By Mark Gutglueck
A sign that the development industry’s grip on the Chino City Council may have slackened was in evidence at the December 19 city council meeting.
Some saw the inability of Borstein Enterprises to persuade a majority of the council to overturn an earlier planning commission decision preventing Borstein from proceeding with a project at the city’s doorstep calling for greater density than is envisaged in the Chino General Plan as a sign that the tide of pro-development fervor on the council is subsiding.
Over the last year there has been increasing indication of the degree to which the ruling coalition on the Chino City Council is out of step with the most animated element of the politically active segment of the Chino populace with regard to a primary function of local government: land use and development.
When 2017 opened, the pro-development contingent on the city council held a 3-to-1 advantage over that panel’s slow-growth/controlled growth element. Councilmembers Tom Haughey, Glenn Duncan and Earl Elrod were widely perceived as being in the pocket of developers working within the City of Chino. The sole bulwark against unbridled development was Mayor Eunice Ulloa, a longtime member of the council who had previously been mayor. Ulloa, who had been reelected to the council in 2014, ran for mayor in 2016 when former Mayor Dennis Yates had decided not to seek reelection. She defeated Brandon Villalpando in the November 2016 contest. Her ascension to the mayor’s slot necessitated her resigning as a councilwoman, creating a vacancy that had to be filled. In January, the council considered 27 applicants for the position and chose former Chaffey College Board of Trustees member Gary George, a retired Verizon telecommunications director and the head of that company’s regional office of government and external affairs who had been a past president of both the Chino Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Pomona Chamber of Commerce, to serve out the remaining two years on Ulloa’s council term. George’s philosophy was more in line with that of the pro-development wing of the council than Ulloa’s more cautious approach to accommodating new residential subdivisions in the city.
A traditionally agricultural community, Chino proved to be among the last of San Bernardino County’s 24 incorporated municipalities and its more than 50 unincorporated ones to maintain any major vestiges of its agrarian roots. But the city has been subjected to accelerating urbanization since the late 1960s and with the break-up of the Chino Agricultural Preserve that was initiated in the 1980s and has been ongoing ever since, Chino is moving toward becoming indistinguishable in many respects from other local municipalities. At a population of 77,982, Chino is no longer the quaint farming community it was three, two or even a single generation ago. Nevertheless, it is still home to more than three dozen dairies in its now defunct agricultural preserve and several pockets of occasional chicken ranches, pig, goat and sheep farms, not to mention equestrian estates. There is a core of hangers-on who want to preserve that. There are some others who do not own agricultural operations themselves who nevertheless see keeping them in place as a hedge against encroaching urbanization, by which newer neighborhoods that feature upwards of eight, ten, twelve or fourteen single family homes are being shoehorned onto a single acre, or a like number or even more attached condominiums are sprouting up, or apartment units of two, three and even four stories into which well over 100 people might dwell on a single acre. There are still substantial patches of land within the city limits and at its periphery and within its sphere of influence upon which development has yet to intrude. That is where the rubber is now meeting the road between the pro-development and controlled growth advocates in Chino, as developmental interests have pushed to intensify the level of development permitted to occur on that land.
That the balance of the city council is clearly on the side of the developers and dismissive of the misgivings of the slow-growth crowd was given object demonstration in April when the council accommodated a development proposal in a pocket of unincorporated county land on both sides of Pipeline Avenue between Riverside Drive and Chino Avenue. Newport Beach-based MLC Holdings, an arm of Meritage Homes, first sought clearance to construct 44 homes on an even dozen acres there, adjacent to Heritage Park, which is in the city. The land upon which the development was to take place lies within Chino’s sphere of influence and the county has deferred to the city with regard to land use issues on property that will inevitably lie within the Chino City Limits. When MLC went before the planning commission with that original 44-unit proposal, the planning commission balked. MLC then reformulated its proposal, reducing the number of proposed units from 44 to 38 – a density downscaling from 3.666 units per acre to 3.1666 per acre.
The planning commission again turned the proposal down, its rational being that the zoning on the surrounding or nearby property within the existing city limits calls for two homes per acre. The planning commission’s authority was not ultimate or unassailable, however, and MLC, led by Lester Tucker, took the matter up with the city council. Tucker, calculating correctly that the pro-development faction of the council would prove more accommodating than the planning commission, resubmitted his 38-home proposal.
