“Don’t it always seem to go…That you don’t know what you’ve got…’Til it’s gone…They paved paradise…Put up a parking lot…” Joni Mitchell
By Kenneth Mays
Parklands are a public treasure, at the federal, state, county or city level. They are a precious commodity and of limited quantity. Parks are the exclusive property of the public, and are essential to the quality of life. They provide an environment that is both healthy and diverse, which is critical to the physical and emotional health of people. In addition to those benefits to humans, parks provide a sanctuary for a wide variety of plant and animal life as well. The benefits of parks are universal and all encompassing, from insects to birds, from grass blades to flower petals, from brambly bushes to broad leaf trees, and in Upland’s case, from rabbits to coyotes with a bevy of squirrels and raccoons in between. All exist in a careful balance with humanity.
In 1975, in recognition of the universal importance of parkland, the California State Legislature enacted California Government Code section 66477, commonly called the “Quimby Act.” That provision in state law sets a requirement that for each 1,000 people in a city a minimum of three acres of parkland be set aside and protected and prohibited from development for other use. The Quimby Act also allows a city to set its own standard with a maximum of up to five acres per 1,000 persons being required.
Upland’s District 1 in the city’s northeastern corner has a total of 23.82 park acres, consisting of 9.51-acre Greenbelt Park and 14.31-acre San Antonio Park. Upland’s District 2, located in the northwest quadrant, has three parks totaling 19.11 acres: Magnolia Park at 6.89 acres, McCarthy Park comprising 5.41 acres, and Sierra Vista Park encompassing 6.81 acres. District 3, which comprises Upland’s southwest alcove, boasts 29.12 acres of parks, those being the five-acre Baldy View Dog Park, 18.28-acre Cabrillo Park and 5.84-acre Citrus Park. District 4, covering Upland’s southeast sector, features Memorial Park, the city’s largest public recreational amenity at 38.5 acres, along with Olivedale Park, spanning 6.35 acres, entailing a combined 44.9 acres.
When considering the standard contained in the Quimby Act relating to the three acres per 1,000 population ratio of parkland to people, Upland does not meet that requirement. To meet the minimum criteria, Upland’s 77,000 population should have access to 231 acres of parks. The city’s 116.9 acres represents just 50.6 percent of the Quimby standard. Moreover, not even one of of Upland’s four districts meets the requirement. Each district accounts for very close to one-quarter of the city’s population. District 4, which has the most park acreage of any of the city’s political divisions, comes closest to the standard, with 77.75 percent of the minimum. Stated another way, District 4 has 2.273 acres of parks for every 1,000 population.
At one time the City of Upland was considering developing a 57-acre sports park in District 1 as part of a large 99-acre project which involved both the cities of Upland and Claremont. That project, labeled Sycamore Hills, never came to fruition. Even if that never-realized park had been added to the city’s park roster, it yet would have fallen short of the 3 acres per 1,000-person ratio in the Quimby standard.
Now, Measure Q, which is to be decided by Upland’s voters as part of the ballot in this year’s election cycle, is asking if Upland residents are amenable to selling 4.631 acres of Memorial Park. If Measure Q passes, Upland will see its area devoted to parks drop from 116.9 acres to 112.3 acres.
While the Quimby Act does provide developers and builders the means to relieve themselves of the responsibility to provide parkland through the payment of an “in-lieu fee,” such payments are not an act of total “absolution” for the city at large. In fact, this “payment” has become so commonplace as to be considered nearly a standard practice. For one thing, it is technically not a fee the developer pays at all. The fee is simply added to the cost to the residential units being built and ultimately paid by the buyer. An important consideration in deciding what the fate of Measure Q should be is the continuing proliferation of building that has resulted in a higher and higher population density, with virtually little to no yard space for the units now being built in Upland, including those listed as “single detached residences.” This so-called “stack & pack” building trend can be seen in construction popping up all over the city, even in the midst of more traditional housing areas where the density is not as intense as that of the newly added neighborhoods. Projects such as the displacement of the old Upland Tennis Club on 15th Street, and the apartment project at The Colonies at San Antonio subdivision are examples of this.
