By 3-1 Majority, Upland Council Approves General Plan Update As Drafted

Without Mayor Ray Musser participating, the Upland City council this week signed off on approving a general plan update for the city by a 3-1 margin, overriding the objections of a highly vocal band of residents who decried the redrafted document as one that would compromise the traditional character of the bedroom community of 73,732.
A stark difference of philosophy and orientation divided the update’s advocates and opponents, as was evidenced by the back and forth between members of the public who addressed the council from the public speaker’s podium during the hearing on the matter, which lasted for just less than five hours during the more than six-hour long council meeting, which began at 7 p.m. on Monday night, September 14, and did not conclude until nearly 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 15.
The general plan, which is described as a blueprint for the city’s future growth and development and the maintenance of ongoing zoning restrictions, was last comprehensively updated in Upland in 1992.
Considerable controversy attended the effort toward the general plan update in Upland over the last six months. As drafted by Design Community and Environment, a company since bought out by Placeworks, and RBF Consulting, all of which were paid $1.5 million for their efforts, the update envisions significant upratings in the intensity of land use in some quarters of the city, particularly residential densities in the downtown district which range as high as 55 units to an acre. Moreover, the newly drafted general plan lays out restrictions on design, landscaping and other choices traditionally left up to individual landowners. The update effort began in 2008 and languished for more than six years, during which five sessions or forums to obtain public input on future land use questions were held. But the effort accelerated sharply beginning in March, basically under the direction and guidance of Upland Community Services Director Jeff Zwack.
Scores of residents earlier this year lodged personal protests with the city council and planning commission over the changes envisioned in the city’s approach to development.
The plan is viewed with skepticism by many others who have not made public statements against it, among whom are some of the 562 Upland residents who in a two week period in June affixed their signatures to a letter calling upon the city to rethink the process and not approve the update as drafted.
The update has garnered support from some quarters of the community, particularly developers, builders, real estate investors and realtors, who support it because its allowance of high density development would translate into a higher profit return on residential projects in the city.
The planning commission earlier accepted the update as drafted by city staff in nearly all respects.
Some city residents this summer expressed disappointment and dismay with the council and Mayor Musser in particular because of their perceived blasé attitude toward the intensification of density inherent in the plan. Musser represents Upland as a member of SANBAG – San Bernardino Associated Governments – which doubles as the county’s regional planning and transportation agency, as well as a member of SCAG – Southern California Association of Governments – a regional planning agency. His participation with these large scale planning agencies has exposed him to certain so-called progressive principles of urban planning now in vogue, such as the concept of “Smart Growth,” which provides for consolidating urban resources into smaller areas and increasing density and placing retail, service, entertainment and recreational amenities within walking distance of residential zones, while discouraging the use of automobiles and promoting the heavier use of public transportation.
Musser’s acceptance of the layering of Smart Growth elements into the general plan update has triggered a negative reaction among some Upland residents, who see the update as part of a strategy to move the city away from its traditional status as a bedroom community known as “The City of Gracious Living.” Accordingly, a showdown between those protesting the general plan update and Musser was anticipated at the September 14 meeting. Musser, however, had heart bypass surgery on September 8 and did not participate in the Monday night/Tuesday morning meeting.
One theme enunciated by Zwack was that increases in city population going forward will not be anywhere near as intense as they were in the last two decades, even with the higher residential density allowances in the new plan. Zwack, in a statement later controverted by some residents, said that Upland’s population had increased somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 to 12,000 in the last twenty years but with only five percent of the city’s land area subject to development at this point, future population growth will not exceed 8,000.
Moreover, Zwack suggested those virulently opposed to the plan were being unduly alarmist over the prospect of the plan inspiring the influx of low income housing. He pointed out that the city is already in compliance with state and federal guidelines in terms of hosting low and very low income residents, such that the city has a surplus of 811 units with regard to such housing. In this way, he indicated, the only realistic prospect of the city accommodating further low income housing is a long-pending proposal to augment the existing Coy Estes Senior Citizen Apartment Complex with 72 units.
Zwack further defended the increase in residential density allowances in the plan by asserting the vast majority of residentially zoned properties will be constrained to densities of no greater than 20 units per acre.
Another figure Zwack cited was the projection that the plan’s implementation would bring about the creation of 11,787 new jobs “based on the uses and zoning proposed.”
During Monday night/Tuesday morning’s public hearing, the majority of those going on record during the public comment session expressed opposition to it, though eight people nevertheless commended the proposed changes on the development blueprint as ones worth putting into place.
