In Historic Chino Vote, D.R. Horton’s Measure H Defeated

In an historic outcome, Measure H, which would have suspended the City of Chino’s zoning and development codes to allow D.R. Horton to build 180 dwelling units on 30 acres of rural land south of Francis Avenue between Vernon and Benson avenues, went down in overwhelming defeat.
The defeat of Measure H marks the first time in fifteen elections held under Chino’s controlled growth ordinance that the better-financed forces of developmental interests did not prevail in the battle over the intensity of growth in the city where the population has now hit 88,000.
According to the registrar of voters office, 7,750 Chino residents turned out to vote, with 1,245 or 16.06 percent supporting the measure and 6,505 or 83.94 percent voting no.
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 trend, a network of Chino residents determined to arrest the unbridled development manifested. The primary fruit of their efforts 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. While Measure M warded off some development proposals that could have called for density increases, it proved to be a less than bulletproof hedge against aggressive development in Chino. While there were some in favor of preserving Chino’s rural atmosphere, the vast majority of residents did not have strong feelings one way or another. When developmental interests would find themselves in a situation where they needed to put a measure on the ballot in compliance with the requirement of Measure M, they would appeal to the apathetic majority by means of an advertising blitz to push their agenda to build neighborhoods densely packed with homes or condominiums. On the 14 occasions previous to this week 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 provided 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.
In the most recent case involving D.R. Horton’s proposal to develop property south of Francis Avenue between Vernon and Benson avenues in north Chino not too far from the Ontario city limits, that property 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 what had been 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 the Chino Planning Commission unanimously voted 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, which held its meeting 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, considered 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 gave the initiative the nomenclature of “Measure H” and designated the election to take place on July 11.
With the polling completed at 8 p.m. and the precinct results coming in fairly rapidly thereafter, D.R. Horton was out some $200,000 in election costs and something approaching the same amount in promotional costs, while the “No on H Protect Chino” Committee and its supporters were celebrating their victory in earnest at Centro Basco Restaurant.

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