Residential projects currently in various stages of development in the City of Upland are the Harvest-Arbor Square/Sunflower subdivision consisting of 193 single family detached and attached homes; the Villa Serena development, involving 65 single-family detached residential units; phases one and two of the Sycamore Hills project consisting of 145 detached single-family homes, to be followed by phase three of Sycamore Hills, with 176 detached homes and attached townhomes; the Courtyard at Upland Hills, which will bring into the city another 68 residential units/condominiums; the Mesa Court Apartments, described as 60 townhouses and apartments; Ridgecrest Upland, entailing 52 townhomes on three acres; the Alta, 203 apartments at the Colonies at San Antonio; the Magnolias, 37 condominiums; the Commons, which is to consist of 48 dwelling units; the Highline, which will be comprised of 48 three-story townhomes; the 7th Street Apartments, 64 two-story and three-story townhouse-style apartments; phase two of Ridgecrest, consisting of 26 townhomes on three acres; the Colony Condos, 60 condominiums; Lennar at Harvest, a 147-unit single-family detached and attached home project; College Heights, a 192-unit development; Tierras Atlas, composed of 61 units; Citrus Village, to provide 199 senior citizen crackerbox quarters; and the 6th Avenue Apartments, slated for 88 units. The total number of units anticipated for completion over the next two years thus stands at 1,932. Currently there are two legal battles brewing over two of the aforementioned development projects.
It is anticipated that the 2020 Census will demonstrate that Upland’s population has zoomed beyond the official 77,000 population count now credited to the City of Gracious Living. The eventual completion of the 1,932 units now on the drawing boards or underway will likely result in an influx of something on the order of another 8,000 residents, further distancing Upland from the park acreage-to-person ratio standard specified in the Quimby Act. With no additional parkland and no yards to speak of for children, adults and pets to exercise and play in, these current and many past projects have already and in the future will only serve to make the disparity between the acre-to-population disparity worse.
Two years ago, a “trade” proposal was afoot to sell Cabrillo Park to Lewis Homes, which intended to develop the 18.28-acre park. Fortunately, that deal was stopped by the outcry of Upland residents. Representations were that the trade would have provided the city with a net gain in park acreage, as Lewis Homes indicated it would make a 44-acre span of property located in an existing quarry next to the 210 Freeway available to the city, upon which a sports complex would be developed. That gain in park acreage in District 1 would have meant a substantial loss of parkland in District 3, and also would have resulted in the loss of 32 acres of undeveloped land in the Sycamore Hills area already owned by the city. Previously, the city council had deemed that open space to be “…not appropriate, convenient or necessary for park purposes.” Like Memorial Park, that open space was supposed to be here for generations to come. This cavalier attitude toward breaking these commitments is nothing new in Upland. More than a decade ago, Mayor John Pomierski engineered the sale of more than ten acres of parkland, known as Pioneer Park, located on the north side of 18th Street between Pioneer Junior High School on the east and the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center on the west. This loss of what could have remained as a viable park renders what parkland Upland still has even more precious and valuable than it ever was.
As previously stated, in-lieu fee payments made by a developer do not alleviate the onerousness of past behavior by the city. Nor do they absolve the city of any responsibility for the parks now. In fact, given the current status of Upland’s parkland, the city’s responsibility is even greater. A basic element of the city’s charter is that it preserve parkland for posterity, not just for those residents who make use of the municipal recreational amenities that, thankfully, are here today. In short, city officials are both the caretakers of the present and the guardians of the future. In recognition of that greater responsibility and to direct and regulate the city’s responsibility in this matter, the city established a general plan, a blueprint of what the city’s current land uses are and what development is to take place going forward. Dating back at least until 1982, that plan was to serve as an…“integrated constitution for growth and preservation in the city.” One of the first chapters enunciating the city’s professed philosophies, called “elements” throughout the general plan document, is “The Community Character and Urban Design Element.” The stated purpose of this “element” is to “preserve and build upon Upland’s sense of place and unique identity” and “to guide the character of future development, and protect… important aspects of the natural and built environment that define the image and spirit of Upland.”
The general plan states, “This element gets to the heart of Upland’s vision statement, which is to preserve and enhance Upland’s small town community character and the attributes that evoke a unique sense of place…(including) beautiful and safe neighborhoods…quality parks and open spaces, a scenic and natural environment…”
Perhaps this statement is the defining clause for Upland’s motto, “The City of Gracious Living.” This was once exemplified by spacious yards and diverse landscapes of past residential projects and was anchored in the example that is Memorial Park. Were one to review virtually all of the 19 projects involving the 1,932 units to be developed in Upland over the next two years and compare them to the “elements” in the referred section of the “development plan,” one would find these projects to be in direct contradiction to the city’s own stated goals and objectives. And that standard enunciated in 1982 is maintained in the city’s general plan, which was most recently updated in 2015.