When the matter came before the city council on April 18, Tucker and the council were met with intense opposition from the city’s residents as well as those living within the unincorporated pocket of property where the development was to take place. Among those inveighing against the proposal was former Chino Mayor Larry Walker. Walker, who went on to become San Bernardino County supervisor for the Fourth District and later the auditor-controller and tax collector for the county, is also an attorney. Walker asserted that under the law and under the provisions of Measure M, a controlled-growth initiative put into place by Chino’s voters three decades ago, Chino residents are entitled to “a dependable definition” of the land use standards to be applied to their properties and the properties surrounding them. He said the city’s zoning codes in the Pipeline District restrict density to no more than two units per acre.
Mayor Eunice Ulloa opposed the project at the 3.1666 unit per acre density. That opposition did not carry the day. Councilman Earl Elrod said the difference between three homes to an acre and two homes to an acre was minimal. Councilman Glenn Duncan, in one of his last acts as a councilman, said one-third of an acre lots qualified as “good-sized” and “reasonable” in his view. Haughey said the opposition to the project had to be more realistic. He said that no developer in Chino had undertaken to build homes on half acre lots for more than a decade.
Growth control advocates who were opposed to allowing a project of the intensity of the MLC proposal into the Pipeline District believed that restrictions in Measure M, which was ratified by a vote of Chino’s residents in 1988, could be invoked to prevent the council from allowing Lester Tucker to proceed. In the end, the council used a loophole in Measure M to approve the project. Measure M applies only to property that falls within what was the incorporated borders of the city when the measure was passed in 1988, the council held. The council approved the project in a series of actions. It initiated the annexation application for 40 acres and approved a general plan amendment from two units per acre to up to 4.5 units per acre. The council also approved a pre-zoning of the property to 4.5 units per acres and approved a tract map for a subdivision of a part of the property to be annexed to allow 38 units.
A small segment of the Chino population was already stirred up with regard to the prospect of further aggressive development in Chino resulting in what those residents considered to be an untoward change in the city’s character. The council’s action in favor of MLC, Meritage and Tucker was seen as below-the-belt maneuvering by many Chino residents. The April 18 council vote, among other issues, served as a wake-up call to many in the Chino community. That awareness galvanized that contingent to take up as a weapon in the struggle the institution – Measure M – that the council had bypassed in the Pipeline District decision.
A generation ago, Chino voters passed Measure M, which mandates that if a developer wants to proceed with a project of greater density than provided for in the city’s general plan or zoning codes, the city council does not have, on its own, the authority to accommodate the developer’s request. Rather, under Measure M a majority of voters throughout the city must give their consent for such a project to proceed. In this way, Chino, while experiencing growth, to be sure, has not seen the same concentration of density in its new neighborhoods that many of the communities in Southern California have experienced in the same time frame. Measure M has made developers looking to work in Chino reluctant to seek more density than has been predesignated. All the same, when developers were committed enough to roll the dice and spend money on a promotional campaign in such circumstances over the last 28 years, they have prevailed. On 14 separate occasions between 1989 and the first six months of 2017, when developers turned to the voters for approval of their uprated density requests, none was turned down.
Earlier this year, however, a significant segment of the community, concerned with how the city council has consistently kowtowed to the development industry in recent years, flexed a degree of political muscle in a way that created a backlash of enough momentum to change the political landscape in Chino.
