By Mark Gutglueck
In Redlands over the better part of the last half century, preservationists through repeated successful efforts at the ballot box have wrested from the city council ultimate land use authority on specific issues and vested that control in the city’s population at large as a hedge against overdevelopment. Now, however, a major existential and cultural battle is ongoing as the forces of controlled growth are being challenged by both the city council and their building industry sponsors with an initiative which will, if passed, undo those previous voter-approved restrictions against aggressive residential development in the city of 72,000.
Redlands was incorporated in 1888, the third San Bernardino County to become a municipality. A group of wealthy investors from Chicago who became known as the Chicago Colony founded the community on land that was previously sparsely developed for agricultural use, and the city attracted affluent Easterners wanting winter homes in the region. Redlands became what was arguably the grandest residential/agricultural/resort venue in Southern California at that time, and through subsequent generations its residents built on and enhanced that status. By the late 20th Century, a core of sophisticated and energetic city residents were acutely conscious of the city’s rich heritage and assets, and so worked together to codify protections against the urbanization that was consuming most of the surrounding communities.
Proposition R in 1978, Measure N in 1987 and Measure U in 1997, all of which were intended to reduce growth to manageable levels, were sponsored by those community activists and passed by the voters.
Measure R put a limit on the annual growth rate, followed by further refinements and restrictions put in place under the auspices of Measures N and U, such that no more than 400 residential dwelling units can be approved or constructed within the city annually, and the city council is not empowered to suspend, waive or rescind those provisions.
In recent years, several individuals have been elected to the city council with the heavy backing of the development industry in terms of money provided to those elected leaders for use in their election campaigns when they were candidates. In other cases, candidates who were not elected with hefty building industry support or who were appointed to the council have seen deep-pocketed developers swing behind them to support them in their political campaigns going forward. At this point, the entirety of the current city council, beholden to the development community for the lifeblood needed to sustain its individual members’ political careers, are in favor not only of jettisoning the slow-growth/controlled growth provisions of Measures R, N and U, but a host of other development limitations in the city.
Over the last two years the city has formulated the so-called Redlands Transit Villages Plan, which calls for ensuring substantial ridership on the planned light rail system that is being constructed to connect San Bernardino to Redlands, a public transportation project intended to reorient commuters away from utilizing personal vehicles to rely instead on the use of trains and buses, particularly in transiting southwestward, westward and northwestward across the Inland Valley and the Los Angeles Basin to their places of employment in Orange County, Los Angeles County/western San Bernardino County and the San Gabriel Foothill Communities. Thus, the Redlands Transit Villages Planning Area near the city’s core is proposed to consist of a train station and bus stops surrounded by high density multi-story rental apartments as well as townhomes, retail/commercial uses, service shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues, what the city is referring to as a “walkable mixed use community,” one that will allow its inhabitants to greatly minimize use of their own personal vehicles. The city council has seized on the imperative of seeing the Redlands Transit Villages Plan to fruition as the pretext for doing away with Measures R, N and U. Thus, the council used its authority to place on the upcoming March 3 ballot Measure G, which will absolutely undo all of the provisions of Measure R, Measure N and Measure U in the city’s 782-acre central corridor and make further general sallies against Measures R, N, and U throughout the city. Specifically, Measure G would eliminate the current requirement that a four-fifths vote of the city council is needed to approve residential densities exceeding 18 dwelling units per acre. Measure G would eliminate the current requirement that a four-fifths vote of the city council is needed to approve residential buildings exceeding two stories or 35 feet in height. Measure G would eliminate the need for developers to ensure that the level of traffic flow that exists at the intersections proximate to their projects prior to the construction of their projects be maintained after the projects are completed. Measure G would eliminate the requirement that the voters of the city rather than the city council be solely authorized to establish any new land use designations in the city. Measure G would eliminate the requirement that the proponents of certain new development projects prepare a socioeconomic‐cost/benefit study before approval of those projects. Measure G would eliminate the requirement that certain residential subdivision projects be subject to competitive review for issuance of building permits. Measure G would eliminate the requirement that the developers of new projects pay 100 percent of the development impact fees that are imposed on those projects. Measure G would rescind voter‐approved measures R, N and U, which prohibit more than 400 residential dwelling units being constructed within the city in any year. Recent state legislation has suspended the city’s enforcement of the Measure R, N and U 400-unit limitation through the year 2025. Approval of Measure G would permanently exempt residential dwelling units constructed within Redlands’ Transit Village Planning Area from the 400 dwelling unit limitation.
