Ricky Felix, who in 2018 rode a crest of resident resentment toward his predecessor into a berth on the Upland City Council and then formed a political alliance with the sole remaining member of the council faction against whom the city’s voters had so virulently reacted, this week announced he will resign from his elected office by the end of the month.
The ostensible reason for his stepping down from the council, Felix said, was to avail himself and his family of an opportunity he did not specify. In recent weeks and months, however, there has been a building tide of anger toward Felix and the council majority which has coalesced as a number of controversial issues have presented themselves in the City of Gracious Living. In virtually all of those, votes by the council that were favorable to well-heeled interests proposing development projects or other action by the city which a growing and vocal contingent of city residents have opposed have created an atmosphere of contention between those residents and City Hall. Felix’s participation in those decisions as a reflexive supporter of the City Hall establishment had sparked serious talk of an effort to remove him from office. His decision to leave on his own volition will now likely divert the efforts of a determined group of civic activists toward seeking to moderate through persuasive means the action of the remaining members of the council clique of which Felix had become a part or, in the alternative, a potential recall effort against one or more of the remaining members of the council.
A relatively unknown entity, Felix in 2018 filed to run for council in Upland’s newly created Third District in what was the city’s first by-district election in its at that point 112-year history. Gino Filippi, who had originally been elected to the council in 2010 and reelected in 2014, was registered as a resident of the Third District, consisting of the southwest quadrant of the city. While Filippi enjoyed status as an incumbent, which normally confers upon a candidate for public office an advantage, his participation earlier that year in a string of efforts to reduce or shutter elements of the city’s parkland created a vicious backlash against him. Specifically, Filippi had endorsed selling off 4.631 acres of Memorial Park to San Antonio Regional Hospital for conversion to a parking lot and the outright sale of 16-acre Cabrillo Park, located off 11th Street between Mountain and Benson Avenue, to Lewis Homes so the property could be developed residentially. Filippi was one of the four-member council majority including Mayor Debbie Stone, then-Councilman Sid Robinson and then-Councilwoman Carol Timm that had cavalierly sought to dispense with city parkland to further the agenda of major business institutions in Upland. The firestorm of controversy over that issue proved so great that Robinson, who had originally been appointed to the council and was due to run for election that year to stay in office, chose not to run. Also on the ballot that year were Filippi, Timm and by her own choice because she had been elected to an at-large four-year term on the council in 2016, Councilwoman Janice Elliot, who sought election to represent the district in which she resided, that being the city’s newly-formed Second District in the city’s northeast quadrant. Elliott, who had opposed the parkland sale, the only member of the council to do so, was elected. Timm was voted out of office. Filippi, challenged by Felix and another resident of the 3rd District, Irmalinda Osuna, finished a dismal third in the balloting with 980 votes or 25.45 percent, retribution for his having consented to rid the city of a significant amount of its park acreage.
Felix managed 1,517 votes or 39.39 percent to Osuna’s 1,354 votes or 35.16 percent.
Once in office, Felix sought to be deferential to virtually everyone, and assiduously attempted, at least at first, to avoid committing to one side or the other in debates over policy or when occasional personality differences among his council colleagues manifested. Eventually, however, Felix could be seen gravitating more and more toward positions held by Mayor Stone, which generally lined up with the establishment and moneyed elite involved in activity in the city and projects or proposals that came before the city council.
Observable was that when interests or businesses whose principals were campaign contributors to members of the council either currently or in years past found themselves before the council with business or project applications, Felix showed a pattern of voting with those council members, in particular Mayor Stone, in favor of those donors. Felix further found himself tending toward support of any items favored by high profile entities in the city such as the Chamber of Commerce.
Resident discontent hit its zenith and loomed into sharp focus this year with the city council’s consideration of two controversial development proposals, the first being Bridge Development Partners’ 201,096-square foot Bridgepoint project, a distribution center for on-line retail giant Amazon that was slated for a 50-acre property slightly east of Central Avenue, north of Foothill Boulevard and south of Cable Airport. The second was the Villa Serena project, 65 single family detached residential units on 9.2-acres that lie within the footprint of the 15th Street Flood Detention Basin in the Foothill Knolls neighborhood on the eastern side of the city near Campus Avenue.
