Plan Change Earns Council Raucous Response In City Of Gracious Living

(May 28) A number of residents’ serious reservations with regard to the scope and direction of the city of Upland’s general plan update publicly manifested this week, seemingly catching the city council unaware. Despite earlier indication of the level of dismay a cross section of the community has with regard to the shifting land use priorities staff is attempting to impose on the City of Gracious Living, the council appeared unsuspecting of and unequipped to deal with the hostility they .encountered at the specially scheduled Tuesday night meeting held this week in lieu of the city’s normal Monday evening meetings because of the Memorial Day holiday.
Seven years ago the city began the effort to update the general plan. It made very slow progress for more than six years, with only a minimal amount of public input into the process. In March, a tentative document emerged, but was not widely distributed, being accessible at a relatively obscure spot on the city’s website as well as at City Hall and at the library.
A utility bill mailing to Upland residents last month heralded the general plan update. The Upland Planning Commission held a public hearing on it on April 22. At over 2,000 pages, the updated general plan had yet to be seen by the vast majority of the city’s residents or entrepreneurs and few of those who had examined it were able to assimilate it in its entirely.
Nonchalantly, city officials suggested that after the planning commission reviewed it and the city council held an open public forum for an overview of it at which some degree of public comment would be obtained, a vote on its acceptance would be held in June. At that point, city staff was asserting that adequate input from the public had been obtained. “The comprehensive update program was completed as a result of ongoing community participation,” the notice provided with the city utility bill stated. “The community input process helped form the vision and key themes that have laid the foundation for the plans; directed the preparation of general plan goals, policies and actions; and formed the zoning code development standards and design guidelines.”
The city’s contention that a comprehensive effort to involve the city’s residents in the general plan update process did not ring true with several city residents actively interested in the city’s approach toward current and future land use. One of the things they found so objectionable was that the process crawled at a snail’s pace for more than six years, shrouded for the most part in the backrooms of City Hall and that of a sudden it was progressing at near light speed toward approval, with the public being shoehorned into just a very limited set of open hearings at which citizen input could be obtained.
At the forefront of those lodging protests were Marilyn Mills and Marian Nichols, residents of the north and south ends of the city, respectively.
Mills questioned the city’s claim of adequate community participation, saying there had been only three actual events at the beginning of the process where the city actively sought to get citizen input, and those venues were related to holiday celebrations or other topics which greatly compromised the effectiveness of the gathering of resident feedback.
“There has been no in-depth citizen discussion and no time to give thoughtful researched answers,” Mills said in April. And, she charged, “The plan has a political philosophy attached to it. It basically changes the character and values of Upland. It has an emphasis on public forms of transportation rather than moving freely about using cars.”
Nichols decried the suddenly accelerated plan update effort as a “stealthy flim-flam orchestrated by the Upland Planning Commission and City Hall. The citizens were not aware this was afoot.”
At the council meeting this week, Mills reiterated her earlier objections, enlarging upon the shortcomings she perceived in the document based upon further study she has devoted to it since April.
After Mills fired the first salvo at the proposed plan, a host of others joined in.
Cary Leach told the council that he had “reservations with regard to the revision of the general plan,” particularly with regard to the proposed new document’s “increase in the density factor.” On average throughout the city, Leach said, “Currently we have approximately six units per acre. Under the new general plan in some areas of the city there will be up to 40 units per acre. That is a six times increase in demand on our services, the fire department, the police department, the sewer system, trash and water, not to mention the impact that will be placed on our schools. My plea to you is to take a second look and a third look at the provisions of this.”
Sheila Binkley said she is “opposed to the crowding and mass density this will create by putting our mini-mansions on these reduced lots.” She said she and her husband had moved to Upland from Alhambra, where city officials there were allowing the population “to expand in all directions, including up. That changed Alhambra. They were allowing large homes on minimal lots and they had mini-storage structures on main streets and adjoining properties. There was a lot of congestion and traffic. It was no longer a gracious and comfortable community to be in. Upland offered all the values of gracious living,” she said, and that is why her family relocated to Upland. With its revised general plan, Binkley said, the city of Upland is on the verge of going in the direction of Alhambra, allowing, she said, “all the things you see in the major cities people are trying to get away from. I am not saying we don’t need to build, but in my opinion, I don’t think we need the higher density. Add me to the list of people who want to continue our city the way it is.”
Maxine Curtis said that a major new feature in the plan is the influx of “multi-level, mixed use apartments,” .which she said are antithetical to the traditional character of Upland and at odds with the imperative of reducing the demand for water.
“We are being told that Upland must cut back on water usage because of a severe shortage,” she said. “In the next breath, we are told Upland has enough water to assimilate 8,000 new residents. Which statement is correct? They can’t both be true. No Upland resident likes to be told there is not enough water for you. However your plan will bring thousands of residents to Upland who will at some point need to share our water. The Upland residents I speak of take pride in their city and their personal property. Many resident have invested countless hours of time, effort and money into their lawns and trees, some of which are fifty years old. For many, their current home is the home they will live in until they die and they do not want to let the landscaping around those homes die first. No Upland resident looks kindly on any plan that poses a higher risk of continual water shortages, particularly if it benefits some unidentified recipients. The general plan will include legally binding contracts to build 1,589 mixed-use apartments in Upland. I understand if we get locked into this plan we increase the possibility of a water disaster for all of us.
Diane Fedele, who has lived in the city for over thirty years, said she had “so many question about this new plan.” In her questioning of the council, she asserted that the city’s current general plan had not been updated but rewritten, and that the city had expended $1.5 million in that effort. “Who authorized spending the $1.5 million to write a new plan?” she asked.
