Posted on 05 December 2013 by La Habra Journal
By Daniel Hernandez
La Habra Journal
Heights city officials plan to work fast before an eminent court order or lawsuit is filed in another attempt to halt the city hall renovation project.
City staff and workers packed boxes with office materials and supplies Monday, finally initiating the beginning stages in the revamping of city hall. But community member George Edwards, delayed by court closures from the holidays, plans to file a request for a temporary restraining order before the end of the week.
“My orders are to proceed as quickly as possible, which is what I’m doing,” Heights Public Works Manager Dave Nichols said.
For six months, Nichols said he has planned for this weekend, and the gears are now starting to shift and progress is accelerating.
But because some community members think the city is not following all the precise laws, like the California Environmental Quality Act, public complaints have been heard, lawsuits filed and two hearings held to mitigate concerns.
At the two meetings held Nov. 19 and 20, city officials denied an appeal from Edwards, who claims the city’s Conditional Use Permit the council approved is not valid.
The city hired four city attorneys, one planning commission attorney and four planning directors, and they all maintain that the process undertaken was legal, Heights Mayor Roy Francis said.
Attorney Cory Briggs, representing Edwards at the appeal hearing, asked three members of the council —Jane Williams, Michael Higgins and Kyle Miller—to dismiss themselves from the hearing. This was done because of public statements they made in personal blogs or magazine articles. The council members declined to step down.
“We’re very disappointed,” Edwards said. “Obviously I do not feel I received a fair hearing.”
Francis concedes that the working environment needs improvement, but is also weary about the fiscal reality.
“I’m real concerned about the amount of money that’s going to be spent on this thing from our reserve,” Francis said. However, “we need to renovate this place. I wouldn’t want to work there.”
Now with this window of opportunity to put the crew to work at Cal City Construction, which won the bid to operate the renovation for $1.9 million, Nichols said the project is moving along.
“My understanding is they’re going to continue to build unless a judge absolutely tells them to stop,” Francis said.
The first step, Nichols said, is to move out of the old city hall into the temporary city hall next door at Heights Infant Child Care Center, which is owned by Family Resource Ministries. They are leasing the space to the city for $2,000 a month, Nichols said.
Although city hall is closed this week, a couple of staff workers are available to assist community members in an emergency or answer phone calls when they can, the public works manager said.
“We’re doing what we can to stay open while we’re closed,” Nichols said.
The city plans on reopening for public business next Monday.
At this point most of the work on sight is in prep stages, erecting fences and vacating the premises. The heavy work starts Dec. 16 when demolition begins.
Precautions with hazardous material, like asbestos, have been made, Nichols said. Contractors plan to seal off the inside room by room to contain the material so they can bag it up and haul it away.
However, Nichols hopes the temporary holding place for city officials is up and running before the council meeting on Dec. 12. Francis admits the temporary chamber located at the Heights Christian school is small, and fitting some of the television equipment to air the meeting online might be tricky.
“It’s going to be cramped,” he said. But he also noted the city has done this before when they used a space at the fire department.
“It’s just a time-consuming process. People just have to be patient when they come down to city hall,” the mayor said.