Both projects faced significant resident opposition. With the onset of the coronavirus crisis, Upland, as all other municipalities throughout the state, found itself subject to a mandate from Governor Gavin Newsom prohibiting social gatherings, which precluded the city from holding a traditional large-scale public hearing for either of the project proposals. A significant cross section of the city’s residents called upon the city council to delay or postpone its consideration of those projects and the accompanying public hearings. While Councilwoman Elliott and Councilman Bill Velto made public statements advocating that the council comply with the requests that the city and city council suspend the hearing and approval processes for the projects until the social gathering restriction mandates were lifted and hearings at which a full range of public input in a traditional meeting setting could take place, Felix joined with Mayor Stone and Councilman Rudy Zuniga in acceding to holding the meetings remotely and through an electronic video/audio hook up, during each of which there was no physical gathering of those participating. Those residents/citizens/members of the public who wanted to participate by providing input before the council engaged in its deliberative processes were obliged to do so by arranging in advance of each meeting to receive a phone call from the city clerk while the meeting was in progress, whereupon members of the public could make their comments telephonically. The council proceeded with that format over further public objections that by distancing itself from its constituents in this manner its members were avoiding direct and personal interaction with those who had elected them and were thereby denying the city’s residents the opportunity to be fully heard and represented.
Ultimately, when the hearings for both the Bridgepoint and Villa Serena projects were held, the council voted 4-to-1 in both instances to approve the project proposals, each time with Elliott dissenting.
In the hearings for those development projects, a number of city residents remarked upon Felix’s demeanor and the nature of his participation. From the outset of his time in office, he had never evinced any especial oratory skill, and was accorded a reputation of being less than articulate. During the discussions for both the Bridgepoint and Villa Serena projects, however, he made a series of comments that while not grandiloquent, went well beyond the level of sophistication the citizenry of Upland had come to expect from him. Given that his input angled generally in favor of the project proposals, many came away with the impression that he had been coached in what to say or had otherwise been provided with a written script by the proponents. The limitation of the electronic meeting format prevented the public from knowing, precisely, whether Felix had been reading a prepared text when he was making his comments or posing questions during the course of those discussions. Coupled with his opposition to holding the meeting in a public forum and his votes in favor of the project, there was speculation among certain members of the Upland community about whether Felix had been provided with some form of inducement to secure his support for those proposals. That, in turn, fueled discussion with regard to the launching of a recall effort against him. Those tentatively discussing the recall expressed confidence that such an effort could succeed, since the city’s conversion to a by-district electoral system reduced to one-quarter the number of signatures that would be needed to force a recall election in Upland over what had been the case previously, when the members of the council were subject to election by all of the voters in the more than 77,000 population city.
This week, during the regularly scheduled May 11 city council meeting, which was likewise conducted remotely and electronically without a physical meeting and the public unable to be present, as the proceedings were winding to a close, Mayor Stone said, “Before I adjourn the meeting tonight, Mayor Pro Tem Ricky Felix has asked for a few moments to make a statment.”
“I’d like to express my sincere appreciation for the opportunity I’ve had to sit on this council and serve the City of Upland,” Felix said. “My family and I, we’ve been given an opportunity at this time that will take us out of the city. I’m grateful for the friendships and trust that I’ve received from so many in the community. I hope that even during the trials we are currently facing that there will be a much brighter future right around the corner. The next city council meeting will be my last city council meeting and May 31st will be the last day I will be a councilmember for the City of Upland.”
Within certain quarters of the city, discussion turned immediately to who would be chosen by the council to replace Felix, with several of those involved in the discussions expressing trepidation that Felix’s move will open the door for Filippi to once more assume a position at the council dais