected in Richmond by way of sales tax, property tax, assessment taxes, utility taxes, real estate transaction taxes, business taxes, direct fees for services, cable and satellite TV taxes, etc. These taxes are essentially contracts with the citizens to give up their hard earned money in exchange to provide services to the public. When the governing body unilaterally decides not to provide the service, the contract has been breached and logically the citizen ought not to have to pay for services they are not receiving. This is common sense as well as basic common law.

Point Richmond has the dubious distinction of having been classified by the state of California as being in a “High Danger Fire Area”. So instead of having the Fire Department here where it is desperately needed, the Point will have to wait at the minimum, twelve (12) minutes or more for a fire truck to arrive. When one considers how quickly fires spread, as evidenced by the recent firestorms of Southern California, it is likely half the forest and the homes will be in flames before the first fire truck arrives. If that fire station happens to be busy, we can kiss the Point goodbye.

It is time to end the complacency and stand up for the protection of our homes and our lives. Unless we speak out and take some affirmative action, the City will once again remove a vital service that we have paid for over and over. This is not the first time the City has cut back on fire services. I am told that the City has about half the firefighting resources it had fifteen years ago. It is time to say NO to the fat cats sitting on their secure perches drawing high salaries for questionable services. Even if we have to shut down City Hall, we still need to have our police and fire protection in place.

Posted by fredarm at 10:18 AM | Comments (1)

November 13, 2003

Murphy’s Law Re-Visited

Saga of the Sub-Standard Lots
By Fred H. Arm
As most of you know, Anthony Murphy was denied the creation of a new parcel map and a variance that would allow him to build on his five lots on Pacific Avenue. Whether he appeals this matter is of no import at this time. What concerns me is Mr. Murphy’s statement that a sort of wholesale allowance mentality exists by the Planning Department and the Planning Commission for owners to build upon lots that are less than 6,000 sq. feet, as the zoning ordinance requires. After some cursory investigation, I found that much of these assertions are in fact true. Point Richmond is replete with such summary grants to builders to build on sub-standard lots, notwithstanding that the law is clear that they are not permitted.


One particularly flagrant example, are the lots at the end of East Richmond Avenue. There, the owner, Mike O. Mahoney, applied for and received permission to build five houses in a row on his six lots, notwithstanding that each of his lots were way under the statutory minimum size of Richmond’s SFR-2 requirements. It is also worthy to note that he never had a variance hearing, much like the situation at 130 East Scenic that we since rectified. He had a variance granted for setbacks, although not for building on sub-standard lots. If you take a peek at this new construction site, you will see an enormous swath cut into the hillside taking about half the hillside away. It looks much like a quarry excavation that Murphy declared would have been too unstable for his Pacific Avenue construction project. So how did all this come about?
Some of you may recall 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, now happily permitted applicants to proceed with their permit application without the need for a variance hearing. Apparently, the Mahoney lots and the Chandler lots fell into this time slot and were each granted permits without variances. The Point Richmond Neighborhood Design Review Board apparently let this one slide through without any restrictions.

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 effect that the Planning Commission can 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 can 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 past variances as authority for the 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 the City seems to favor anyone building on any size lot!

Since a lot owner has only to show at the Planning Commission hearing is 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 the City?

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 law 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 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.

Posted by fredarm at 04:09 PM | Comments (3)

November 09, 2003

Citizens Score In Double Header

Variances Denied On Sub-Standard Lots
By Fred H. Arm
Success was in the wind on two matters heard before the Planning Commission giving the neighbors their rightful due by enforcing the City Zoning ordinances that building on lots less than 6,000 sq. feet is no longer tolerated. The Chandler lots on 130 East Scenic and the Murphy lots on Pacific Avenue must now conform to the one house per 6,000 sq. foot law. It was a long battle, however, it may be far from over.

Anthony Murphy, the applicant for the Pacific Avenue lots cites the many other lots in the Point who were granted such variances in the past. It is true that there were previous requests for variances for sub-standard lot construction at the Point, even though opposed by neighbors and the like that were easily passed. The more recent grant of a variance was on Santa Fe on about a 3200 sq. foot lot (I think it was Candeotti), near Water Street that they are building on right now. I was one of the citizens that argued against granting the variance. The Commissioners seemed to feel that the poor landowner needed to be able to put a house on his lot, if he wanted to. Murphy claims that there are five sub-standard lots that were recently granted a variance at the end of East Richmond Avenue that are now under construction for five houses. I do not know if this is true or just more of Murphy’s active imagination.

Whether Mr. Murphy will appeal the Planning Department’s decision is still up in the air. If he does, he will not sail through unopposed. If Murphy should prevail on appeal, the citizen’s are angry enough to take the matter to Superior Court where it is more likely that serious attention will be given to the law, rather than the watered down pomposity the Commission and the Council wheedles out from their legal and Planning gurus.