Three-and-a-half years earlier, in 2013, D.R. Horton, which represents itself as America’s largest homebuilder, in conjunction with several property owners including Chino residents Matt Evans and his father-in-law Ron Brewer, sought permission to erect 232 dwelling units on 33.5 acres south of Francis Avenue between Vernon and Benson avenues in north Chino, not too far from the Ontario city limits. That land is described as rural, and upon it there were already eight existing homes. The proponents were informed that the city’s general plan and zoning code listed that property as bearing RD1 zoning, which permits no more than one dwelling unit per acre. D.R. Horton, Evans and Brewer then undertook an effort to get enough signatures on a petition to qualify a vote on the matter under the Measure M requirement. Petition circulators, however, proved unable to achieve the threshold of signatures needed to get the city to fund placing a question on the matter before the city’s voters in time for the November 2014 election. In December 2014, the city council told D.R. Horton that if the company was serious, an environmental impact report would be needed. D.R. Horton in 2016 moved forward, reducing the footprint of the project from 33 acres to 30 acres and from 232 units to a total of 172 units, consisting of 12 single-family homes on 7,000-square-foot lots, 87 detached single-family units on 4,500-square-feet lots, and 73 detached condominiums in addition to the eight existing homes. With the existing homes there, the construction of the 164 new homes was still some 146.5 more homes on the property than was permissible under the general plan.
The city council agreed to waive the requirement that D.R. Horton, Evans and Brewer collect the required signatures to put the matter before the city’s residents, instead using its authority as the city’s legislative body to do so. That, however, entailed D.R. Horton having to defray the roughly $200,000 cost of the special election for what was designated by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters as Measure H. When the balloting was held more than five months ago, on July 11, 2017, the development proposal was overwhelmingly turned down. With 7,750 Chino residents casting votes, 1,245 or 16.06 percent supported the measure and 6,505 or 83.94 percent voted no.
Thus, Measure H on behalf of D.R. Horton, Evans and Brewer proved to be the first time under the Measure M process that a development proposal had been rejected. Moreover, the absolutely lopsided margin by which Measure H failed represented a profound change in the complexion and attitude in Chino vis-à-vis development. The vote in July came while the Chino City Council’s membership had again been depleted to four members. In May, Glenn Duncan, a member of the unabashedly pro-development council coalition which include Haughey, Elrod and George, tendered his resignation brought about by his having been diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson’s disease. In late July, the council appointed Dr. Paul Rodriguez to replace Duncan on the council. With the ascendancy of Rodriguez, the council remained, or so it seemed, safely pro-development in its orientation.
Last week, the council’s consideration of a development project just outside the city limits which again provided it with the option of circumventing Measure M showed that at least one of the council members considered to be solidly in the pro-development camp has come to recognize the political liability of the trajectory he had been on and that another pro-development council member will go to considerable lengths to avoid voting on development issues, leaving his development industry patrons in the lurch at a crucial moment.
On December 4, the Chino Planning Commission had taken up a proposal by Borstein Enterprises to build 43 single-story, ranch-style homes and a neighborhood park on 13.46 acres lying within a pocket of unincorporated San Bernardino County adjacent to the City of Chino at the corner of Francis and Yorba avenues. The property is within Chino sphere of influence, and again the county had deferred land use authority to the city with regard to it. In this case, the proposal itself made a commitment that the 13.46-acre parcel would be annexed into the city in conjunction with the development proposal, which in any case would have been necessary so the homes to be developed could connect with the city’s sewer system. Under the city’s general plan, the land is zoned R2, meaning that a maximum of two units per acre were allowed to be built there. Borstein’s request was that the city consent to a zone change that would allow 3.6 units per acre, what under the city’s zoning code is referred to as R4.5, which allows as many as 4.5 units per acre to be constructed on a single acre. Known as Chino Francis Estates, the proposed project is surrounded north, east, south and west by property developed to no more than two units per acre.
Nicholas Liguori, Chino’s director of community development, in a staff report relayed to the city council through city manager Matthew Ballantyne, recommended that the council “overrule the recommendation of the planning commission” and adopt a resolution stating that any environmental impacts from the project were either insubstantial or could and would be mitigated. Liguori further recommended that the council grant the appeal by Borstein Enterprises, doing business as Chino Francis Estates, LLC, such that the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission be requested to initiate the annexation process, that the tentative tract map be approved along with the site plan and the special conditional permit needed for the project to proceed, and that staff be directed “to negotiate with the County of San Bernardino to increase the amount of property tax retained by the city in non-island annexations.”
The size of the lots in the proposed project on 42 of the lots ranged from 8,090 square feet to 10,679 square feet, with a single lot at 16,227 square feet. The size of the homes, which were variously designed in hacienda ranch, California ranch and Spanish colonial styles, ranged from 2,820 square feet in a three-bedroom/2.5 bathroom model to 3,590 square feet in a 5 bedroom/4.5 bathroom model.