According to a website put together by Measure G’s advocates, the initiative will “allow the Redlands Mall to be developed with boutiques, restaurants, townhomes and parking, increase attainable housing and reduce homelessness, support our neighborhood businesses, provide for sustainable economic growth by creating good-paying jobs and increased revenue, maintain and enhance small town walkability with increased access for pedestrians and bikers and ensure any downtown development respects our rich Redlands history.”
According to its support group, Measure G will “prioritize our public safety, reduce homelessness, revitalize the Redlands Mall and improve our city’s parks, recreation and transit.”
Measure G’s opponents, however, see Measure G as a ploy to destroy the barriers the current and past generation of city voters and city officials had erected against the profit-driven motives of the development community and their advocates both elected and non-elected who are ready to compromise the city’s values and quality of life to allow that profit-taking to occur. They lament the loss of mountain views the five story structures will impose on the neighbors to the south and complain that city officials are being driven by a slavish desire to please their political patrons and are kowtowing to pressure being vectored on them from the development community, including multiple members of the Redlands University Board of Trustees, who are themselves creatures of the development industry. These opponents decry the willingness of city officials to surrender land use and planning autonomy to the state and to make density and other concessions in exchange for federal dollars for participating in such affordable housing programs in which the money the city will receive does not offset the negative impacts of the increasing intensity of land use the city is on the verge of allowing to take place. They lampoon the representation that Measure G represents a fix to the city’s or the region’s homelessness problem as “magical thinking,” pointing out that the “affordable” units Measure G and the Redlands Transit Villages Plan will give rise to will entail monthly rentals of $1,500 at the low end in current dollars, which are in no wise “affordable” for those now living on the streets. They maintain the eventual advent of the train line will not precipitate any significant transformation in the commuting habits of the populace, in that public transportation options in the form of bus lines already exist and that the vast majority of workday commuters are spurning them. Whatever conveniences in shopping and service availability the nearby commercial venues will represent to the Redlands Transit Villages residents will not obviate their need or desire to seek out and travel to other more comprehensive and less expensive retail outlets, the opponents state, and they say it is a fallacy to claim or think that Measure G will fix the Redlands Mall. In addition, they say, the assumption that those who will move into the central core’s apartments will be entirely dependent on public transportation is a fallacy, and they note that plans for the apartments appear to have no or inadequate parking facilities. Moreover, they say the deterioration of the community that will ensue from Measure G being put into place will hasten the exodus of the affluent members of the Redlands community who yet live here because of its small town, upscale and less-than-urbanized ambiance. They maintain that Measure G is a ruse by Redlands Mayor Paul Foster and the cabal of development interests that are heavily invested in his political career to eliminate the elements and standards of the Redlands community which distinguish it from the cities that surround it, so to enable land speculators and builders to proceed wholesale with the urbanization of the city.
Foster has somewhat aggressively sought to dissuade those speaking out against Measure G to desist, stating that they are obstructing the city in its effort to let go of the past and make the progress it needs to make toward the future. He spurned the Sentinel’s offer to make a case for the passage of Measure G.
Redlands Councilwoman Toni Momberger, however, laid out a very cogent explanation of what the city council’s rationale for putting Measure G on the ballot was, and her version of events in large measure rejects the cynical and pessimistic view of the Measure G naysayers.
“The impetus for this change is the general plan included a transit village concept featuring a mixed-use component, including a commercial and mid-to-high density residential element focused on connectivity, involving an intermodal transportation hub and modeling that contained paths connecting residential, retail-commercial, entertainment, neighborhoods, etc.,” Momberger said. “This is really a big deal. That was voted into the general plan. The way the city approached the general plan was to put a concerted effort into making sure everyone, every residence was contacted as to that. What this constitutes is a basic and enduring constitution for the City of Redlands, a constitution for development that was passed on December 5, 2017.”