In my humble opinion, the Planning Commissioners are nothing more than “yes men/women” for the Planning Department with their own distorted opinions on what the law is or should be. At last Thursday’s bizarre encounter, they blithely stated that “they couldn’t very well allow building on a substandard lot of Murphy’s, when they had just disallowed the same type of variance on the Chandler lots.” I would not have been surprised to have seen Murphy successful had Chandler’s two lots not been argued that same evening. It appeared that little weight, if any, was given to anything presented by the speakers from either side.

It is frustrating to have to deal with a governing body that has so little regard for ordinances that were designed to keep the density of the Point at a manageable level and not create such a high-density suburban sprawl so common elsewhere in the Bay Area. Hopefully, this turnabout by the Commission will become a precedent to finally follow the zoning ordinances as they are written, rather than attempting to fatten the city coffers by wholesale grants of variances to get as many houses built as possible. What ever happened to our forefather’s declaration of “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”?

Posted by fredarm at 09:40 PM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2003

The Railroad Crossing – An Anachronism?

By Fred H. Arm
How often have we heard the plaintiff wail of a BNSF locomotive signaling its arrival at the East Richmond crossings? The clanging of the wig-wags and the traffic reluctantly stopped, not merely to let a train pass on its way to its destination, rather the beast simply stops a few hundred feet past the crossing to allow some unseen hand switch the tracks behind and finally backs up the way it came. From what used to be a legitimate crossing of the trains to the Ferry Point to transport rail cars upon a waiting train ferry, it is now nothing more than a switching station. The rail ferries have ceased to exist years ago.


The citizens of the Point and the City Administration blithely go about their day simply muttering their discontented murmurs as they wait dozens of times each day for the miserable train to finish their task. Thousands of man hours are wasted waiting up to ten minutes or longer for the road to clear. During the night, when everyone is asleep, the train crossings continue, blasting their cacophonous thunder, shattering many a good night’s sleep.

It is incomprehensible in this age of consciousness about noise pollution and traffic obstruction that we allow this anomaly to continue. Residents around airports have many years ago litigated all the way to the United States Supreme Court to collect damages for the excessive noise they must endure and have gained concessions from the airport authorities as well to help abate the noise.
Historically, when the Railroads were king, Congress passed laws to give the Railroads the power of eminent domain to take over private lands so that their rail beds could be completed. That era has long passed. There are probably half the Railroads around then there was a hundred years ago. More recently, Railroads have negotiated for easements over land for the purpose of hauling freight and passengers. The landowner would contract with the Railroads giving them a right-of-way. Sometimes, the Railroads owned the land under their tracks and the cities that grew up around them, would contract for an easement over the Railroad’s land for traffic to pass.

No one seems to have any idea what the status of the land is where the street crosses over Richmond Avenue. I have contacted the Railroad, the Kansas State Historical Society (who apparently has BNSF’s old records), and the City of Richmond. No one has yet been able to tell me the crossing’s status. I have the Kansas State Historical Society researching this matter as we speak. Hopefully they may shed some light on this situation.
If BNSF has only an easement for crossing Richmond Avenue to reach their Ferry Terminal, then once that use has been terminated, the easement could logically be extinguished by virtue of its use having ended. If this is the case, the City Attorney could quickly ask the Railroad to stop using the crossing. If the Railroad owns the crossing, then a different scenario could unfold. The City could always take over the crossing by initiating their own eminent domain action, considering the crossing a nuisance or the like.

In either event, the City always has the option to bring an action for “inverse condemnation” and collect a great deal of money to compensate us for having to endure that monstrous deluge of noise pollution day and night. Considering the cost of litigation and possible substantial money judgments, the Railroad may rethink their position and expand their facilities to the north of us to accommodate their switching needs.

Do any of you have any thoughts on the subject? Do any of you have any knowledge of how the Railroad was given the right to obstruct our streets and pollute our hearing? I’d love to hear from you.

Posted by fredarm at 10:59 PM | Comments (1)

November 05, 2003

The “Club Med” In Point Richmond?

“Something wicked, this way cometh”
by Fred H. Arm
No, that infamous playground of the tropics does not have plans to come here--yet something similar lurks furtively on the horizon. Overlooking the panorama of San Francisco Bay in Point Richmond are five lots, each of which is considered sub-standard in size by the zoning ordinances, thus requiring the utilization of more than one as a building site. Along comes Anthony Murphy and his construction company and acquires all five lots.

