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McCorkle Avenue lawsuit is not about housing

  • Updated

This letter is in response to Joe McGrath’s recent letter to the star regarding his project on McCorkle Avenue.

My wife Elizabeth and I live directly across the street from the McGrath project on McCorkle Avenue. The lawsuit and subsequent appeals that Mr. McGrath mentions in his article are not about housing. We already have three multifamily housing sites on our two block rural dead-end street (much of which is owned by the residents of the street and not the city).

These sites include a 10-unit apartment complex two doors down from the McGrath project, and the eight-unit Brenkle Court affordable housing project three doors down the street from the McGrath project, which we and the entire neighborhood supported.

The lawsuit is about the unfair process the city used to approve this project. In this situation, the only opinions that counted were not those of the elected or appointed city decision-makers, or even the opinions of residents of St. Helena. The only individuals who were allowed to discuss, consider and approve any issues other than what the project looked like were the unelected planning department staff and the city attorney.

We are opposed to non-elected staff making the decisions on such important items such as traffic issues, parking, water and air quality, public infrastructure needs, noise, toxic contamination, etc. without input from local residents and experts. In addition, the elected City Council was told by the city attorney they can legally only discuss the color of the paint of a project. That is exactly what happened with the McGrath project.

While Mr. McGrath paints himself as a “Robin Hood of affordable housing” and states that “the entire City of Saint Helena screams for affordable housing,” in reality, the McGrath project was “ram-rodded” through a process that did not allow affected residents any significant input except for the color the paint and other limited design aspects of the project, resulting in a number of significant deficiencies noted below. All other aspects were simply ignored because of the non-stop desire to place more and more affordable housing on the east side of town. Here are a few of the deficiencies.

- Significant contamination was discovered on the property from the prior owner. While Mr. McGrath inherited this issue, it took a lot of time to get Mr. McGrath’s attention on this issue, which the local residents, one of whom has a Ph.D. in soil chemistry and is considered an expert in this area, still believe have not been adequately remediated. But no big deal.

- The current 10-unit complex two doors down the street has 25-plus cars parked regularly by its residents (2.5 per unit). These cars already routinely park directly in front of our house. The statement by Mr. McGrath that the “parking (is) not visible from the street” is accurate, as there is very little available parking on the property itself. Certainly not enough for 20 cars to be expected within this complex.

- No room for kids to play on the McGrath property, necessitating kids playing in the street within and around the parked cars, as numerous cars drive up and down the street.

McCorkle Avenue is clearly sub-standard and cannot adequately handle existing traffic let alone the increased traffic from both the McGrath and Brenkle Court projects. This issue continues to be ignored by the city despite this issue being raised numerous times over the last several years.

The article notes that Joe McGrath is an Orinda resident. We are St. Helena residents, and don’t want the city to continue to ram-rod projects like this through a non-inclusive feedback and approval process.

Without the expertise of Vickie Bradshaw and her husband David, this process would continue to be the normal mode of operation within the city, residents be damned. If legal action is the only way to get our voices heard, so be it. And if outside developers now think twice about simply ram-rodding other future sub-standard projects into St. Helena, all the better.

Thank you Vickie!

Glenn and Elizabeth Goelz

St. Helena

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I am writing in response to Mr. McGrath's Public Comment, published in the March 14 edition of the Star ("I cannot remain quiet any longer," M…

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