Say it isn’t so, Joe!

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    We all want to believe that the game is fair. That the system is not rigged. That the same laws apply to all of us, and no one gets a free pass because they’re celebrated, or famous or rich or better connected.

    At the same time, most of us don’t really believe it. Even if we believe the game isn’t totally rigged, most of us instinctively feel the level playing field we’ve heard about may definitely be tilted.

    We’re pragmatic. We’ve all had the experience of trying to get a seat in a hot Beverly Hills restaurant, on a Saturday night, without a movie doing big box office. Truly humbling.

    Truth be told, most of us who live here would certainly try to tilt that playing field in our own favor if we wanted something. To that end, we lobby the City Council and the Planning Commission to find in our favor, or find some rationale as to why we’re really an exception to the rule.

    But fundamentally, we also want to think there are some basic rules in place and that they’re applied uniformly. The one thing guaranteed to make us nuts is the thought that there are special rules for special people and the rest of us suckers are just that, suckers!

    On Monday, we’re going to get a primo test of whether there are special rules for special people and how much that playing field really is tilted. On Monday, Mr. James Brolin and Mrs. James Brolin, aka Barbra Streisand, are before the City Council because some of their neighbors have appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to allow them to tear down an older, smaller house and replace it with a newer, larger house.

    The Brolins, who live on Point Dume, want to tear down a 3,463-square-foot, single-family home with a 735-square-foot garage and replace it with a new, two-story, 6,795-square-foot, single-family home with a detached garage, a 4,092-square-foot, main structure basement and another 399-square-foot basement. Their new construction will be in the neighborhood of 11,000 square feet total.

    What make this an interest test of the system is something we call the application of the “neighborhood standard.” In the past, we’ve had a few people build monster houses, and out of that utter and reasonable dismay, and the desire to prevent mansionization, we created the neighborhood standard rule. The rule is applied, generally, by taking the measure of all homes within 500 feet of where the new house is to be built, giving a neighborhood standard in terms of square footage.

    Were that rule followed in the case of the Brolins, it wouldn’t be anything close to an 11,000-square-foot house. I’ve been told using the standard within 500 feet would have meant more like a 2,700-square-foot house.

    So the Planning Commission came up with a whole new definition of neighborhood. Apparently, the Brolins’ neighborhood does not include their neighbors across the street because those are smaller houses, which would mean the neighborhood standard would be a smaller house. Instead, the commission defined that neighborhood as all the houses on the bluffside, facing the ocean. Then, the commission went right around the outside of Point Dume and counted all the big houses and ignored many of the smaller houses across the street. Even then, I’ve been told, the average is more like 6,000 square feet.

    Now, I can’t really fault the Brolins. They want a bigger house, and if the planning director and the Planning Commission are prepared to roll over, why shouldn’t the Brolins try.

    But I can fault a planning director who invents new rules, or creates an exception so large I could drive a truck through it, and supposedly “No Growth” planning commissioners who somehow seems to find it within in their power to turn down applications for the flimsiest of reasons, unless of course it happens to be their friends. And she certainly is one of their friends and very tight with Gil Segel, and that means Carolyn Van Horn and also Walt Keller.

    So what will the council do Monday? Perhaps the Brolins will stand up and eloquently explain and defend their position and the council will agree. Perhaps my skepticism is unjustified and is really sort of a reverse snobbery. So tune in Monday and hear what they have to say, and how the planning director and the Planning Commission could decide how a 500-foot radius could somehow be construed to mean homes on a bluff, in some cases more than a mile away.