Report On The Approval Of Controversial SB Welfare Office Never Arrived; Its Occupancy Is Now Certified

The San Bernardino County Transitional Assistance Department has been given an occupancy permit for the 38,150-square-foot office building located at West 27th Street and Little Mountain Drive in the Muscupiabe District of San Bernardino.
The county was given city clearance to open what is in common parlance referred to as a welfare office in one of the city’s more quaint neighborhoods despite tremendous controversy and protest that erupted last summer after the true nature of the county department that was to occupy the structure was revealed.
When the project was given approval by the City of San Bernardino Development and Environmental Review Committee in November 2018, it had been identified not as an intended host for a county human services office but rather for a human resources office. Muscupiabe and Blair Park neighborhood residents residents cried foul, contending that had it been accurately described, they would have raised significant protest prior to the project application being fully processed by the city, quite possibly preventing its approval. The designation of the building’s use as a human resources office lulled them into complacency, they said, as they were given to believe that it was going to be a personnel office for the county where applicants for county jobs would drop off résumés, file paperwork and take skill and qualification tests.
At its last meeting in 2017, held on December 19 of that year, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors was presented with a recommendation from the county’s director of real estate services, Terry Thompson, and the director of the county’s transitional services department, Gilbert Ramos, that the county enter into a $14,036,184 lease agreement with 27th Street TAD, LLC, for approximately 38,150 square feet of office space to be located at the northwest corner of 27th Street and Little Mountain Drive in San Bernardino, also described as Assessor Parcel No. (APN) 0148-021-66-0000, for occupancy by the transitional assistance department for the ten-year period beginning August 1, 2019 and running through July 31, 2029. The board signed off on that agreement.
Many saw the misrepresentation of a county human services office as a county human resources facility as more than an instance of simple oversight or incompetence but rather untoward governmental collusion and corruption, as the project proponent was well-heeled developer Scott Beard, whose across-the-board effort to recall the mayor and all of the members of the San Bernardino City Council in 2013 resulted in substantial realignment in those positions, particularly with the ascendancy of former San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis. Beard was a primary donor to Davis’s political fund. The arrangement to route the approval of the 27th Street and Little Mountain development project before the more obscure development and environmental review committee rather than the city’s much more high profile planning commission was done in October 2018, during the closing weeks of Davis’s 2018 bid for reelection, when available polling data indicated that voter numbers were trending against him. The nod was then given to the project by the development and environmental review committee on November 14, 2018, after Davis was defeated by John Valdivia in the November 6 election but before Valdivia was elevated to mayor and during Davis’s lame duck occupancy of the mayor’s office, while he still held sway over the city’s administrative function and authority. Given the timing of the approval, the forum in which it was made and the misrepresentation of the nature of the tenant to eventually occupy the building, it has been suggested that the matter was an underhanded political deal which involved crass manipulation and suspension of governmental oversight and the craven collusion of governmental employees unwilling to stand up to their political masters on behalf of the residents they were ostensibly in place to protect.
The transitional assistance department, which is sometimes referred to by its acronym TAD, provides a wide array of federal and state-mandated social services and income assistance programs to the residents of San Bernardino County, particularly those whose loss of jobs or income has put them at risk of becoming, or has rendered them, homeless. It was the contention of Muscupiabe and Blair Park neighborhood residents that the TAD office would serve as a magnet to homeless who would then loiter near the transitional assistance department office premises by day and then impose their presence on the adjoining residential neighborhood by night. A welfare office in a residential neighborhood was simply an incompatible land use, they said, and the city’s suspension of its own codes and land use standards in granting Beard project approval demonstrated that City Hall and both the elected officials and employees who man it are more accommodating of and care more about the financial prospects of wealthy political donors than the city’s residents.
Shortly after the issue surfaced in August 2019, San Bernardino City Manager Teri Ledoux said her office was going to undertake a comprehensive study of what had occurred, intimating without saying so directly that if a determination was made that the approval had not been on the up-and-up, the entitlement for the project could conceivably be suspended or rescinded. That, however, was a misdirection done by implied suggestion. Beard, who had already broken ground on the project and had begun grading, pushed forward with laying the building’s foundation, and threatened legal action against the city if anything was done to delay the project.
At City Hall, officials calculated that the Muscupiabe and Blair Park neighborhood residents were not coordinated enough nor financially fixed to initiate legal action against the city. Less than two weeks after Ledoux had vowed an investigation into the matter, she sent an August 14 email to the city council, which was promptly leaked to the public. In that email, Ledoux propounded that there had been no error in the development and environmental review committee’s consideration and approval of the project. Ledoux, thereafter referencing the potential of legal action growing out of the matter, ushered any substantive or meaningful discussion of what was occurring behind closed doors and into executive sessions. The report of the promised investigation of what had occurred, with its unfulfilled promise that it might provide the Muscupiabe residents with the ammunition needed to contest the approval of the project either administratively or legally, was never produced.
This week, Ledoux spurned a specific request by the Sentinel that she provide a copy of the investigative report.
With the county and Beard having been granted an occupancy permit for the building, the presence of the unwanted use in the Muscupiabe District is a fait accompli.
In what for many Muscupiabe and Blair Park neighborhood residents was a much-too-late and empty gesture, Ledoux on April 20 sent a letter to Gary McBride, the county’s chief executive officer. That letter, obtained by the Sentinel, states, “As you are aware, the county’s relocation of the transitional assistance department (TAD) facility from its current location at 2050 N. Massachusetts to its future location on 27th and Little Mountain has activated considerable opposition from the surrounding neighborhoods. Now that the certificate of occupancy has been issued, and the county will soon be occupying the building, I hope we can come to an understanding to ensure that our residents have a voice on matters that may impact them moving forward.”
Ledoux’s letter states, “The residents’ concerns partly stem from the failure of both the developer and the county to conduct appropriate outreach to the residents during the planning phase. I trust, going forward, the county will take the residents’ concerns very seriously and do whatever it can to address them. Specifically, the city requests that the county provide a designated contact person who both the city and area residents can contact for issues related to the TAD facility; regular community meetings, ideally quarterly over the first year, to listen to and address the residents’ concerns; on-site security during the hours of operation; security footage for a minimum of 30 days and provided to the San Bernardino Police Department when requested; monitoring of all public right-of-ways around the TAD facility for trash and debris at the end of each work day; [and] discouragement of any panhandling and/or street vending in front of the TAD facility.”
Ledoux’s letter to McBride also states, “Further, the county should be aware that as a result of the citizen outcry, the mayor and city council adopted and then extended a moratorium through December 2020 on the approval of land use entitlements and license or permit applications allowing for the operation of public or private social service uses or welfare operations at any location within 750 feet of any residentially zoned property within the city.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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