Fool's Gold by Heavyweight
It has been approved by Charles Smith of Heavyweight

Iron pyrite is a mineral that bears a resemblance to gold, but in terms of value, it does not compare, hence its been given the nickname “fool’s gold”
from “know your phrase”

I am a citizen.
I am an architect.
I am…

Most of the times, my role as a “CITIZEN ARCHITECT” is played out in my volunteering in the classroom, teaching art and architecture to elementary, middle and sometimes high schoolers.  I have also been on several boards and committees in the city in which I live in and though I enjoyed the work on them, I had to get back to my “real job” (the one i get paid for that is) and so I dropped everything except for the SALT (Saint Andrew’s Lutheran Teen’s “It’s a Grind" Coffee Cart (having my two boys in the group guilted me into doing it) and…

Planning Commissioner

It was suggested that I apply for the position and I was appointed by the City Council.  I pretty much enjoy the position and it has been good experience learning the process.  My second term will be up in July 2017 and at present I have no reasons to seek a third term.  I, like the POTUS, will take my graying hair and go on a leave of absence from the public eye (Ok, so I might go to Asilomar for the weekend), but meanwhile...

There I sat on the dais, while I was paying a college student who is a friend of my daughter’s to attend one of my son’s classes at “Back to School” night and I listened to the project before me.


In these cases and in the process we must make the findings in order to approve and if we do then a project’s request will be granted and this is regardless of whether I like the project or not.  There are plenty of projects that come before me that not only are just not attractive, they are missed opportunities for a site. It is a sloped site but the project will need to be graded and earth retained to put a 4,000 square foot house pad on it instead of working with the existing topography.    But besides height and grading, the architecture is usually not a factor in the approval process.  It is usually about zoning, land use, CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). etc. and whether we, the Planning Commission consisting of seven of us, can approve it based on the findings.

IMG_1485 (1).JPG

I listened to the owner for the company (and his attorneys and developer friends) tell me that Southern California is underserved for an essential need that this building will provide, in fact the statistical information shows that the national average per person required is 8.0 cubic feet, the SoCal space available is about 6.0 cubic feet, and the our city at around 60,000 is at 2.8 cubic feet per person, a deficiency of 6.7 cubic feet and this need must be filled.  And this space is better than any other places because it is climate controlled.  They needed a Conditional Use permit for this most essential need that our city is inadequately serving the community with.  

And do you know what this need is?

More green spaces?  More medical facilities?  More community centers?

NO!  This need is...

Storage Space

Now it is not that I am against Storage Space, Storage units or even a quest for Storage.  I get it.  People have “Stuff” and they want to put their “Stuff” somewhere.

And I am not like some of the other Commissioners who said that not only have they never had a storage space, they don’t know anyone who has a storage space, I cannot say that I have never used a storage space.


When we lived in Venice Beach in an approximately 500 square foot, early 1900’s bungalow, we had a storage space that we probably paid about $100 to store basically sentimental objects: 8th grade soccer trophies, college physics books, old research papers and every drawing and model ever created by two architects.  We had that storage unit for about 10 years even though we had two kids and had moved to a bigger bungalow next door.  When we moved to San Diego, we got a storage unit for about 5 months until we bought a house and now all of those valuables sit in the garage with about 21 years of kid’s clothes that I might be able to part with some day and numerous architectural magazines!!!

So, with all that accumulated stuff we spent about $12,000 on storing it, so if you do the math on that, a 110.346 square foot building including 79,908 square feet of storage, you can see why the owner and developer would be insisting that the people of our city need this building!  


The problem was that even though the owner and developer and all his attorneys were asking for a conditional use permit  for this area, our city didn’t have any other area that was allowed for storage units and so they were basically going to get it because of that.  So even though I could see that the findings were there for two of the three, the third part was:

Objective LU-3.2: An industrial employment center attractive to customers from both local neighborhoods and Regional communities.
Policy LU-3.2.1: Recognize La Mesa’s limited supply of industrial land and encourage clean industries that create a relatively high number of jobs.


I don’t think that the storage unit building will create as high a number of jobs as what the current capacity of the existing project has and I am not sure that Pharmaceutical reps will be putting their samples in there or that architects or attorneys will be putting their records in there because my daughter doesn’t even want to put her stuff from her college apartment in one over the summer but the applicant argued that point.  There were many letters written against the project but very few people showed up for the meeting except for a young woman who was a law student and she argued her case against the project very well with a powerpoint showing the better economic output of a project that retained the building complex and the benefit of people spending more money in the area in which they work.  