Nancy Mannon was critical of the update’s opponents, saying they were making it “sound as if the world as we know it is going to come to a crashing halt.” With regard to the envisioned increase in density, she referenced Los Angeles and Orange counties and the city of San Bernardino where she said developments of densities of 20 units or more per acre were common. “A single family home is not always the best thing,” she said. “Our children and grandchildren will need more places to live.” As people age, she said, many will want to “downsize” in terms of their living arrangements. She said it was “snobbish if we deny these other types of accommodation.” She belittled those who expressed fear that the new general plan will serve as a magnet to those living below the poverty line. “Upland has already provided enough low income housing to meet the government guidelines. There will not be high rise development along Foothill Boulevard. Quality is the keyword in housing. I support the general plan and feel it needs to be passed and implemented.”
Justin Kadzow said that he had only recently been made aware that the general plan was being updated and based upon his limited exposure to its contents, “I’m telling you I disagree with the plan, and if you approve it, I will be the first one in line to help with the recall. High residential low income housing will screw up your schools.” He characterized it as a “lousy plan that was packaged real pretty.”
Alice Palacios, who has lived in Upland since 1996, said she was in favor of the historical preservation element in the new version of the general plan and she commended the planning commission and city council for spending “much time and patience to consider” the redrafted document in all its intricacy. “I support Upland’s new general plan,” she said.
Wendy Gish focused on what she said were allowances for “high density residential” development on Monte Vista Avenue running southward from Foothill Boulevard. She referenced “friends who have planes” flying in and out of nearby Cable Airport, saying she had misgivings about “three story residential projects that developers have already asked for.” Citing “air turbulence” and “what laymen refer to as air pockets,” she said the “east west pattern over the runway puts them in grave danger.” She suggested that Upland permitting three story structures at its border with Claremont might push Claremont toward permitting four story structures.
“I don’t believe Cable Airport should be on the hook for a plan you guys are going to put into place.”
Robin Hvidston suggested in her comments that a portion of the support for the plan had been drummed up by the Service Employees International Union, which she said was in favor of illegal immigration. She showed photos of a past city council meeting which she said documented that SEIU union members who “spoke in favor of the general plan” and its element embracing “low income housing” were doing so as part of an “orchestrated” display in which those participating were monitored by a union official.
Marilyn Mills chided the council for the way in which the hearing had been delayed until late in the evening, saying it was “shameful how you are treating these residents, keeping us here this late.”
Warning that the redraft they were considering “will shape all of Upland for years and you can’t go back once you change this plan,” Mills said, “It is very obvious that this whole thing is a very flawed process. It is about the money. You think this is a win win win.” By buying into the plan redraft, Mills said the city would please developers, city employee union members, mortgage brokers and make Southern California’s regional planning agency, known by its acronym SCAG, “happy, but you left out the residents.” Through the plan change, the city is seeking to streamline the work of developers by waiving requirements that their projects would otherwise have to comply with to gain approval, such as the California Environmental Quality Act, she said. “You are putting the city under a heavy financial burden,” she said, through requirements insinuated into the plan such as forcing businesses to incorporate new green technology into their operations, having less parking for cars available, and requiring more bike storage. This will result in costs, she said, “that will be passed on to the customer and customers are going to leave.” She said the city by adopting elements of the new general plan was seeking to tap into state and federal funding and grants but that taking on those responsibilities would come at a hefty price. “Are you willing to take all the strings attached to that?” she asked.
Heavy overregulation would drive businesses out of the city and displace sales tax revenue producing businesses, thus lowering revenue into the city while creating requirements for “a lot more fire and police services and a lot more pension costs,” she said.
Marilyn Mills’ son, Todd Mills, accused Upland Development Services Director Jeff Zwack of “disrespecting” the city’s residents and telling “outright lies” in promoting the new general plan, which he said represented an “anti-car vision” for the city. Todd Mills took specific issue with the inclusion of a “climate action plan” into the new general plan document that is consistent with a host of restrictions favored by government officials at the federal and state level as well as with regional planning entities such as Southern California Association of Governments, but which are not required by law. Once officially adopted as planning principles, however, those restrictions become binding, Todd Mills asserted. At previous public meetings Zwack had falsely, Mills claimed, stated that the adoption of the climate action plan was mandated by law. Subsequently, however, Todd Mills said, Zwack recanted when he was directly and pointedly questioned about the climate action plan being legally mandated. Todd Mills said that representatives from Placeworks silently condoned Zwack’s misrepresentations by not correcting his statement during those previous public forums.
He said Zwack knew that approving the climate action plan as part of the general plan was optional but misrepresented it as necessary, misleading the council and many residents.
“You can develop a climate action plan,” he said. “You don’t have to. Greenhouse gas reduction is not required by law for cities. Under the California Environmental Quality Act you may choose to eliminate greenhouse gases. By passing this climate action plan, the city will be entangled in a whole bunch of different laws. Right now it is not required. Do not pass the climate action plan.”
He further charged that Zwack had blurred the distinction between two types of air pollution in bamboozling the council and planning commission “You are mixing up particulates with greenhouse gasses,” he said. He charged the plan was driven by “extreme environmentalist ideology… through every element.” He said the council was being stampeded toward accepting the plan by Zwack’s employment of “lies and half-truths the citizens have been subjected to.”
Eric Hansen said that people opposed to the plan were going out of their way to “perceive issues in an attempt to derail the general plan.” He suggested such obstinacy was contrary to the interests of the city as a whole and was dwelling unnecessarily on minutiae that could be addressed later, after the plan is in place. “Approving the plan will allow staff to move ahead with the business of the city,” he said. “The plan can be amended three times a year, allowing for adjustments.”
Characterizing the new general plan as environmental extremism was inappropriate, he said, citing tangible manifestations of physical reality those who have lived in the area for the last four decades could relate to, saying past government-mandated efforts to make environmental improvements had been successful.
“We can debate global warming,” he said. “I can breathe when I go outside and could not do it in the 1970s. I can go to the Ford dealer and buy a 500 horsepower vehicle that gets 20 miles to the gallon. Cars are still the biggest creators of greenhouse gasses, but if we were all still driving around in ’57 Chevys, the chief of police would be picking up dead bodies from collisions and we wouldn’t be able to breathe.”
The delay in approving the new general plan, Hansen told the council, was “keeping you from moving ahead. Let’s get back to business and fix it in flight.”
Dean Mills, Marilyn Mills’ husband, referenced Mayor Ray Musser, who was not present, but who, Mills suggested, had set the tenor for the plan’s approval by stating that he was entrusting to the planning commission the task of evaluating the general plan update and that he believed that “whatever the Southern California Association of Governments wants is good for Upland.”
Dean Mills implied that the planning commission had done an inadequate analysis of the plan update. Moreover, he said that the entire process was being driven by development companies that had an interest, or as he put it, “skin in the game” in maximizing density allowances on future projects. The process was tainted by a conflict of interest, he said, in that the company that in large measure drafted the update – Placeworks – was also employed by those who stood to benefit from the plan update. “This is a good ol’ boys club,” he said. “Randall Lewis [of Lewis Homes/Lewis Group of Companies] and SCAG [Southern California Association of Governments] are also their [Placeworks’] clients. Doesn’t all this just seem pretty cozy? We cannot trust that you are not unduly influenced by these men.”
Dean Mills then pointedly asserted that councilwoman Carol Timm should recuse herself from voting on the general plan update altogether, propounding the theory that there was a conflict between her function as a representative of the residents and citizens of Upland and her involvement in one of the interest groups – historical preservationists – which has a substantial interest in the historical preservation element in the plan. Timm, as the president of the preservationist organization Upland Heritage, had been invited to participate as a stakeholder during the earlier drafting process for the plan, Dean Mills said, and he noted that as a former member of the planning commission she enjoyed further reach in shaping the update. Earlier this year she acknowledged that as a councilwoman she was working closely with Zwack in finalizing the draft that was presented Monday evening/Tuesday morning, Mills said, compromising her objectivity and precluding her from making an impartial analysis of the document.
Dede Ramella said that the council was being “dictatorial” in its insistence on the new terms in the plan update and that city officials were embracing irresponsible growth and development to offset poor management decisions in the past, including hiring too many employees and providing them with salaries and benefits that were too generous. “You’re trying to build your way out of $83 million in pensions,” she said.
Jim Richardson, who resides on 17th Street, eloquently lobbied, at first, for having the council accept the general plan update, saying concern that Upland would be urbanized as a consequence of the update was immaterial, since one definition of an urban environment is a municipality with a population of 50,000. “We passed that long ago,” he said. “We’re already urban.” Moreover, he said, there is a legal imperative to adopting the plan update. “We need to comply with state and federal statutes,” he asserted. “We haven’t been in compliance. We can’t just limp along with a bunch of bandages.” He disputed the contention that the plan was being rushed into approval. And he said many of those in opposition had been “accusatory” and had used “foul language that reflects poorly” on them.
At that point, he said that those organized in opposition had sought to “mislead” other residents into joining their opposition. In attempting to make that illustration, he displayed a flyer prepared by the opposition group using the slogan, “Don’t Urbanize Upland.” He berated the language used in the flyer, seeking to undergird his message. This redounded against him, however, when members of the crowd informed him that the language in the flyer he was so critical of in actuality represented passages taken verbatim from the general plan update document itself. Befuddled at the revelation that he was finding fault with the contents of the plan he had just recommended in glowing terms, Richardson retreated from the podium, muttering something to the effect that he had been mistaken.
Darvel Allred said by his informal polling, based upon what residents participating in the city’s hearings for the plan update had stated on the record and his own interaction with residents, sentiment against the update was running “600 to 6.” Initially, in March and April, when the city first went public with it, Allred said “No one spoke out in favor of it. Everyone said the plan was bad or had bad parts in it.” In the intervening time, Allred said, a smattering of support for the plan has cropped up here and there, but the reality remains that in the Upland community, people “overwhelmingly were against” the plan. He said that the planning commission in recommending its passage was “ignoring the citizens. Why were they not representing the people? I would suggest the process is totally flawed. You are governing against the will of the majority of the people in Upland if you vote to approve this plan.”
Diane Fedele said it was her perception that city staff had proposed the general plan changes and the council was supporting them “to fix all the money problems in the city.” She said she “dislike[d] the various elements” of the plan and that they “would destroy the character of Upland.” She said the principles layered into the plan are ones that come “straight out of Agenda 21,” an internationalist imperative to consolidate residential districts into relatively compact urban areas proximate to commercial, professional, service, social, recreational and entertainment facilities. She said by accepting federal funding to implement elements of the plan, the city will give up its autonomy to the federal and state government.
Linnie Drolet said she felt “a little chastised” by city officials for being critical of the plan. “We’re supposed to go for the plan that all you guys know reeks of being pushed through to let as few people as possible know what was going on so you guys could do what you want to do,” she charged. She said she objected to the terminology being inculcated into the masses by the plan, for example. “Street signs are now ‘way finding,’” she said. “Agenda 21 has been trickling down for thirty years, and now the rubber is hitting the road.”
Alison Cutler said, “We residents do not want our children to buy a home in Upland if they are going to have to go around in a bus or riding a bike. That is impossible to do with a family. Everything in this plan is intended to limit us and control our freedoms. If you vote for this, there will be a recall. No one wants this with the exception of maybe four people. The plan is flawed. It makes us feel as if there is money behind it and that campaign contributions are influencing you.”
Cutler said that by delaying the meeting into late into the evening, the council was “thinning the herd,” i.e., outwaiting members of the public who had come to the meeting but had to leave before weighing in on the issue in order to get home and to bed to get up Tuesday morning to get to work or make sure their children get off to school.
Laurie Wilde said she was “concerned about the impact on water, roads, schools and police.” She said she had supported three of the current council members in their past campaigns for office but that if they voted to support the general plan redraft, she could not “in good conscience” support them again.
Carlos Rodriguez defended the plan from a water use and increased density standpoint, saying it puts into place “the most water efficient [use standards] in the United States.” He said old homes will be retrofitted to the “new housing standards” such that new homes will be 50 percent more efficient indoors and 50 percent more efficient outside with respect to landscaping.”
Richard Lopez said, “The reason I am against this plan like a lot of other residents is I don’t feel we have been informed. I haven’t read the 2,000 pages, but the residents need a voice. I feel sorry for the developers that want to come in here and make money, but there is a lot of skepticism and I just don’t feel comfortable with this plan.”
Virginia Shannon, while acknowledging that many of the people opposed to the plan “have something to say, the way you are putting your message across with so much rancor gets in the way of what you are trying to say.” She said she, too, feels a natural inclination to resist change, but, noting she has been a resident of the Upland community longer than most others, “Most of you wouldn’t have your homes” if she had surrendered to her compulsion to keep Upland exactly the way it was and had actively opposed development years ago.
She further criticized those taking a stand against low income housing, saying that “There needs to be different kinds of homes for different kinds of people. You don’t have to live in all of them.” Using smart phones, which she said she had not mastered or adjusted to, as an example, she said she, too, was challenged by the rapid pace of change afoot in the world but that her personal distastes for change did not obviate its inevitability or desirability to others. She said that she had “some faith in the plan, unlike some people that are very loud. We have gone through this and gone through this and gone through this, and it is time to move on.”
