Undeterred By Resident Resistance, Upland PC Endorses Redrafted General Plan

In the face of substantial resident opposition, the Upland Planning Commission on August 26 unanimously recommended that the city’s general plan update be certified by the city council with relatively minor adjustments. The update was drafted by Design Community and Environment, an environmental planning company and its corporate successor PlaceWorks, with input by city staff.
In 2008 the city of Upland undertook to update its general plan, the comprehensive blueprint for the city’s development which was last revised in 1992. Initially, that effort was energetically pursued with the city introducing the plan at the Scary-Affair, Christmas parade and Upland Craft Fair in the last three months of 2008, providing a limited forum for citizen input. After two planning department-sponsored workshops, the update effort languished, during which time the downtown specific plan was written and approved. It then resurfaced over three years later at an open house in 2012. Once again the general plan disappeared from the public eye for almost three years, while the housing element was written and approved, until a notice appeared in the February utility bill this year, announcing that the plan had been completed. A public review period began on March 9 with the planning commission hearing slated for April 22. Upland Development Services Director Jeff Zwack and other officials anticipated that another public review of the document would be staged in May and that it would then go to the city council for its review and approval in June.
At 2,230 pages, the updated general plan presages changes in the nature of the city’s zoning code, with a radical departure in housing density as evidenced in the housing element of the plan allowing 55 units on a single acre while most of the city’s existing neighborhoods have fewer than eight homes per acre and the vast majority of those built more than three decades ago have fewer than six units per acre. In addition, the plan as drafted calls for four newly defined zones referred to as mixed-use, which include placing residential units atop commercial and office buildings with reduced parking for cars and enhanced bike facilities.
Gradually, as more and more of the city’s residents became aware of the implication in the proposed new general plan, opposition to it built.
In overwhelming numbers, those animated by the controversy expressed both general disapproval of how the public was not involved in forming the vision for the plan and was then being shoehorned into a very limited set of open meetings at which its input was to be obtained. Upon ever closer perusal of the specific elements of the general plan as pertained to density, land use and restrictions aimed at modifying transportation, circulation, recreational, food and entertainment options and resident behavior, opposition mushroomed.
In response, city officials lengthened the planned consideration and examination period for the document and added two public hearing dates – one for the city council and one for the planning commission – to allow for further public input.
While a number of the plan’s aspects – including measures to reduce residents’ use of cars in favor of walking, bicycling and public transportation, and restrictions on how homes can be designed for visual effect and yards can be landscaped – elicited skepticism and encountered opposition from city residents, it was by far the increases in residential density and allowances for structures as high as seven stories in what is celebrated as “The City of Gracious Living” that triggered the most ardent protest.
This level of distrust among a significant number of the city’s residents was exacerbated by the revelation that city staff had created a “red lined” document, i.e., one containing staff’s emendations to the new general plan as originally drafted, which staff was refusing to release publicly. On July 22, Zwack acknowledged the so-called “red lined document” indeed existed, but he said it represented a work product that was not finalized, calling it a “midstream document.” He refused to release it, boosting claims by increasingly doubtful residents that city staff was being far too secretive about exactly what would be in the final draft presented to the city council.
Indeed, when the refined document was revealed by staff just prior to the planning commission hearing at which the commission’s vote on whether that panel should recommend its passage to the city council, residents learned that the protests about the high density levels permitted in residential neighborhoods had resulted in only minimal changes.
After holding public hearings on two other planning issues on Wednesday night, August 26, the planning commission got around to reviewing the proposed new general plan. In a gesture toward accommodating the widespread resident discomfiture with the increased density envisioned in the plan, the planning department added that residential projects over 15 units per acre will only be considered under a conditional use permit and will go before the planning commission. The other hotly contested issue, the community benefits program, was temporarily removed from the plan and will come back to the commission for further review. The community benefits program gives the city’s development services director sole discretion in handing out those density concessions which can boost the permissible number of units on an acre. Of some moment was that none of the planning commission members appeared to have read the entire document, as they evinced ignorance or mystification at some of its contents, and were relying upon staff’s representations as to its substance. At one point, planning commission chairman Gary Schwary expressed surprise at the community benefits element, saying at one point he wanted it removed.
Previously, resident Diane Fedele met with Zwack where he reported that edits were being made to replace language such as “sustainable” and “smart growth”. She warned him then and at the July 22 planning commission meeting that it would only look deceitful and cause more public outrage.
Ignoring her warning and in a less than deft effort to mollify the crowd, the commission responded to protests concerning the “in lieu of car use” option laid out in the plan by removing its reference in one paragraph that references the preference of having walking, biking and bus travel as the predominant means of transportation. Nevertheless, the goal of reduced car use remains throughout the document, prompting one of the general plan update’s most vocal critics, Marilyn Mills, to express the view that “These edits are just cosmetic.”
Mills was at the forefront of the opposition movement that has called for a wholesale redrafting of the plan before it is adopted. That movement included a website created by residents built around the slogan “Don’t Urbanize Upland.”
In addition to belaboring the density issue, the residents took exception with several so-called “smart growth” principles layered into the plan. Smart growth is a set of guidelines related to development now much in vogue with urban planners, which embraces densely packed residential units in close proximity to commercial uses and transportation corridors. It is based on Agenda 21, a United Nations document that envisions large population concentrations in confined areas, using shared and intensified infrastructure, amenities and resources all under the aegis of environmentalism. Many Upland residents have expressed the view that Agenda 21 and its smart growth standards are antithetical to traditional living standards and quality of life approaches in Upland.
Mills attempted to warn the commission that the new plan will embrace a “climate action plan,” known by the acronym CAP. The climate action plan, Mills said, is being pushed by a regional planning entity, Southern California Association of Governments, known by its acronym, SCAG. SCAG does not have dictatorial power over local planning and land use, Mills said, and adhering to its agenda is voluntary, she insisted. But buying into the climate action plan will entail falling under standards being set statewide pertaining to reducing vehicle miles traveled and the drawdown in the output of greenhouse gases. Once the city falls under the climate action plan regime, Mills said, there will be no turning back. “It just gets worse and worse,” Mills said. “It mandates reduction goals year after year. SCAG cannot mandate it but once you agree you are locked in. It will be hugely expensive for our community.”
Mills seemed to serve as a lightning rod for the commission’s disdain toward those resisting the general plan update. She and others had collected the signatures of 562 residents in less than two weeks on a petition saying they are opposed to the update as framed.
Schwary was dismissive of that petition, suggesting that it carried no meaning because the signers had been unduly influenced by Mills’ underlying opposition to the plan update.
The commission, after a three hour discussion and input, rejected the calls by the majority of those in attendance to hold off on making any recommendation until it is seriously redrawn. At the midnight hour its members voted unanimously to recommend that the city council adopt it.
After the meeting, Mills was scathing in her review of the commission’s action. “They are not an independent commission,” she said. “They haven’t even completely read what they voted on. They are a rubber stamp for Jeff Zwack and city staff.”

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