It was subsequent to the general plan’s passage, Momberger said, that city officials came to the realization that “this transit village concept in the general plan is not compliant with our growth regulations. We now have a problem. We have to adhere to the general plan on [future development] but legally we cannot do that.”
Hence, Momberger said, Measure G was put together to undo the restrictions that would otherwise prevent the city from proceeding with the general plan.
“The first rationale for the passage of Measure G is to make it possible to execute that vision, and we have indicated the reason we want and we have to make that policy official is for downtown development [to take place].”
Continuing, Momberger said, “Number two, there are mandates from the state to add more housing units to Redlands than we have generally allowed previously and more than we were expecting to add. We are on a tight deadline to add as many units as early as we can because if we don’t we will be severely penalized. Based just on what is in effect, we are mandated to add thousands of housing units in the city limits. If we don’t meet those numbers, the courts will seize our planning authority and ability to approve the development [that takes place] here and will replace our control with their own. We have to add as many units as possible as fast as possible. That is the mandate from the governor.”
The regional planning collective for Southern California is SCAG, which is an acronym for Southern California Association of Governments. SCAG has arrived at what is referred to as the “Regional Housing Needs Assessment,” which is its tentative interpretation of the new housing unit quotas for each of Southern California’s cities and counties under the order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom that new housing be created to remedy the state’s housing shortage. According to that assessment, by 2025 the City of Redlands is mandated to allow a total 4,487 dwelling units to be built within its city limits, which are to include 1,248 for those with very low income, 789 for those with low income, 830 for those with moderate income, and 1,620 for those with above moderate income.
“It is not a matter of what we want,” Momberger said, asserting the city is in essence compelled with doing away with Measure R, N and U. “It is a matter of we are getting units [and] the traffic. The question is will we be be able to put the units downtown rather than everywhere else, and will we be able to minimize the traffic impact.”
The concept, Momberger said, is to make the incoming housing “walkable,” that is, within walking distance from the places the residents in those homes will most often and most likely visit. She said the new development should be “one or two miles from where you get services – shopping, retail, entertainment, dining. Most people will drive to where they get those services. This is about the advisability of putting those services close to where the incoming population is going to live. So the idea behind building up downtown instead of building at the city’s outskirts is that potentially you are reducing the guaranteed traffic that will come with the development. People will still own their cars and they will still drive but if they commute using the train and if they live within walking distance to all the shops and have access to the train, in a couple of years there is at least the potential the impact on traffic won’t be as bad.”
Momberger said, “Reason number three is it is better on our air quality and the allocations and expense in general as it is more economically responsible to build more units per acre of land instead of having them spread out all over and using far more acreage for single family residences.” She asserted that compact residential districts represent “more water efficiency in general.” She said putting high density housing close to regional rail facilities would translate to “fewer cars, less impact on roads [and] infrastructure. It will cost the city less in maintaining our infrastructure.”
Momberger’s fourth reason for signing on to Measure G was that it would enhance the populace’s chance for home ownership. “We are in an era right now, especially in Southern California, where few people are able to make it into the middle class,” she said. “Research proves that home ownership is a big factor in becoming economically independent, successful and prosperous. One of the biggest factors in the generation of wealth is that home ownership of [by one’s parents] can dictate a person’s lifetime health quality. A survey was conducted that showed a chronic disease instigator [in adults] was whether [as children] their parents owned their home for first five years of their lives. The study showed the value of home ownership, which was how well you do in school is directly tied to home ownership. There is a tremendous housing shortage and the housing demand is so dire that government has put extreme mandates on local government and cities for the construction of new homes. This is egregious. I hate being under threat. Someone who doesn’t know my community and doesn’t respect the quality of my community that brought the residents here and is now going to supplant standards the community consensus has created is not appropriate. All of those circumstances are at play. I think it [Measure G] is the best option of what is available to us. That is why I believe we should pass this measure.”
