Faced With Three City Leadership Decisions, Upland Council Kicks Two Down The Road

Last week, the Upland City Council made one decision and two non-decisions with regard to municipal leadership.
The Third District city council position to which Ricky Felix was elected in November 2018 became vacant as of May 31, following Felix’s resignation earlier last month in accordance with his decision to move with his family to Utah.
The announcement of Felix’s intended departure touched off a furious round of speculation as to how and with whom the gap would be filled. There was conjecture that Mayor Debbie Stone would seek to prevail upon her council colleagues to replace Felix with Gino Filippi, who had served two terms on the council from 2010 until 2018, and who was defeated for reelection two years ago as the city transitioned from what had formerly throughout its then 112-year history been at-large city council elections to a district system. Filippi finished a distant third in the Third District, which covers the city’s southwest quadrant, behind Felix and another political neophyte, Irmalinda Osuna, who ran a close second.
Filippi had been Stone’s ally on the council. From shortly after the time she was elected mayor in 2016 until 2018, Stone had formed a ruling coalition that included Filippi and then-Councilwoman Carole Timm, as well as then-Councilman Sid Robinson, who had finished second behind Janice Elliott in the only council race in 2016, and was thereafter appointed to the council to complete the two years on the term for the council position to which Stone had been reelected to in 2014, but which she was obliged to resign from to move into the mayor’s post. With the defeat of Timm and Filippi in 2018 and Robinson’s decision not to run, the election of Felix into the Third District slot and Rudy Zuniga’s defeat of Timm in the Fourth District seemingly brought an end to the controlling majority on the council that included Stone. Over time, however, Felix seemed to warm toward Stone, and he voted routinely in lockstep with her during the last seven to eight months he was on the council. Stone had also come to rely on the supporting votes of Bill Velto, who had been selected in early 2019 to finish out the at-large term Councilwoman Elliott had been elected to in 2016 but which she was obliged to resign from when she was elected to represent the Second District in 2018. Zuniga proved to be less consistent in his voting pattern vis-à-vis Stone’s positions, although he from time to time has sided with her on some issues where Elliott, as has been the case since she was first elected in 2016, frequently differed with the mayor. Understandably, Stone was hoping she might ensure her control of the city by reigniting Filippi’s political career.
There were segments of the city’s population, however, who had a disaffinity for Filippi, and they asserted that a better move would be to elevate Osuna, who outpolled Filippi in 2018, to the council position representing the Third District. Osuna, however, engaged professionally and with her family, made clear that she at this point would not seek the post. Carlos Garcia, a resident of the Third District who has involved himself in a number of civic issues since he moved to the City of Gracious Living a few years ago, made his interest in replacing Felix known. Garcia’s viability as a replacement seemed to be enhanced after Osuna, in informing the council she was not interested in replacing Felix, recommended Garcia.
Stone, wary that Garcia, if selected, might represent a dynamic that would undo the voting block on the council that generally trends toward her positions, was reluctant to install him on the council.
Another issue that militated against Garcia was a feeling among some in the community that conferring the position on anyone would give that candidate the power of incumbency in the event that a decision was made to make the appointment a temporary one that would run only until November of this year, at which point an election would be held to select someone to complete the remainder of Felix’s term until December 2022. Nor was there a sufficient comfort level to appoint Garcia or anyone else to serve two-and-a-half years. Ultimately, the council elected to make no appointment, and have the city bear the minimal cost of putting the matter before the voters during the presidential general election this year, when both Stone and Velto must stand for reelection and election, respectively, to remain in their current posts. There has been some speculation that Velto will opt out of running for First District councilman, and instead run for mayor. There is further speculation that Stone might choose not to run. Already, Elliott has announced she is going to seek the mayoralty.
At the same June 8 council meeting as the decision was made with regard to not immediately filling the Third District council position, the council was scheduled to confirm the tentative choices by Mayor Stone to replace two of the members of the planning commission, Yvette Walker and Alexander Novikov, with Thomas Grahn and Lorraine Kindred.
Walker has been on the planning commission since 2016. Novikov has been on the commission just about a year, having been chosen to replace Velto after his selection to the city council necessitated he absent himself from the commission.
There was some controversy over Stone’s readiness to jettison both Walker and Novikov, as Upland has a tradition of allowing planning commission members to serve out two terms on that panel if they desire to remain in place after serving a first term. In Novikov’s case, he has not yet served anything approaching a full term. It is widely believed that Stone was retaliating against the two because they had opposed the approval of the Bridge Point Project, a 201,096-square foot distribution center planned for occupancy by on-line retail behemoth Amazon. Four members of the city council supported the project as did the entirety of city staff.
Thomas Grahn has substantial credentials as a profession planner. He currently works in the planning department with the City of Ontario and formerly was employed in the Rancho Cucamonga and Redlands planning departments.
Kindred, Stone’s other commission replacement nominee who was considered at the June 8 meeting, is the vice president for public affairs with National CORE, a development company specializing in low-income to moderate-income housing, of which Jeff Burum is president of the board and James Previti is a board member. Kindred has 25 years experience in the real estate industry, and was formerly the chairwoman of the Upland Chamber of Commerce. She was also president of the Pomona Valley Chapter of Executive Women International and is on the board of the Upland YMCA and the Baldy View Chapter of the Building Industry Association.
When the appointments to the planning commission were considered, there was a consensus that Grahn deserved a berth on the panel which considers land use issues in the city and makes recommendations on such to the city council. His appointment was confirmed.
Kindred’s relationship to Burum and Previti, both of whom have development projects ongoing or pending in the city, was deemed to represent something of a conflict by both Elliott and Zuniga. While Stone and Velto were willing to place Kindred onto the planning commission, without a third vote, her selection did not materialize. With the council deadlocked 2-to-2 on the appointment, her appointment was turned down.
Another effort at appointing a suitable candidate from among a reported 11 applicants is to take place on Monday, June 22, in this case Brinda Sarathy, a professor of environmental analysis at Pitzer College in Claremont, who has previously been active in addressing city land use issues. Of note is that Sarathy was critical of the Bridge Point Project.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply