Upland City Council Trio Targeted For Recall Over Housing Density Issue

Three-and-a-half months after one group of Upland residents initiated a recall petition drive against Upland Mayor Ray Musser, another group of Uplanders has mounted drives targeting three of the mayor’s council colleagues.
Council members Gino Filippi, Debbie Stone and Carol Timm merit removal from office, recall proponents maintain, primarily because of the trio’s support for the revamped general plan approved in a 3-1 vote of the city council in September. Though there were slight variations in the notices served to each of the three council member targeted for recall, the gist of the cases made against them by the recall proponents relate to the general plan update.
The road to obtaining sufficient signatures to actually qualify recall questions against the three council members is a daunting one. To succeed, recall proponents will need to get 20 percent of the city’s 33,276 registered voters to endorse the petition.
Nevertheless, the issue at the basis of the animus driving the recall effort is a keenly felt one among a significant portion of the Upland community. Last spring and summer, capacity crowds showed up at public hearings conducted by both the city’s planning commission and city council, where passionate and vociferous opposition to a multitude of elements contained in the proposed general plan was on display. That opposition significantly outweighed the expressed support for the draft of new zoning and development standards that were eventually approved by the city council.
A general plan is described as a blueprint for a municipality’s future growth and development and the maintenance of ongoing zoning restrictions. Prior to last year, Upland’s general plan had last been comprehensively updated in 1992.
The new general plan was drafted by Upland Development Services Director Jeff Zwack, who was assisted in the effort by the firms of Design Community and Environment, a company later bought out by Placeworks, and RBF Consulting. Design Community and Environment, Placeworks and RBF were paid $1.5 million for their efforts. The Zwack/Design Community and Environment/Placeworks/RBF general plan update envisions significant increases 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 laid out restrictions on design, landscaping and other choices traditionally left up to individual landowners. Scores of residents lodged personal protests with the city council and planning commission over the changes envisioned in the city’s approach to development, which included the so-called progressive 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.
Though the plan was viewed with skepticism by many, the update garnered support from some quarters of the community, particularly developers, builders, real estate investors and Realtors, who supported it because its allowance of high density development would translate into a higher profit return on residential projects in the city.
Ultimately, at a meeting that started at 7 p.m. on September 14 but did not conclude until after 1 a.m. on September 15, the council majority, specifically Filippi, Stone and Timm, sided with Zwack and the development community in the showdown with those in opposition to the new general plan.
Four months later, a core group of those who had taken strongest issue with the elements of the new general plan have coordinated a plan of action to wrest control of City Hall away from the council majority they feel are too blasé in accepting development and land use standards that include intensified residential density allowance that in their view move Upland away from its traditional status as a bedroom community known as “The City of Gracious Living.”
There is a precise commonality in much of the language of all three notices of recall intent served on Filippi, Stone and Timm. According to those notices all three have “Opposed significant public outcry against approval of a corrupt general plan update” [and] “Participated in a deception perpetrated on residents by city employees and outside planners that optional parts of the general plan were required by law, even fabricating fake state reporting requirements” [and] have “not spoken out nor taken action against the city employees and planners who were caught telling bold-faced lies at commission and council meetings, with [all three] present at most meetings, and voted for the plan regardless of the truth and mistreatment of residents.”
Furthermore, the notices state that both Filippi and Timm “denied” and Stone ignored “empirical evidence presented showing intended and unintended negative consequences of the general plan update.”
The notices to Filippi and Stone maintain that they had “not read the entire general plan but voted in favor of it, which includes high density housing rewarding developers, measures attacking and frustrating car use, and excessive regulations on businesses and residential properties.”
Timm’s notice states that she “claimed reading the entire general plan update and found nothing wrong including high density housing, measures attacking and frustrating car use, and excessive regulations on businesses and residential properties.”
A comparison of the notices shows that the recall proponents do draw something of a distinction between each of the three recall targets, alleging transgressions and shortcomings on the part of each that differ from the others.
Filippi is charged with having “taken donations from developers who will benefit from the plan he voted for” and with “fighting to place medical marijuana dispensaries in Upland” as well as having “placed the desires of special interest cronies above the best interest of residents.”
Stone is separately accused of having “supported her boyfriend’s demeaning comments against residents who opposed the plan at council and commission meetings” and having “announced she obtained a medical marijuana card.” Like Filippi, she is accused of “fighting to place medical marijuana dispensaries in Upland” along with having placed the desires of special interest cronies above the best interest of residents.”
Timm is charged with having “violated the city ethics code by working to create historic preservation legislation as a planning commissioner, voting on historic properties as a council member all while serving as president of Upland Heritage which influences council decisions on historic properties,” having “met with the development services director [Zwack] behind closed doors, making changes to the General Plan while serving as stake holder, council member and president of Upland Heritage” and having “promoted increasing sales taxes.”
Those behind the recall efforts against Filippi, Stone and Timm are not the same as those seeking to recall Musser.
Filippi told the Sentinel, “I was notified by the city clerk that the notice of intent to recall petition was received and will be reviewed. I am aware and yes, it involves the protesters of general plan update. The planning commission voted 7 – 0 and council voted 3 – 1 to approve the general plan update. I stand by my vote, of course.”
Stone offered her reaction.
“I have received the notice of intention to circulate a recall petition,” she said. “The petition was filed by members of a small group that did not support elements of the recent Upland General Plan update. The general plan was unanimously approved by the Upland Planning Commission, and approved by the city council by a 3-1 vote. I have no regrets about my position, and as always believe that my position represents the desires of the majority of Upland residents and businesses.”
Timm said, “I received the notice of intent to recall at the Upland Council meeting on January 13th, 2016 at 2:59 p.m. The petition was signed by 20 people who were against passage of the Upland General Plan. The general plan document was thoroughly reviewed by 12 professionals on the Upland Planning Commission and city council and was overwhelmingly approved by all but one person after months of deliberation.
Timm continued, “I diligently examined the issues and voted in the best interest of our whole community.”
When the three were served at a specially-called meeting of the city council on Wednesday intended to deal with three matters relating to the animal control division’s intention to slaughter dogs deemed to be vicious, city officials were generally surprised and taken aback by the development. The Sentinel is informed that Filippi and Stone, who have been on the city council since 2010 and 2011 respectively, took being served, if not totally in stride, with a degree of resignation. Timm, who was elected to the council in November 2014, was visibly shaken and affronted, having taken the matter personally, the Sentinel was told.
The daunting task of collecting 6,656 signatures from Upland residents now awaits the recall proponents. By comparison, the group that targeted Musser for removal began its signature collection effort in October and has until February 20 to reach its goal. Reportedly, that effort has bogged down, collecting just over 4,000 signatures thus far, putting it on track to fail.
The same difficulties face the most recently formed recall efforts. One telling difference, however, is that the issue inspiring this recall – City Hall’s acceptance of land use, planning and zoning standards that will intensify density and change the character of what is known as the “City of Gracious Living” – is a keenly poignant one with a significant cross section of the community. Already a cadre of individuals who see this most recent recall effort as a means of preserving quality of life in the community in which they live has materialized. In a two week period in June, 562 Upland residents affixed their signatures to a letter calling upon the city to rethink the general plan update process and not approve the new general plan as it was then drafted. It was the council’s 3-1 vote to ignore that expressed sentiment and impose on the community the accelerated development standards inherent in the general plan that gave rise to the action this week. If over the next 120 days each of those 562 letter signers succeeds in getting twelve others to endorse the recall petitions, Filippi, Stone and Timm will find themselves in a showdown for their political lives.

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