ZAB Failed to Make Required Findings In La Farine Decision; Council Punts By ZELDA BRONSTEIN

Friday August 13, 2004

Zoning Adjustments Boardmember Laurie Capitelli wishes that “people would get their facts straight” about ZAB’s unanimous approval of La Farine’s application for a use permit for a retail bakery with incidental seating at 1820 Solano Ave. (Letters, Daily Planet, Aug. 6-9).  

Capitelli should get his own facts straight.  

It’s true, as he states, that he helped write the zoning ordinance for Solano Avenue commerce. It’s also true, as he further states, that Section 23E.60.090 of the ordinance lists the circumstances under which a use permit may be granted to exceed the legal quotas on food services on Solano.  

What’s untrue is that ZAB granted La Farine’s use permit in accordance with those circumstances. Left uncited by Capitelli, those circumstances are as follows:  

“The board, following a public hearing, may grant a use permit which authorizes a use which exceeds a numerical limitation set forth in section 23E.60.040, only if all of the following conditions and findings are met:  

1. There are circumstances or conditions which apply to the proposed location which do not generally apply to other examples of the same use in the district;  

2. Granting an exception will, in the specific instance, maintain the purposes of the district; and  

3. Adverse parking transportation impacts of the proposed use are negligible or have been mitigated so as not to adversely affect circulation or parking capacity on adjacent streets or in the immediate neighborhood.”  

Capitelli writes: “My colleagues on the board take their charges very seriously…”  

Without questioning the general validity of that claim, I suggest that anyone who listens to the tape of ZAB’s May 13 public hearing and discussion of the La Farine application will likely conclude that in this particular matter, the board’s gravitas was unequal to the task at hand. Drawing laughter, one ZAB member—not Capitelli—repeatedly inquired after La Farine’s recipe for morning buns. (I half expected to find the recipe attached to the notice of decision.)  

More to the point, nobody at the ZAB meeting mentioned the three findings that, as section 23E.60.040 stipulates, must be met in order to grant a use permit for a new food service on Solano Avenue.  

Had ZAB done its duty and considered whether La Farine’s application met the requirements of section 23E.60.040, it would have found it very difficult—indeed, I believe, impossible—to make the first finding. Which is to say, the board could not have identified conditions or circumstances that apply to La Farine’s application at 1820 Solano Ave. that do not generally apply to other examples of the same use in the district.  

I invite Capitelli to describe such unique conditions, and I ask him to offer something other than the bogus claim made by the city’s zoning staff—that the incidental nature of the food service proposed by La Farine meets the bill. That argument is explicitly precluded by section 23E.60.060, which states that “all food service uses shall be subject to the numerical limitations listed in table 23E.60.040.”  

In short, the only way ZAB could have legally allowed La Farine to have food service of any kind at 1820 Solano would have been to grant the business a variance, an action even more difficult to take (legally) than the granting of a use permit for a new food service on the street.  

In this context, it’s off-putting to find Capitelli, in his letter, characterizing critics of ZAB’s decision on La Farine as “a small minority of disgruntled individuals who will misrepresent and manipulate the rules to their own end,” and who “show little respect for the public process[,] impugning others [sic] motivations in order to deflect attention from their own duplicitous behavior.”  

Whom is he talking about? Capitelli names no names, but one person he has in mind must be Jesse Townley. In a letter published in the previous edition of the Daily Planet, Townley, citing the zoning ordinance, assailed the La Farine decision as a sell-out to developers and realtors.  

But since Capitelli writes of “individuals,” he must also be thinking of the three District 5 residents who appealed the La Farine decision to the City Council.  

It beats me how appealing a ZAB decision could be construed as showing disrespect for public process. If anything, citizens who go to the trouble and expense of filing an appeal—it costs $60—are showing that they care deeply about the responsible administration of our city’s laws.  

Capitelli bemoans the “protracted and costly proceedings that strain the resources of both the staff and community volunteers” brought on by allegedly duplicitous and manipulative individuals who question ZAB actions.  

Again, what’s he talking about? Instead of sweeping allegations, Capitelli needs to point to specific cases. Above all, he needs to point to cases where legally defensible ZAB decisions were needlessly appealed to the City Council. Clearly, the La Farine case doesn’t fall into that category: it should have been appealed, and it was. Disgracefully, the council approved the ZAB decision on consent, meaning there was no discussion of the matter.  

As for duplicity and manipulativeness: certainly, the appellants made their objections to the La Farine application publicly known, as did Townley.  

What Townley didn’t say in his letter is that he’s running against Capitelli for the District 5 Council seat. Is Capitelli implying, then, that political self-aggrandizement is Townley’s real motivation for criticizing the La Farine decision? If that’s the case, why doesn’t Capitelli say so?  

In fact, Capitelli’s letter makes no mention of his own candidacy. Instead, he ends by “urg[ing] voters to support candidates this November who will respect the process created by a neighborhood-created plan.” If Capitelli wants us to conclude that this means voting for him, he has a lot of explaining to do.  


Zelda Bronstein, a former chair of the Planning Commission, is president of the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association. The views expressed here are her own.›