While Momberger indicated there were provisions in Measure G she had reservations about, she said it nonetheless was necessary that the city be proactive in dealing with the challenges facing it.
“I don’t want that many units,” Momberger said. “I don’t want to add the traffic. I think we need time to adapt. I don’t like giving up the authority to approve some of the utilities, to approve certain development under the measure. Mine is a sticky and conflicted position, but when I see what we have to risk, I think that what is best for this community is to acknowledge that growth is coming and we don’t get to stop it and we have to manage it as responsibly as we can.”
One of Momberger’s predecessors in office, Bill Cunningham, illustrated the degree to which the conflict over Measure G represents a cultural battle.
“The council has placed Measure G on the ballot,” Cunningham said, noting that the initiative found its genesis in the city’s current political leadership. “It would gut Measures R and N and U and free up the development of multistory rental housing in the central corridor of Redlands. That rental housing is intended to be associated with the light rail project near downtown. That is the essence of the situation. The central corridor is approximately 782 acres. Beyond that, most of Measures R and N would still be applicable, in theory.”
Cunningham said the passage of Measure G would have dire consequences.
“What we are looking at is a total change to the character of Redlands,” he said. “That is the issue that troubles me the most. In 1998, Redlands was deemed one of the four most notable places in Southern California’s six primary counties. Part of that identity consisted in the small town atmosphere we projected in our downtown area. The Southern California Association of Governments put out a multi-page brochure lauding Redlands and its character of maintaining the image of a small town, anchored by our outstanding university, our historic homes, our citrus groves and open space heritage. It was really quite an honor. Over the years, Redlands has maintained that image. Now the city council is in the process of implementing a new general plan attacking those particular characteristics, and are basically seeking to urbanize Redlands away from its historic image.
The primary driving force appears to be Mayor Foster. I really don’t know what his motivations are. It does appear to involve the other four members of the city council. It appears there is a philosophical change with regard to the future of Redlands.”
The effort to keep Redlands true to the vision of being and remaining a quality environment runs deep, Cunningham said.
“The first of these growth management measures has been in place for over 40 years,” he said. “Secondly, as far as I can tell, there is still a very large measure of support for maintaining the community as it is. We never attempted to stop growth in Redlands. What the measures did was encourage commercial growth rather than unbridled residential growth. The effort was primarily to ensure that the growth would be at such a rate that the schools could handle the increased load, and to give an opportunity for the new people to be integrated into the culture of Redlands rather than the community being overwhelmed by a massive influx of residents who had no idea of or appreciation for what we are as a community.”
According to Cunningham, “Measure R limited the number of units that could be built in any given year. Measure N basically extended the issue of controlling the growth rate and set standards for development such as the transformation of citrus groves into open space. It put into place limitations on how much density could be created with any particular development. In combination with Measure U, the city created a mechanism by which 100 acres of citrus came under city ownership.”
The measures created a circumstance in which the quality of life as was manifested in terms of deescalating the intensity of development took precedence over allowing developmental and financial interests to dictate what environment the city’s residents would have to live in after the speculators, landowners, investors and developers took their profit and moved on, Cunningham said. “Measure U was a broader encapsulation or incorporation of all the elements of N, but extended the standard to issues of noise, traffic, building height and to the preservation of open space. It emphasized more strongly the saving of the citrus areas,” he said.
Measure G is genetically engineered to go in and create havoc with the three measures that preceded it, Cunningham said. “It’s a large measure from what I can tell,” he said, attributing its genesis to Foster. “Though his efforts personally at various meetings he has strongly advocated that the electorate adopt it,” Cunningham said. “He has been pretty aggressive about it. I think Mayor Pro Tem [Denise] Davis is out campaigning for it pretty hard, too. I don’t know the situation is as intense with the other three council people.”
Time will tell, Cunningham said, but the council may be running something of a political risk by plugging a measure that runs contrary to the values of a committed contingent of the community.
“The only thing I can say is none of these council people has run for office where that kind of change to the community has been an issue, and their reelection is likely to be dependent on how the voters see that,” he said.
Cunningham said that “It needs to be recognized what this new general plan means to the community.”