Rod McAuliffe, speaking in support of the plan, said, “When you are playing basketball, there comes a time when you have to stop dribbling. Stop dribbling the ball and shoot.”
He said that Zwack is an honorable man of integrity and that the community could trust in the document he had prepared.
Eric Gavin said, “To grow or not to grow: that is the question. Growth is a good thing. Reckless growth is a bad thing. Let’s grow in an intelligent way.” With regard to the words “smart growth,” Gavin asked, “Why is this term so evil?”
He implied that those opposed to the plan were, in their own right, political extremists in the same way they accused those of being in favor of the plan of being environmental extremists.
“Your opposition is not factual,” Gavin said in directly addressing those who had gone on record as being against the plan update as drafted, characterizing the organization opposing the plan as a “voting block” composed of “Tea Party” activists who are “anti-historical preservation, anti-climate change [theorists] and [engaged in] anti-environmentalism.” He said the opposition to the plan was indulging in “partisan politics. This is not a partisan body,” he said of the city council and then said of those opposed to the plan update, “Their goal is to divide and stop you from passing this plan.”
Councilwoman Carol Timm dismissed suggestions that her objectivity was compromised in any way by a conflict in her loyalties or that she and the other members of the council were embracing the plan out of any sort of venal motives. She flatly rejected charges that she was unduly influenced by political donations from developmental interests who stood to profit from the implementation of the new general plan or that her commitment to and work toward historical preservation in the city in some fashion resulted in a conflict of interest vis-à-vis the plan because elements of the plan promoted historical preservation.
Councilman Gino Filippi utilized his bully pulpit to question Zwack about specific issues raised by the plan update opponents and allow Zwack to sponge the bells of alarm over the plan and its provisions.
Councilwoman Debbie Stone said that passage of the general plan update would “put us in compliance with the law and give us a basis to work from.” She said the concerns about the plan raised by members of the community “had been addressed to my satisfaction. We have to work together to put Upland back together.”
Glen Bozar, who as mayor pro tem was presiding over the meeting in Mayor Ray Musser’s absence, indicated he was “taking a different look at the concerns” raised by many of the city’s residents.
He pointedly questioned Zwack at one point, extracting from him a reluctant acknowledgment that there was no legal mandate that the general plan contain a climate action plan element.
Bozar said he was uneasy about the “unintended consequences” of many aspects of the plan and that he was concerned that by incorporating the climate action plan into the document, the city was taking on responsibilities and liabilities it should not. “Mr. Zwack says it is a tool,” Bozar said. “I am absolutely convinced it is not mandated by law.” This would involve the city in a whole host of regulations and requirements that would have tremendous impact on, and implication for, the city, Bozar said. “When Upland gets involved in this climate action plan, we are going down that path,” he said. “I am convinced it [the climate action plan] should be removed.”
Bozar then explored the extent, or a portion thereof, of the authority granted to the development services director by the general plan. He referenced a provision in the document that gives the development services director authorization to make a determination about or otherwise resolve “ambiguity” with regard to zoning issues, or in the alternative, refer such questions to the planning commission. Instilling in the development services director that authority, Bozar suggested, had the effect of “removing oversight” from the city’s land use procedures.
“I have a real problem with giving one person that much authority,” Bozar said.
In other respects, Bozar said, the new general plan in specifying building, design, architectural and landscaping standards that were formerly considered the province of a landowner’s or homeowner’s discretion was getting “into the legal concept of alienation of property” and “treading” on constitutional and basic rights of the city’s residents and property owners. In making this point, he cited newly drafted “upper story setbacks on single family residences” and “garage design. You can no longer make a three car-wide driveway like I have,” he said. “We are encouraging the orientation on garage doors to be at 90 degrees to the street. We can’t have gated communities anymore. We are actually creating a giant homeowner’s association that has covenants, conditions and restrictions. We are getting into micromanaging regulatory standards. We are evaluating economic conditions. I don’t think that is what we are here for. We are making business go through hoops on regulatory processes. A a cit we should be trying to minimize the burden on businesses in the regulatory process but this does the opposite, in my opinion. We are going to keep on raising development fees. Circulation plans are required. With regard to parking, we are to have shared parking and are to reduce parking demands and to work toward improving bicycle transit mobility. I think we are asking for trouble doing that. There is a healthy cities concept in this plan that sys Upland has an abundance of bad food choices. I don’t think that is where we want to go. Health is between me, my doctor and my health care provider.”
Bozar’s was the lone vote against passing the general plan update. Timm, Stone and Filippi approved it.

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