Low Growth Advocates Test Whether Measure H Will Mark 15th Straight Density Increase

Low growth advocates in Chino are vying against the march of history and the economic might of D.R. Horton, one of the largest homebuilders in the United States, in trying to stop the construction of 180 residential units between Francis, Philadelphia, Vernon and Benson avenues.
Chino, a traditionally agricultural community and among the last of San Bernardino County’s 24 incorporated municipalities and its more than 50 unincorporated ones to maintain any major vestiges of its agrarian roots, has been subjected to accelerating urbanization since the late 1960s. Against that urbanization trend, a loosely-knit network of Chino residents opposed to the prospect of a wall-to-wall megalopolis stretching from Santa Monica to Las Vegas and beyond has existed in Chino since the 1980s, determined to stop developers from having their way with the city and proceeding with development schemes indistinguishable from neighboring cities and others in Orange, Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County where those cities’ planners and elected officials no longer blanch at, let alone resist, proposals to construct upwards of 20 or 30 units to an acre.
A manifestation of that was Measure M, a growth control measure passed by the city’s voters in 1988, under which land in Chino cannot be rezoned to allow more homes than is specified in the city’s general plan or zoning maps without a vote of the city’s residents. Measure M requires that the proponent of such a project pay for the election. To be sure, Measure M has warded off some development proposals that could have called for density increases. But Measure M has proven less than a bulletproof hedge against aggressive development in Chino.
While it is a safe bet that among those animated on the subject of development in Chino, those opposed to high density outnumber those in favor of it, the reality is that the number of residents in Chino who have no strong feelings one way or the other or who have not even considered the conflict between high or low density vastly outnumber those tuned into the issue of growth and its impact on the community. And those developmental interests intent on intensified growth in Chino have exploited that apathetic majority to push their agenda to build neighborhoods densely packed with homes or condominiums to fruition. On the 14 occasions over the past 28 years when developers were committed enough to roll the dice and test whether the city’s voters would use the opportunity Measure M has given them to prevent them from proceeding with their projects, the developers have won every contest. Not one was turned down. In every case, the developers spent considerable money on a promotional campaign in the weeks just before the vote, sending out electioneering material to high propensity voters, that is, those voters who have demonstrated a tendency to vote in elections, propounding the benefits of that particular development proposal. Those campaigns succeeded every time in driving more people to the polls to support the proposed projects than the low growth-advocates could muster to oppose them.
At present, the land south of Francis Avenue between Vernon and Benson avenues in north Chino not too far from the Ontario city limits is described as rural. It bears RD1 zoning, which permits no more than one dwelling unit per acre. D.R. Horton’s initial proposal was made in 2013 in conjunction with the property’s several property owners, including Chino residents Matt Evans and his father-in-law Ron Brewer, who own the lion’s share of the 33.5 acres upon which the company wanted to erect 232 dwelling units in addition to the eight existing homes already there. An effort to get enough signatures on a petition to qualify a vote on the matter under the Measure M requirement was made but petition circulators did not achieve the threshold of signatures needed to get a question on the matter placed before the city’s voters on the November 2014 ballot.
In December 2014, the city council told D.R. Horton that if the company was serious, an environmental impact report would be needed. D.R. Horton in 2016 moved forward, reducing the footprint of the project from 33 acres to 30 acres and 232 units to 12 single-family homes on 7,000-square-foot lots, 87 detached single-family units on 4,500-square-feet lots, and 73 detached condominiums in addition to the eight existing homes.
On March 6 of this year in a hearing before the Chino Planning Commission, thirty-four of the overflow crowd at City Hall offered their views on the project, with 22 speaking against it and 12 speaking in favor. The six commission members present – Brandon Blanchard, Kathleen Patterson, Harvey Luth, Steve Lewis, Walt Pocock and Sherman Jones – voted in unison against recommending approval of the project as is, saying it was out of step with the city general plan, out of compliance with the applicable zoning and incompatible with the existing neighborhood.
The matter then went before the city council, the body with the ultimate – or in this case the penultimate – decision-making power. Anticipating a massive turnout, the council met in the community room at the Chino Senior Citizens Center, which has greater seating capacity than the council chambers. The meeting lasted over four hours, providing an encapsulation of Chino’s competing cultures, with 33 speakers weighing in on the project. The council, recognizing the project’s fate would be decided by the voters, weighed the wisdom of placing the matter on the ballot using its own authority, by which terms D.R. Horton would need to defray the approximately $200,000 cost of the special election, or instead force D.R. Horton to gather the requisite number of signatures to force the election, in which case the city would have to pay for the election. Ultimately, the council voted 4-1, with Mayor Eunice Ulloa dissenting, to place the issue on the ballot and have D.R. Horton pay for the polling.
The San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters has given the initiative the nomenclature of “Measure H” and designated the election is to take place on July 11.
A group calling itself the Yes on Measure H Committee, which is bankrolled by D.R. Horton, is using the slogan “Support Chino Jobs and Schools” in promoting a yes vote. Its members claim 600 Chino residents and counting are enthusiastically in support of it. Matt Evans is the chairman of the Yes on Measure H Committee and he says allowing the property to be developed in the way D.R. Horton wants will be “positive” for the community, make homes for young families to move into and make him, his father-in-law and the other landowners rich.
The largest among several organizations fighting D.H. Horton’s proposal calls itself simply No on H. It is headed by its chairman, Ed Layaye, and counts former Chino Mayor/San Bernardino County Supervisor/County Treasurer Larry Walker, who wrote the argument against Measure H, and current Chino Mayor Eunice Ulloa among its ranks. At the behest of its Chino region members, the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee endorsed the No on H position.  -Mark Gutglueck

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