South Upland Low House Pricing Kills Lewis/City Trade For Cabrillo Park

With five out of five factors now militating against the prospect, the City of Upland and the Lewis Group of Companies have dropped a plan to trade municipally-owned athletic fields at Cabrillo Park in the southwest quadrant of the city for property of marginal use for development the company has tied up at the north end of the city but where the placement of a sports complex had been proposed.
The Lewis Group of Companies, the most influential corporate interest in Upland, was able to get the tentative approval of both staff and a majority of the city council for an exchange in which Lewis was to obtain 16 acres at Cabrillo Park, located between Benson and Mountain Avenues on 11th Street in exchange for close to 45 acres of land upon what was formerly a gravel quarry north of the 210 Freeway where the company proposed more numerous, newer and more varied athletic fields would be located.
Without fully committing to the swap, the city council assigned council members Gino Filippi and Sid Robinson to define the parameters of the Lewis Group of Companies’ participation in creating the complex and to gauge citizen acceptance of the concept.
While some of the residents living near Cabrillo Park, fed up with the Saturday morning noise and commotion and intensified traffic that having the park host the American Youth Soccer Organization games entailed were not averse to having the soccer fields replaced with homes, the proposal was not gladly received among most others in the city. Those using the athletic fields, in particular those whose children participated in the American Youth Soccer Organization-associated league that played its games at Cabrillo Park, were taken aback by the proposal, in particular since a plurality of that league’s players resided in the southwest quadrant of the city, and relocating the playing venue to the north end of Upland would have created a hardship on at least some of those players and their families. Janet Orcutt, the regional commissioner for AYSO Region 32, of which Upland is a constituent, expressed skepticism about making the swap.
Another issue was the trade itself – level land in an area where infrastructure and utilities abound – for property blighted and pitted by decades of rock and gravel mining, large portions of which are at a subsurface level, without ready access to utilities and infrastructure. Though the conversion of the property in question north of the Freeway into a state where it could be built upon could be carried off, the expense of doing so was potentially prohibitive, as the financial means for making the conversion is not now nor likely to be any time within the foreseeable future available to the city. Thus, the trade carried with it the possibility that the soccer fields at Cabrillo Park, which had been in use for 45 years, would be shuttered and that it would be a generation, or perhaps even another 45 years, before youth soccer would again be actively played in the city again.
A third issue was the timing of the proposal, coming as it did in the aftermath of the city’s sale of 4.631 acres at Memorial Park to San Antonio Hospital for use as a parking structure, reducing the size of another key recreational amenity south of Foothill Boulevard, raised questions about both city staff’s and the council majority’s priorities. Residents began to openly talk about the city council’s obeisance to business interests outrunning its loyalty to the residents its members represent.
Fourth, three positions on the city council are up for election this year, the first time in the city’s history in which council members are to be elected from within the city’s newly designated districts. In this election cycle, the positions for districts 3 and 4, which cover the south end of the city wherein Cabrillo Park and Memorial Park are located, along with District 2, which covers the city’s northeast quadrant, will be contested. Thus, councilwoman Carol Timm, in District 4 and Councilman Filippi, in District 3, both members of the coalition supporting the swap who were last elected to the at-large council positions they now occupy in 2014, are due to face voters in November. Also contemplating a run for council in District 2 is incumbent Councilwoman Janice Elliott, the council’s lone dissenter who is thus not a part of the ruling coalition and who was elected to her at-large position in 2016. It appeared that Elliott was poised to politically capitalize upon her opposition to the land swap, thus potentially securing her presence on the council until 2022, a prospect frowned upon by the council’s ruling coalition of Filippi, Timm, Robinson and Mayor Debbie Stone. Simultaneously, Filippi and Timm were on the verge of having to face voters within their respective districts, many of whom were displeased with the planned obliteration of the parkland in their neighborhoods in favor of a business interest who has traditionally been a reliable donor to the campaigns of members of Upland’s political establishment, primarily meaning incumbents.
Those four factors, nonetheless, were insufficient to dissuade the city from seeing the swap of the soccer fields at Cabrillo Park for the quarry land from taking place. Rather it was fifth factor, one impacting Lewis Operating Company directly that led to a decision to forego the trade.