But I guess I just don’t see that this project is worth demolishing an existing mid-century modern building and neon sign for Catalina Pools and a two story office complex that works amazingly well with a sloping site designed by architect John Mock (whose free admission Timken Art Museum is in Balboa Park) and part of this area's history. This 1.4 acre piece of property could be part of the next Bergamot Station (Santa Monica, California) and perhaps really benefit the economy of the multi-use community of two new micro-breweries, winery and office and artist’s spaces.  And I just don’t see that demolishing an existing building to put up a new one that will air condition a 110,346 square foot building for four people working there is a very sustainable solution.  

And though I know that there will be no lives lost in tearing this building down, it was just my fellow commissioner, James Newland, author and state historian for the California State Parks and big idea man behind Crystal Cove State Park, and I, who voted:


Alas, the rest of the commissioners voted:


And I went home to look through the syllabi of my son’s classes and think about how I had missed the first “Back to School” night in 16 years…..  

All for naught,



Fool’s gold:
This phrase comes from the fact that there is a mineral that looks similar to gold in appearance and as a result, it fools many people.
from “know your phrase”

Please follow the links to read other architects' takes on the subject....

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Citizen Architect ... Seems Redundant
Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Citizen Architect
Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Good Citizen Architect
Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
What Does it Mean to be a Citizen Architect?
Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
small town citizen architect
Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
Evan Troxel - Archispeak Podcast / TRXL (@etroxel)
Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: The everyday citizen architect
Collier Ward - Thousand Story Studio (@collier1960)
Cormac Phalen - Cormac Phalen (@archy_type)
Nicholas Renard - dig Architecture (@dig-arch)
Andrew Hawkins, AIA - Hawkins Architecture, Inc. (@hawkinsarch)
Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
Citizen Architect: #architalks
Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Architect as Citizen
Cindy Black - Rick & Cindy Black Architects (*)
Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
My Hero - Citizen Architect
Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
We are the Champions - Citizen Architects
Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Meet Jane Doe, Citizen Architect
Amy Kalar - ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
Architalks #13: How Can I Be But Just What I Am?
Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Help with South Carolina's Recovery Efforts
brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Senior Citizen, Architect
Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Citizen Architect
Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1)
Citizen Starchitect' is not an Oxymoron
Jonathan Brown - Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Citizen Architect - Form out of Time
Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w)
[cake decorating] to [citizen architect]
Sharon George - Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Citizen Architect #ArchiTalks
Brinn Miracle - Architangent (@simplybrinn)
David Molinaro - Relax2dmax (@relax2dmax)
Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Citizen of Architecture
Daniel Beck - The Architect's Checklist (@archchecklist)
Protecting the Client - 3 Ways to be a Citizen Architect
Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
Citizen Developer??
Anthony Richardson - That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
Lindsey Rhoden - SPARC Design (@sparcdesignpc)
Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Greg Croft - Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Citizen Architect
Nisha Kandiah - TCDS ()
Courtney Casburn Brett - Casburn Brett (@CasburnBrett)
“Citizen Architect” + Four Other Practice Models Changing Architecture
Jeffrey A Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
How Architects Can Be Model Citizens
Aaron Bowman - Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Citizen Architect: The Last Responder
Samantha Raburn - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Inspiring a Citizen Architect

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  1. Ugh.

    I think there are two types of people who are willing to sit on a planning board - the first type is someone who has the background that makes them particularly well suited for taking on this role and the uphill battle that comes along with it. The second person is a person who simply wants to be involved and has no particular experience or background that makes them particularly better suited than anyone else. I have sat in more than my fair share of planning meeting and I can say with confidence that there is any overwhelming amount of number 2 on most planning commissions (see what I did there with the #2?)

    I am grateful that you fall into the first category type as we need all the help we can get in dealing with the second category type. They say ignorance is bliss, but I'm not sure that entirely the case.

    1. Thank you Bob, for putting me in the first category. Thank you also for doing this every month, as the coordinator for the CAB CSE asks at every workshop, "how many different opinions will you get from a room of 8 architects?" (and we don't say anything) and he says, "24".

  2. I can relate in the sense that I sit on my city's Historic and Architectural Review Board. I will say overall it's effective. However, the stories - as you know - the stories boggle the mind. No one can really appreciate what this type of influence does for good. They'd only know it if it went away. Thanks for sharing and for caring to sit through times when you'd rather stick your finger in your eye than watch or listen someone seriously propose another bad project.

    1. Thank you Lee. I am always amazed by how fickle the public can be about projects, things that we think nobody will care about end up taking hours and things that people should care about are missed completely. It seems like people are more concerned about NIMBY housing, which i would like to blog about in another #ArchiTalks spot. In La Mesa, affordable housing is an income of $80,000 or less for a family of five. And with prop 13, people can pay little tax (like $600 a year) on a house (now worth $500k+) that they inherited that they wouldn't be able to afford otherwise on their less than $80k/year salary, and come to meetings and complain about the "criminals" who will live in this "affordable" $1800/month one bedroom apartment housing. Those are the meetings that I have to explain again and again what affordable housing is, it is in fact, not affordable.


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