The Pine Cone's editorial of the week

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Editorial: A very bitter pill

Published: January 6, 2012

THE FLANDERS Mansion scandal — created by an irresponsible state Legislature and fostered by a small group of selfish local preservationists — is nearing its end, thanks to an unequivocal decision by an appeals court this week that the preservationists’ principal arguments against the sale are worthless.

In particular, the appellate judges mocked the idea that the city had to do a detailed environmental analysis of the possibility the old mansion would be turned into affordable housing, a halfway house, a jail, or any of the other millions of fanciful uses the mind can conjure. Only realistic possibilities, not ludicrous ones, need to be examined for possible damage to the environment, the judges said. It’s a conclusion that lifts our legal system, where enforcement of the California Environmental Quality Act is concerned, from the 99th level of ridiculousness to the 93rd or perhaps the 92nd.

But then, illustrating the principle that, in California, to accomplish anything, you need to win every time, whereas to stop something, you only need to win one time, the judges ruled that the Flanders Mansion EIR needs to be revised to reflect one preservationist’s suggestion that the parcel of land to be sold with it be made smaller.

This is a revision that could be quickly accomplished, leading to yet another vote by the city council to give the people of Carmel what they want by selling the unused and unusable mansion, freeing up the funds for other, more useful civic purposes.

Unfortunately, the controversy has dragged on so long and cost so much (as has been the preservationists’ strategy all along), that Flanders fatigue is setting in. Jason Burnett, who campaigned for city council two years ago on a “sell Flanders Mansion” platform (“The voters have spoken,” he said) now suggests that leasing it on a longterm basis is a better option — if only because leasing it will quickly and cheaply end the controversy.

His position rests on a lot of ifs — especially the “if” that some lessee might be found who will invest a lot of money in renovating the place without owning it. It also assumes that the financial benefit of leasing will somehow be equivalent to selling it.

But the worst thing about his suggestion is that it would require the people of Carmel to swallow a very bitter pill, namely, that despite their considered and oft repeated decision to sell the mansion, and the expenditure of large sums to fulfill this worthy goal, they are to be thwarted by a tiny group of people and a bunch of nonsense called “state law.” What a shame.

We do not think Burnett’s idea is practical, for the reasons we just stated. If it is practical, it is up to him to show it. And if it is, we will be happy to endorse the leasing option, no matter how bad it tastes.