Sixty-one letters supporting the project, a large number of which appeared to have been generated from a template and coordinated by someone by the name of Rita Pro, were submitted to the city, including ones signed by Bill and Jean Ackerman, Krissy Alejo, Craig Andridge, Marion Barned, Chino Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jason Zara, Janee Child, Melissa Daley, Linda DeBerry, Gel Delos Santos, Brian Cocili, Julia Dousette, Brenda Elrick, Terry Fitch, Joanne Ford, Robert Grimes, Yolanda Hines, Joan Jones, Barbara Loomis, Cynthia Martinez, Esther Martinez, Grace Oatis, Thomas Quirk, Kellie Robertson, Lea Roman, John Struiksma, Stella Yazell, Liz Jaime, Maria Luna, Lily Valdivia-Rodriguez, Rodolfo Soria, Kevin Vu, Monica Paramo, Barbara Thompson, Angelina Anguilo, Christie Andridge, Wayne Lampkin, William Robertson, Jim Maloney, Lawrence Renteria, Judith Conacher, Carlos Garcia, Veronica Zallelli, Jean Luce, Patricia Emperal, Angelica Jasso, Barbara Nettles, Amy Haug, Joann Pierce, Gustavo Miranda, Joan King, Olivia Young, Richard Villa, Janet Lewis, Margaret Lee, Donald Garibay, Rick Brogdon and Patricia Aguiera-Ontiveros as well as four others on which the signatures were illegible. The template read: “I am writing to share my strong support of the Chino Francis Estates proposal. We are in desperate need of housing in Southern California! With the limited housing options due to the housing crisis, I can see why families are frustrated when searching for new homes. Everyone should be looking forward to moving into one of these gorgeous, spacious homes. If you are in search of the perfect home, Chino Francis Estates offers only the best for families. Please support this plan!”
There were 28 letters to the council in opposition to the project, including ones from Janice and Larry Douma, George Gonzales, Jerry Rowe, Marshall and Cindy Sielen, Larry Walker, Richard Greenburg, Daniel Broguiere, Antoinette Dovali, Stuart Desbrisay, William Bartholomew, Liam Collins, Tom Baxter, Keith Hanaoka, Patricia Forschler, Stephanie Spyr, Donna Marchesi, Bob Marchesi, Cynthia Ingram, Bill Ingram, Kevin Aldag, Kathryn Lee, Jacob Kirkpatrick, Meredith Kirkpatric Matthew Simpson and Eulalio Ballesteros Jr., along with three others on which the signatures were not legible. Some of the letters in opposition likewise appeared to have been generated from a template. Several of the letters made the point that the writer was not in opposition to the project if the density would remain at two units per acre.
“We keep feeling the planning department and the city council are selling us out,” the Doumas stated in their letter.
George Gonzales wrote that he was concerned “that once people move into the planned community, they will begin to complain about what they see as a nuisance: specifically, people riding horses on the street, livestock noises, and perceived odors and flies, properties that have multiple work vehicles (trucks), yards that don’t have ‘modern’ and city oriented landscaping. We are very concerned that we will be harassed and forced to change our lifestyles to fit what is then a city atmosphere.”
The council was also presented with a petition signed by 68 Chino residents which stated that “as residents of Chino’s general plan area” they “do hereby protest and oppose the Chino Francis Estates, LLC development because it requires an increase of Chino’s general plan residential density for the proposed site from existing RD2 to proposed RD4.5. We are opposed to any increase of general plan residential densities without a vote of the citizens of Chino.”
Conspicuous by his absence from the December 19 meeting was councilman Earl Elrod, who by that stage had come to recognize the hazard his pro-development orientation bears toward his political future. In 2018, he is on schedule to stand for reelection under the ward electoral system that was initiated in Chino in 2016. Both he and his council colleague Gary George reside within the city’s Third Electoral District. Thus, only one of them can remain in office beyond 2018. If both yet covet a position on the council, then they will need to vie against one another in November. Thus, Elrod’s absence from the council dais on December 19 was a calculated one. His hope was that George would hang steady with the pro-development contingent on the council, would support Borstein Enterprises in its project proposal, and that he would then have the best of both worlds in next year’s election in that he would be able to reassure Borstein that he was behind the project despite an unavoidable circumstance which prevented him from attending the council meeting on the night it was to be voted upon and thus receive Borstein’s monetary support for his reelection campaign, while the Third District voters irate with the approval of the project would take their anger out on George for his vote supporting the Borstein project, thus assuring Elrod’s reelection.
