By Daniel Hernandez
La Habra Journal
With the ongoing plans to start construction on the La Habra Heights city offices, a hearing officer wrote a preliminary report denying a plea to halt the La Habra Heights City Hall renovations, all but assuring the fate of an appeal filed last month by a Heights resident.
However, Hearing Officer Robert Braitman also stated that the report is subject to review by both parties.
Braitman, hired by the city to mediate the city hall renovation appeal, said the report was not intended for publishing, and he released the report last week — two days after the public hearing — to the appellant and the city as a courtesy.
“I should have asked for an agreement that [the report] would not be made public,” Braitman said.
The preliminary decision surfaced after an unusual hearing earlier in the week.
After paying for the appeal against the renovation of city hall last month, activist George Edwards refused to state his case in front of Braitman at the appeal to halt the project.
Edwards, editor of the website The Avocado Express, stepped to the podium at city hall in front of a room packed with residents and revealed his concern about the city’s hiring of Braitman.
“Dear Hearing Officer: You have no jurisdiction to hear my appeal,” Edwards read from a statement to Braitman.
A consultant for governmental organizations, jurisdictional relations and fiscal analysis, Braitman is the target of Edwards claim, stating that being hired by the city is a conflict of interest.
Others speaking at the podium claimed the hearing officer has worked with City Attorney Holly Whatley in the past, attempting to reveal a prior relationship.
The city attorney mapped out her request to deny Edwards’ appeal.
Although city hall does not conform to the city’s development code because of a subdivision with Family Resource Ministries, which operates the Heights Christian Infant Child Care Center, a required Conditional Use Permit is required and was adopted by the council in order for the city to renovate.
“We have substantial evidence to support the finding that the project does not increase the existing nonconformity,” Whatley said in her statement at the hearing, assuring the CUP approved by the council is valid.
And Whatley also squashed any claims made about the project not meeting parking requirements, claiming that the renovations will increase parking by eight spaces.
This counters claims by Edwards and some other residents that not enough parking has been allocated for the project.
If a decision on the appeal is not made before Oct. 10, the bid by Cal-City Construction can expire, forcing a re-bid and a possible pricing change from $1.9 million.
Edwards stated that he plans to sue the city for not providing a fair hearing. The community should vote for the renovations, and “that’s what we seek here too,” he said.
“I one hundred percent plan to file a lawsuit to protect my rights that were violated today … denying me due process,” Edwards said.
Some members who spoke at the hearing referred to the last city council election as a referendum on how they feel about the city hall renovations. Edwards ran on the basis to defeat the spending on the project, and he lost the election by a wide margin.
Edwards disagrees with the assertion. His concerns, he said, are mainly fiscal.
“I don’t think people talk about the cost and what would happen to road repairs, public safety, law enforcement and fire suppression,” Edwards said.
Other community members who spoke at the podium pleaded for the hearing officer to consider the last election results, but the hearing officer said he could not.