Lewis Homes was established by Ralph Lewis and his Wife Goldie in 1955 as a company that built homes, consisting exclusively of single family residential units. As it grew, Lewis Homes intensified the scope of its undertakings, going from building just a handful of houses at a time, to a dozen or so, then subdivisions of fifty or sixty in the early 1960s, until in the 1970s it was building hundreds of homes in one substantial expansive location as part of master planned developments. In time the company branched out into incorporating commercial elements and multi-family projects into the developments. As Ralph and Goldie moved closer and closer toward retirement, their four boys – beginning with Richard, then Randall, followed by Robert and Roger – took on roles and then major roles with the company, eventually moving on to inherent complete management and control of the company, by which time Lewis Homes was established as the quintessential San Bernardino County-based corporate success story. Now, as the four Lewis Brothers are themselves aging toward retirement and about to hand the development dynasty off to a succeeding generation of Lewises, the company has essentially out of the homebuilding business. Rather, having morphed out of the guise of Lewis Homes to that of the Lewis Group of Companies, it now specializes in acquiring land, the master planning of development proposals on that land, obtaining permits, approvals and entitlement to proceed with those projects and then having other homebuilders flesh out the projects with their housing creations.
In Upland, there are clear geographical socioeconomic divides that are essentially defined as escalating in a northward progression. That is, the rougher and more impoverished area of the city – to the extent that what is now the county’s third most affluent city can be said to have an impoverished area – lies south of Foothill Boulevard. The next dividing line comes at 14th Street, which lies two major thoroughfares up from Foothill Boulevard. The next dividing line is 16th Street. Thereafter, the next dividing line is the 210 Freeway. Thus, going northward on Euclid Avenue from the southernmost end of Upland just above the 10 Freeway, with the occasional exception that proves the rule, one encounters a few modest but quaint homes, with some occasional commercial, professional or governmental establishments intersticed among those residences; some progressively more impressive bungalows and two story homes on either side of the tree-lined Euclid median, then some vintage historic Craftsman-style homes dating from the 1910s and 1920s lying just north of Foothill Boulevard, then a mixture of one and two story homes built eight, seven, six, five and four decades ago, with an occasional grove home, a remnant of the bygone citrus industry that once defined Upland, thrown into the mix. As the northward progression continues, the homes become ever more stately. As far south as the northeast corner of 13th Street and Euclid one encounters a single mansion. Thereupon follow tasteful executive homes, starter castles and then a mixture of enviable abodes, ones with a wealth of architectural imagination and applications, incorporating brick or stone enhancing driveway entrances, Palladian windows, porticos, multiple chimneys, dormers, pilasters, and columns. Between 16th Street and the 210 Freeway mansions begin in earnest, some of which, despite their opulence, are outdone by an occasional manor as Euclid continues northward to the foothills below Mount San Antonio.
Officers with the Lewis Group of Companies a little more than a month ago began discussions with representatives of the homebuilding companies with regard to building upon the Cabrillo Park property. Reportedly, Lewis’s representatives were dismayed to hear those homebuilders evince little enthusiasm for building on the park property Lewis was on the brink of obtaining. The Sentinel is told that most of those builders had initiated those discussions with Lewis in the expectation of making a considerable profit by building in Upland, and were looking forward to creating homes on one-eighth of an acre lots that would sell in the range of $900,000 to $1.1 million. When the discussions with the Lewis Group of Companies got into full swing and it was discovered that the project site was in the city’s low rent district below Foothill Boulevard where a more realistic price on the homes would be in the rage of $600,000 to $700,000, the homebuilders walked away. Unprepared to itself undertake the building of homes on what was to be converted park property, the Lewis Group of Companies elected to forsake the park property acquisition deal.
At a July 12 workshop where the concept was to be fully previewed to the public, Lewis disclosed it would pass on the Cabrillo park land, using the public sentiment against taking away the soccer-playing venues from kids to explain its sudden redirection.
“We heard resoundingly over the last two weeks that this was not what the community wanted,” said Lewis Group of Companies Project Manager Adam Collier.
Collier then announced an alternative deal with the city, one in which it would still make sure that the city could take possession of the 45 acres in the quarry. The trade the company is now pushing for involves 32 acres of land the city has title to in Sycamore Hills, which lies right at the Upland/Claremont border along the westernmost extension of 16th Street, what is at that point called Baseline Road. Calculations are that builders can construct homes in Sycamore Hills on one-eighth acre lots and sell those homes for $1.4 million to $1.6 million.
For the Lewis Group of Companies, that represents a far better deal than the trade for the Cabrillo Park property.
The city has brought in Steve Dukett, a principal in the municipal management consultancy Urban Futures, to sell the deal to the community. This week, at the Upland City Council meeting, Dukett previewed the trade to those assembled there. Among those in the audience at Monday night’s meeting was Randall Lewis of the Lewis Group of Companies.
-Mark Gutglueck

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