During the public comment portion of the meeting prior to the initiation of the public hearing for the Chino Francis Estates denial appeal, Walker, the former mayor, addressed the council. Though he did not refer to him directly by name, Walker seemed to be remarking upon councilman Paul Rodriguez.
“Since the Measure H election, a number of electronic communications have occurred between a member of the city council and various members of the public,” Walker began. “One member of the public filed a public records act request asking for copies of certain communications that are public record under the Brown Act. I will summarize those communications for you. On August 30 of this year the following text exchange took place between a city council member and a member of the community. The councilmember leads off: ‘Just to let you know, [Mayor] Eunice [Ulloa] is completely against the planned development. She wants one-to-two-acre lots, well over one million [dollars] for a lot. Eunice will cause a lot of problems. The council members like the plan. Eunice is outnumbered four-to-one.’” Walker explained, “That’s a reference to the item that’s on the agenda tonight,” and he continued with his exposition of the text message exchanges. “12:15 p.m. the community member responds: ‘Are you saying the council want the zoning change from R2 to 4.5 and totally ignoring the general plan of R2?’ Councilmember: ‘I’m saying the council believes the plan is very good. Eunice wants larger lots for horses.’ Community member: ‘Okay. This is the Francis Estates we talked about on Francis and Yorba?’ Councilmember: ‘Yes. I support the plan.’ Community member: ‘Okay. So all four council members agree to it? Thanks.’ Councilmember: ‘They all like it.’”
Walker continued, “The next day, the following text exchange took place between the same two people. The councilmember started it off at 6:55 in the morning: ‘The plan will move forward.’ Community member: ‘Okay. Anything on the one on Francis and Telephone?’ Councilmember: ‘Right. When we develop it, it will be a model.’ Community member: ‘So the Kramer Property has the same 4-to-1, with Eunice wanting only her horse property again?’ Councilmember: ‘Right. People don’t want horses and the cost would be extremely high.’ Community member: ‘Wow! Both in your district. Good luck.’”
Walker went on, “Now on a slightly different subject, on September 13 the following text exchange took place. Community member, a different community member: ‘Was just curious how you know it will be a 4-to-1 vote against the mayor’s plan for a building moratorium.’ Councilmember: ‘I have spoken to all councilmen.’”
Walker continued, “On November 17, one of these two community members filed a public records act request, asking for copies of the councilmember’s text messages to and from anyone regarding the Chino Francis Estates and Chino Francis Crossings developments for the last 12 months. On November 27 the councilmember who was the subject of that public records act [request] signed a document that included the following statements: ‘I have reviewed my personal devices, including but not limited to text messages. Upon conclusion of my search, no responsive records described in the request exist.’ Well, I just read you two documents issued by that councilmember that meet the definition in that request. And that document concluded by saying, ‘Under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that the foregoing is true and correct.’”
Walker intoned, “Lady and gentlemen, we have a problem tonight. The above documents suggest, perhaps prove, the following: Number one, at least one councilmember has violated the Brown Act by discussing and deciding council business in private discussions with more than one council member. Number two, at least one councilmember had made up his mind about the Chino Francis Estates project long before the quasi-judicial hearing on the matter, which is scheduled for later this evening. Three, a councilmember may have committed perjury in that he sent and received numerous texts regarding a matter of city business, but in responding to a request for records of those texts he denied under penalty of perjury that such records exist. You now know to the contrary. These matters have been referred to the San Bernardino County District Attorney for potential review and investigation. The developer is now on notice on the record of the material issues in the processing of this application and of this appeal. Should the developer convince the council to proceed tonight in spite of what I’ve just told you, it would be at its own risk, since the developer is now informed regarding the possible illegal activity involved in the processing of this application. So, the resulting questions that I’ve come up with – your city attorney will come up with many more, no doubt: Should the city council go forward tonight with consideration of this appeal when such significant legal questions surround it? Number two, has the ability of at least one councilmember to participate in this discussion and appeal tonight been compromised? Number three, how can the city be sure how many council members have been compromised, based on the documents I have presented to you tonight? Number four, should the city suspend development activities and do its own internal investigation into the communications that have occurred regarding this and other developments and the legal significance of those communications on the status of those developments? Number five, if the councilmember is prosecuted for perjury based on the documents discussed earlier, will this city council pay attorney fees for that councilmember based on the facts you have seen tonight? I suggest you continue this matter to your next regular meeting so that you’ll have an opportunity to meet in closed session about the significant issues that have been raised by these communications and the failure to disclose them at the appropriate time.”