Cunningham, who was on the city council from 1987 until 1999 and was the mayor for the last two of those years, contrasted himself with Foster. “He has always been pro-development,” Cunningham said. Foster has blurred the distinction between the benefits of commercial development and residential development, Cunningham observed, remarking that the former provided a net plus in revenue while residential development “does not increase the tax base in proportion to its expenses,” meaning that property tax alone does not offset the cost of providing municipal services to residential areas. “He has perhaps the most urbanizing perspective of any council member in recent years,” Cunningham said of Foster.
Despite that, Cunningham said, he gets along well with the man who has currently succeeded him in possession of the mayor’s gavel. “We’re both members of Kiwanis,” Cunningham said. “I certainly have no animus toward him,” Cunningham said. “Nor do I detect any animosity toward me on his part. He and I disagree on these issues relating to development. That’s it.”
Foster and those in his circle will not encounter smooth sailing in the voyage toward Measure G victory Cunningham said.
“There is a handful of people who are working to stop Measure G,” he said. “As far as I know there is no else speaking out against it other than our small group. We have formed a PAC [political action committee]. There is no significant money that we have raised. We are basically operating on pennies but we would like to, and I think we are, getting the message out about what we think the disadvantages of Measure G are.”
Cunningham said he believed there was a political action committee endowed with a fair amount of money that was pushing for the measure’s passage. Asked if he feared that the use of classic campaigning techniques would influence the crucial set of voters in the middle, particularly newer and younger residents in the city, to support Measure G, Cunnigham said “[former California Assembly Speaker] Jesse Unruh said money is the mother’s milk of politics, and the people in favor of Measure G have formed a PAC with $50,000 in it. With regard to the generational perspective, I happen to live my grandchildren and great grandchildren, who are in their 40s and 20s. I believe they reflect what their friends in their generations are saying. It appears that the young people who know what measure G is are as opposed to it as I am. If everyone is well-informed, it will not pass. That is the hill we need to climb. We believe Measure G will be defeated multigenerationally if we can get the word out. What I find is that the younger generation is far more sensitive to the environment than my generation.”
Cunningham continued, “There is the issue, of course, that the measure is obscure to most people in the community. Most don’t know what the measure is and what it will do. That is the essence of our problem, bringing people up to speed. We feel strongly that if everyone is fully involved and aware, we will prevail in defeating Measure G. We feel most people will agree that moderate growth is necessary so the community can maintain its character and those who move here will have a chance to see what the community is and then can truly become Redlanders. Redlands takes tremendous pride in its community, the place it is and its cultural attributes.”
Shirley Harry, a real estate agent with Century 21 Lois Lauer Realty, who acknowledged that “I am something of a reactionary who is involved in selling real estate,” said she was for that reason in favor of Measure G. “We need to control our own destiny,” she said.
Harry had a different take than Cunningham on whether the under-40 crowd would be in favor of the measure.
“I know as old folks we always say we like things the way they are, but young people have a different mindset toward their lifestyles and that is what Measure G speaks to,” she said.
Nelda Stuck, who moved with her husband to Redlands more than a generation ago when he was stationed at Norton Air Force Base and was at one time a journalist with the Redlands Daily Facts, said, “I went to the mayor’s presentation [regarding Measure G] on Thursday. He has done a tremendous amount of work. He and the council have experienced ten years of frustration. The [Redlands] mall is never going to be developed.”
Stuck used one of the buzzwords Foster and the rest of the city council are using in promoting Measure G and the Redlands Transit Villages Plan. “We are putting in the downtown station, so we have to have walkable housing,” she said. “Redlands has got to take those issues up at this time.”
Asked what she thought of those who object to the intensive move toward the urbanization of Redlands, Stuck said, “They have a good point, but I am also concerned about our progressing world and Redlands role in it if we keep saying, ‘Not in our backyard.’ I have concerns about California not providing living quarters for our homeless people. I would like to preserve the history and the finer historic things of our community, but we need to look at the future and what our knowledgeable people in government are telling us. They see the lay of the land.”
By Mark Gutglueck