Through the tenor of her questioning, Fedele expressed concern that the city had not fully considered the trade-offs and concessions city officials would need to make to obtain federal subsidies in the form of grants. She questioned whether city officials had adequately monitored the rewriting of the plan or the implication of the changes made in it, in particular the strategy of conforming the city’s housing make-up to state and federal standards that will qualify the city to receive program funding. “What efforts have you as the city council taken to educate yourselves with the outside funding for its implementation?” she asked. “What strings will be attached to accepting the grants and funding? Have you researched and weighed the negative consequences to the residents embedded in the plan? Why are you accepting the directive that Upland’s allotment is 8,000 new residents? Who are these 8,000 people being allotted to Upland? Who is in charge of allotting these 8,000 people? By accepting federal and state grants and other sources of funding from groups linked to these grants, I know you each believe our financial issues will be resolved. But in fact you, our city council, won’t have any issues. You will have no say in anything. The groups you are accepting money from will control Upland. You will be totally irrelevant.”
Their acceptance or rejection of the general plan now under consideration, Fidele told the council, would ultimately define their legacy. “If you vote to pass this plan when it comes before you, you will be known as the mayor and council members who sold out not just the residents, but the City of Gracious Living,” she said.
Gary Gileno accused the city council of having surrendered its decision-making authority to the city’s staff members. “The city is being run by staff,” Gileno charged. Staff, he said, was wrong-headedly committed to accommodating the building of high density units that are not in demand. “They’re not filling up, yet you keep building them,” Gileno said.
A goal of the new general plan includes having the city qualify for so called PACE Loans, i.e., Property Assessed Clean Energy loans, which finance energy efficiency upgrades or renewable energy installations for buildings, such as adding attic insulation or installing rooftop solar panels. In areas with PACE legislation in place, municipal governments offer a specific bond to investors and then loan the money to consumers and businesses to put towards an energy retrofit. The loans are repaid over an assigned term, typically 15 or 20 years, by means of an annual assessment on property tax bills. Gileno characterized the improvements provided as “useless conservation measures,” which require that “a lien is put on the house.” He said the PACE program was part of the “state’s agenda” to foist on the public its theory of “fake global warming.”
Robin Hvidston displayed four stacked and bound reams of paper to illustrate that the plan entailed more than 2,000 pages of material, which she said “is a series of contradictions. We are being told to conserve on water, but this is going to bring in 8,000 new residents to use water.” She lamented that compiling the plan “cost us $1.5 million. That could have helped our homeless or could have fixed our roads. I’d like to see an itemization of the $1.5 million to see how we ended up with this unwieldy plan.”
She invited the council to provide the public with a straightforward and understandable presentation of the updated plan’s contents and “not a confusing presentation by the planning commission where they use a lot of acronyms.” Hvidston said that in the plan, its authors “keep referencing the stakeholders. Who are they?” she asked. She said the plan “needs to be shelved.”
Kathy Pons said that Upland was the “Land of Gracious Living” but that the plan calls for high density residential development. Is this what you want for your children and your grandchildren. and your great grandchildren?” she asked.
Pons asked the council to “not rubberstamp this plan being pushed by outside forces not even living in the city of Upland.”
Jean Potts told the council, “High density is not a way of gracious living.”
Allison Cutler said she believed the city had failed to make adequate disclosure and announcement of the general plan update. “I am appalled at the way the city told us about the general plan update in the little notices in the back of the newspaper. We hired you to do what is best for the city, not to line your pockets with all the income you will get from the stack and packs.” She encouraged the city’s residents to make an effort at “following the money” to see who benefits from the redrafted plan. She said she had spoken with her neighbors and acquaintances and friends throughout the city and “not one person has one favorable thing to say about this.”
At various points throughout the public comments addressing the general plan revision process, members of the audience emphasized the criticisms of the plan made by the speaker at the podium with shouts, bursts of applause and catcalls. Both councilwoman Carol Timm, who was a member of the city planning commission for 16 years before she was elected to the city council last year, and mayor Ray Musser came in for especially harsh treatment by the crowd. When one of the speakers referenced direction Timm had given at a previous meeting for residents to address questions they have about the general plan update not to the council but to community development director Jeff Zwack, Timm attempted to back away from that comment. This brought a crescendo of derision from the crowd. Musser was subjected to similar vociferous expressions of disapproval when he stopped several of the speakers after their three-minute speaking limit was reached. When he did the same with Gileno, who failed to yield the podium to the next speaker, the deputy city clerk turned off the podium microphone. This provoked the crowd into a cacophony of shouts and demands that Gileno be allowed to finish. Musser than announced that the council would take a recess and he left the council dais. When the remainder of the council did not join him in his retreat behind the curtained area that serves as the backdrop to the council stage, the crowd became yet more inflamed. Councilman Glenn Bozar, the mayor pro tem, attempted to salvage the council’s dignity, making a half-hearted justification for Musser’s having pre-empted Gileno, but the crowd’s animation did not dissipate. Bozar then stood up, and moving to the curtains, parted the drapery and prevailed upon Musser to resume his stewardship of the proceedings.
There was no clear upshot from the crowd’s outpouring of hostility toward city leaders, other than vague assurances by the council that the acceptance of the plan would not be rushed into a vote. Coming as the comments did, during the public comment section of the meeting without the subject of the general plan update actually being on the city council’s agenda for that evening, some members of the city council, by their body language and reaction, appeared to believe they had been ambushed. In their reaction to the derision of several members of the crowd, there was an attempt to direct the public to community development director Jeff Zwack, who has been overseeing the update effort from the beginning. The council did not directly respond to Mills’ assertion, which was reiterated by some of the others, that Zwack’s representation that there had been adequate residential input for the update process was patently inaccurate.

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