When the council took up the appeal, director of community development Nicholas Liquori gave an abbreviated overview of the project and referenced the staff recommendation to the council to overturn the planning commission denial.
After Liguori’s presentation, Ulloa invited the applicant, whom she did not identify by name, to give an overview of the project and make his pitch for overturning the planning commission’s decision. Without identifying himself, the applicant, as a preface to his presentation, said, “Borstein and its representatives have only had arm’s length and professional relations with staff and elected officials. There’s no special relationship at all with anybody. We’re a very up-front organization. All the members of staff and elected officials that we’ve discussed this project with have always taken the Chino Community as a whole first in mind and always offered constructive criticism and comments to our project. We wish to move forward with this project despite continued bullying, misinformation and threats from certain members of your community.”
After the applicant’s preview of the project and request that the planning commission be overturned was heard, the hearing was opened up for public input. There was a fair smattering of city residents and those living in the Chino sphere of influence near the proposed project expressing both support and opposition to the project. The most dynamic and effective speaker of the evening proved to be Alana Carson.
“I think most of us would support any development and any project within the City of Chino incorporated or un[incorporated],” Carson began, “as long as it conformed with the general plan and was consistent in size and style to the immediate neighborhood. I will oppose down to my last breath any developers, project or city council member that refuses to consider the majority opinion of Chino residents in supporting the general plan and who fails to conform to that city’s plan. Let me urge you to take a long and serious look at the statistics from the Measure H vote in July. This overwhelming defeat is not a simple vote in opposition to higher density zoning. It was a caution flag placed before city council members. There’s a growing tide of dissatisfaction not only in the manner in which the developments have been addressed in the City of Chino but with the abject and constant refusal of four out of five council members to take seriously the comments of the citizens of Chino and weigh them against their own personal opinions. The city councilmen have demonstrated without exception a constant, unwavering support to the wishes and needs of the developers over their constituents. Developers did not vote you into those seats you occupy. The people who live in this city did. They trusted your pre-election representations that you would listen to the voices of a majority of the residents and act to protect their interests. Sadly, judging from your past performance, that was anything but the truth.”
Carson then took aim at what she suggested was a ploy to blow one by the community by holding the public hearing at an inopportune time, in the midst of the Christmas rush, when people are least disposed to attend public meetings.
“I and several others emailed council members asking to have this appeal hearing rescheduled to the January city council meeting,” said Carson. “Setting this appeal so quickly after the planning commission meeting where the commission recommended that the city council reject the proposed development gives a clear and prejudiced advantage to the developer by having the hearing during the holidays when so many residents are involved in holiday preparations and travels, school holiday events and school finals. The council’s refusal to consider to reschedule the appeal hearing is a clear demonstration of its preferential treatment of the developer over the wishes and needs of Chino residents. There’s no greater travesty than violation of the public trust. Traditional political history proves this to be true. We all know circumstances change when you are elected to a government body and begin to address the complexities of that duty. But by virtue of that election, you have been charged with protecting the interests of the citizens, not of the developers. That premise does not change. You can slice the Chino Francis project any way you like, but the bottom line is still this: The houses are too large. The lots are too small. They’re too close together to offer decent defense in case of fire. By virtue of this proposed development, doubling the existing zoning, the project does not conform to the mandates of the general plan. The message is simple: The general plan must prevail. Its loopholes and those in Measure M must be closed and the city councilmen must be held up to serious scrutiny, publicly castigated for their legendary failings on the issue of zoning, and either compelled to heed and take seriously the wishes of the residents of Chino who support the general plan or a new sitting body must be put in place as expeditiously as possible.”