As required, Mr. Murphy trots down to the Point Richmond Neighborhood Design Review Board (PRNCDRB) and presents his proposed structures. Not surprisingly, the neighbors and the PRNCDRB are all up in arms and hotly protest the construction of five mega-homes on sub-standard lots. Back to the drawing board and the kindly Mr. Murphy returns to a subsequent meeting, bending to the will of the masses and concedes by agreeing to build only three homes on the five lots. He plans to build a house on one lot at 3408 sq. feet, another one at 3585 sq. feet and on the sub-standard lot, a house at 3016 sq. feet. The neighbors were somewhat mollified and the PRNCDRB was delighted with the design Murphy presented. Which incidentally is reminiscent of a “Club Med” and wholly inappropriate for the area. Perhaps the nice Mr. Murphy had three houses in mind from the start and sweet-talked the PRNCDRB by his concession from five to three houses. Clever rascal, eh?


Fresh from a perceived victory, Murphy applied for a sub-division map to break the five lots down to three lots, one of which would have to be a sub-standard lot. He also applied to the Planning Commission for a variance on the remaining sub-standard lot. This is akin to the old cliché where the man on trial for murder of his parents pleads to the Judge for leniency because he is now an orphan. Does he think we are all so naïve?

The neighbors, now awakened from the mesmerizing trance imparted by Murphy at the PRNCDRB, are once again organized in opposition to this new development. The Richmond Planning Department has submitted a recommendation to the Planning Commission in opposition to Murphy’s plans. The matter has been scheduled to be heard on November 6th, 2003 at 7:00 P.M. at the old City Hall before the Planning Commission.

It is interesting to note that Murphy has submitted petitions signed by numerous alleged residents in the neighborhood. It appears that very few of the signatories are actually neighbors or even close to the property in question. In fact it many of them may not even own homes here. In direct contrast, the opposing petition consists primarily of actual neighbors that will be affected by Murphy’s proposed “colossus”.

It is time for the Planning Commission to take heed and follow the well-reasoned recommendation by their own Planning Department and send this “carpetbagger” scurrying back into the woodwork where he came from. Point Richmond does not need to become another high-density enclave, with mega-houses on little lots. I would suggest that all those of you who care about the future of the Point to be there and speak your piece. This is your right and your duty as citizens of this very special place.

Posted by fredarm at 09:27 PM | Comments (5)

November 04, 2003

Is It A Victory or Just A White Flag?

By Fred H. Arm
Some of you may be pleased to hear that both the applicant, Randy Chandler and the Planning Department have offered to concede on the sub-standard lot issue. I have copied below the verbatim staff recommendation of the Planning Department. (Please note the addition of items 9 & 10 to the original Design Review recommendation to merge the two sub-standard lots). I am also happy to report that the notification process for meetings appears to have been vastly improved. The City ostensibly now gives homeowners the proper notification for Design Review and other hearings.

However, what still concerns me in the Chandler case, is that since improper notice has been acknowledged by the City, the issue of the public attending the Design Review Hearing has been somewhat swept under the rug by the applicant’s and the Planning Department’s concession to follow the proper zoning requirements for the sub-standard lots. For myself, I would like the opportunity to attend the Design Review Hearing for this parcel to provide my own input. In particular, I would like to save the possibly endangered species of Black Walnut trees on the land that the builder plans to destroy. Now that there are two lots to be built on, there is ample room to save the trees and still build the same sized home. It only requires some creative rearranging.

Your input is thus important to me as to how we would proceed. Please let me know as soon as possible, at least prior to the Nov. 6th, Thursday revocation hearing. I have offered to forgo the hearing if the City and the applicant would agree to save the trees. I have yet to receive a response.
STAFF RECOMMENDATION: Affirm that there are no grounds for revocation, but modify the conditions of approval (conditions 1-8 below) for DR 02 209 by adding conditions 9 & 10 listed below:

1. Development to be in substantial compliance with plans submitted and date stamped 2/26/03 to the Planning Department.

2. A soils report and site drainage details shall be submitted to and approved by the Building Official.

3. Utilities shall be extended at the owner's expense as required by the City Engineer and/or utility service providers.

4. Encroachment permits for driveway bridge structure and driveway shall be obtained prior to issuance of building permits as directed by the Building Official.

5. Final driveway design shall be reviewed and approved by the Building Official prior to issuance of building permits.

6. Final landscape and irrigation plans shall be submitted to and approved by the Superintendent of Parks and Landscaping prior to issuance of building permits.

7. The garage shall have a gable roof.

8. Decorative attic vents or a window shall be added on the gable ends of the dwelling.

9. The applicant shall merge Lot 6 (APN: 556 163 006) and Lot 7 (556 163 007) to form a legal, buildable lot of at least 6, 000 SF and shall submit a record of this merger with the Richmond Planning Department prior to obtaining building permits.

10. Only one single-family residence shall be constructed on Lots 6 and 7 (APNs: 556 163 006, 556 163 007).

Posted by fredarm at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)