Overall, the city’s general plan encompasses many topics and areas. Of the general plan’s nine chapters, Chapter 6 is devoted to “Open Space – Conservation Element.” Relative to the “goals, policies and actions” sections of that chapter, one finds the following areas of concern: open space and natural resources; parks and recreation; air quality; greenhouse gas emissions; non-renewable energy; and mineral resources. The “parks and recreation” section of Chapter 6 of the 2015 Upland General Plan is the most pertinent passage in that document with regard to the matter herein under contemplation. In that section, one finds a series of statements within the category of “open space and conservation elements,” which were developed to regulate and direct the city’s actions in each of the areas listed. Relative to “open space & natural resources” the very first goal of the city’s Open Space and Conservation-1 statement is thus articulated: “Upland’s natural resources such as open space, wildlife and vegetation, are protected and enjoyed as limited and valuable resources and integral parts of a sustainable environment.” Relative to the section on “Parks & Recreation” one will also find the following policies in the Open Space and Conservation-3.1 statement: “Park Preservation. Preserve existing park space and discourage the use of parkland for non-park related uses or facilities.” The Open Space and Conservation-3.2 statement holds: “Existing Parks. Upgrade and rehabilitate existing parks as necessary to meet the changing needs of the community.” The Open Space and Conservation-3.3 statement maintains “New Parks and Recreational Facilities. Ensure that the provision of parks and recreational facilities and services keep pace with population growth…” The Open Space and Conservation-3.4 statement relates to “Underserved Areas. Prioritize the development of new parks in underserved areas and low-income neighborhoods.” The Open Space and Conservation-3.5 statement cites the “Quimby Act. Continue to require residential subdivisions to provide at least 3 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents or pay an in-lieu fee or some combination thereof, pursuant to Section 66477 of the California Government Code (the Quimby Act).”
It thus follows that the current state of municipal parks in Upland puts the city in violation of every single one of the city’s own stated policies. It is more than past time for city officials to practice what they preach.
However one defines “progress,” going backward is not it. For several decades now, park acreage and the land available for park use has steadily declined. The imbalance between park-acreage and population is already at a critical level, indeed approaching the point of no return. It is highly unlikely this situation will resolve itself, and the prospect is that crisis will only become more certain with developers gobbling up more and more of the available land and the proposed sale of parkland Upland already owns. As for that “parcel” in Memorial Park – the 4.631 acres that is the subject of Measure Q – being “discontinued and abandoned,”questions remain. Is the term “abandoned” being used as an underhanded ploy to get the people of Upland to “legally” relinquish ownership and control of that parcel to city officials so that it can then be sold to whomever they want? Already we are experiencing a sort of “seller’s remorse” with how the sale of parkland just a few short decades ago has contributed to a steady erosion in the park acreage-per-person ratio. And why a sale to begin with? The city already leases out some areas of the park now. Why hasn’t a lease agreement been explored with this parcel? How about a long-term lease with the hospital building a shared underground parking facility with a “splashpad” on top for residents to enjoy? None of those options can be explored, however, unless the people of Upland retain ownership of that property.
As for San Antonio Regional Hospital’s “plea” for a “yes” vote; the hospital has alternative land holdings in the immediate area on which it can develop parking and/or anything else it may need. The hospital is not solely dependent on this chunk of Memorial Park. In fact, as recently as July 2020, in an open session city council meeting, a representative of the hospital revealed that the hospital’s board and management are already talking about using the parcel for purposes other than the previously promised parking lot. They want it because it’s the least expensive and easiest way for them to do what they want. As for park improvements, the City of Upland is not as “desperate” for San Antonio Hospital’s money as the hospital and others make it sound. In fact, as stated in Upland’s budget for 2020-2021, on line 421 listed as “park acquisition & development fund,” the city has a balance of $10,400,370. Besides, an upfront lease fee with a monthly lease payment and park improvement stipulations can all be part of a negotiated deal, and not some ballot ultimatum. So, the money that San Antonio Regional Hospital and others claim to be a “critical” issue, is not actually all that critical. Parkland is the critical issue.
Ken Mays, a retired correctional officer, has lived with his wife Mary, a retired Upland Police Department dispatcher, in District 1 of Upland since 1988. Mays also served on the 2018-19 San Bernardino County Civil Grand Jury and was instrumental in the grand jury’s investigation of the San Bernardino County Regional Parks Department.