George, in his remarks before the vote was taken paid homage to Borstein, stating, “This is a great development.” George noted that he had received a total of 71 emails relating to the project, 34 of which he said supported the project and 36 of which were against the project. He noted that a significant number of the emails came from property owners in the immediate vicinity of the project and that a majority of those – 19 – were in support of the project, and that 12 reflected opposition. While it appeared from what he initially said that he supported the project, a note of ambiguity crept into his comments when he said, “The proposed property is in the Chino/San Bernardino County sphere of influence and the city and staff and area citizens are in the midst of a study on how to annex the sphere as it is zoned, and then working on the correct path regarding zoning and Measure M. So we’ve got to balance that when we vote on this tonight.”
Haughey gave clear indication of his sentiment in favor of the Borstein’s proposal. While noting it was a “highly contested project,” he indicated that controversy over zoning issues was becoming a way of life in Chino. “We’ve had more of that this year than we’ve had in the past,” he said. He was dismissive of the degree to which those in some quarters were insisting that the density on properties which developers were intent on improving had to remain consistent with the general plan and the zoning code, somewhat derisively referring to the land to be annexed into the city as “new little zones.” He suggested that abiding by the general plan as it stands should not be something city officials should obsess over or fastidiously adhere to, as the general plan is subject to future change. He suggested that the city get on board with the standards the development community wants to apply to property rather than having the city impose on developers the city’s outmoded standards.
“As far as the general plan is concerned, we redid the general plan in 2010,” Haughey said. “We’re going to be redoing it again in another three to five years. I may not be on this council. We may have a whole new council in five, seven, ten years. Who knows what they’re going to put in as far as zoning goes to this particular area.” Thus, Haughey suggested, it is prudent to give the developers looking to move forward now what they want.
Rodriguez said the project provided the city with an opportunity, which he said the city should take. “We look toward the future,” he said, “not toward the past. It’s good to remember the past, but I would say, ‘You leave it to the poets and to the nostalgic individuals.’ You need to be futuristic, not only for all of us who are here, but also for our children.”
Rodriguez said, “The future is here and its going to be here for a long time.”
Mayor Ulloa offered the view that “It’s a beautiful development but for me it’s in the wrong place. It’s inconsistent with our general plan. We’re in the process of studying that area so we don’t have infill projects that are inconsistent with the surrounding areas. Maybe that area will end up at three [units] per acre or four or five per acre. The voters have spoken very strongly: They don’t want any more high density and to stick with the general plan. Sticking with the general plan is RD2. To piecemeal it is going to add areas that do not make sense.”
Thereafter, Rodriquez made a motion to approve the staff recommendation to overturn the planning commission’s denial of the project.
Curiously, Haughey, perhaps mindful that he will need to stand for reelection in 2020 after his 2016 electoral cakewalk in which no one came forward to challenge him in the city’s then-newly formed District 4, waited for George to second the motion. George did not. Rodriguez’s motion thus died for lack of a second.
Thereafter, Ulloa made an alternative motion to uphold the planning commission’s denial of the application. At that point, George seconded the motion, tacitly making a break with the pro-development wing of the city council, marking what could be a sea change in Chino with regard to City Hall’s relationship to the development community.
The vote on that motion was then taken, ending in a 2-2 deadlock, with Ulloa and George voting in favor of it and Rodriguez and Haughey opposed. For Borstein, Elrod’s absence thus proved crucial. With the council vote having ended in a tie and no majority vote to overturn it, the planning commission decision to deny the project remains in place.
By his action in renunciating his pro-development credentials, George at once set up what looks to be a political showdown with Elrod next November, a contest which will very likely demonstrate whether the substantial political donations Elrod will almost assuredly receive from the well-fixed development industry will allow him to prevail over a growing and impassioned contingent of city residents who want to prevent him from remaining in office, so they can begin to roll up the red carpet Elrod and his council allies have been extending to those developers for the last decade.
By Mark Gutglueck