By Mark Gutglueck
The Yucaipa City Council this week gave Woodside Homes go-ahead to construct 144 homes on property currently lying within a flood zone, while simultaneously signaling there will be an eventual completion of a flood control basin which is intended to alleviate the drainage issues plaguing the property.
Whereas the previous zoning on the property had excluded residential use, the intention toward the ultimate disposition of the property has evolved over the last eight years, and the Oak Glen Creek Specific Plan, which was layered into place in 2018, reconfigured land use designations on 115.6 acres in northern-central Yucaipa to allow residential development to take place on a portion of the land there.
In previous public hearings in Yucaipa relating to the proposed future development of the property and its conversion at least in part to residential use, there was far greater resistance and/or protest on the part of the public than was registered on Wednesday.
Earlier in the late Wednesday afternoon meeting this week, the city council approved a contract for the grading of a parcel near the Woodside Homes project site to be converted to a city equipment yard near or within the Wilson III Basin project expanse. That basin, upon its final completion, is intended to reduce flooding in the immediate area, such that the 38.6 acres where the 144 homes are to be built will no longer lie within the flood zone, but be placed at least one foot above the 100-year flood plain.
A 100-year flood is the amount of water measured through historic records to be statistically likely to occur during a deluge. Locating the foundations for structures one foot above that level of water is a nationally imposed standard used for determining eligibility for federally-guaranteed flood insurance.
According to Benjamin J. Matlock, Yucaipa’s planning manager/city planner, the Wilson III Basin project is identified in the city’s original drainage master plan adopted in 1993 and updated in 2012 as a “proposed regional flood control facility” and a “critical component of the city’s overall effort to reduce peak flow rates in Wilson Creek downstream of the proposed project, resulting in a reduction of the Wilson Creek floodplain within the city.”
City officials use the identifiers Wilson Creek and Oak Glen Creek interchangeably.
Previously, land within northern-central Yucaipa which now contains the 115.6 acre Oak Glen Creek Specific Plan Area bounded by Oak Glen Road to the north, Bryant Street to the east, generally 2nd Street and existing single-family residences to the west, and a natural slope to the south that abuts single-family residences was deemed to be best utilized for institutional, high tech, light industrial, educational and office related uses, and was zoned accordingly.
In March 2011, the city council approved the preparation of a specific plan and an environmental impact report for the development of the Wilson Creek Business Park and Flood Control Basin Project. In September 2011, the city council directed staff to pursue a feasibility analysis for a broader array of development opportunities for the Wilson Creek Business Park site. In 2012, the city council reconsidered the options for that proposed development and authorized additional feasibility studies and analyses of traffic, biological resources, and the environmental impacts the different options would entail as well as an economic analysis of each development concept. In January 2013, the city council directed staff to amend the land use mix for the specific plan to eliminate high tech and light industrial uses, while the likely proposals remained focused on institutional, educational and office related uses. In May 2013, the city council approved the execution of a memorandum of understanding between the San Bernardino County Flood Control District and the city for the project, including an agreement that flood control district-owned property not required for the project deemed “surplus” property was to be transferred to the city. On July 11, 2016, the city council made a pronounced alteration of the intent with regard to the eventual development of the property, designating the “preferred” land use alternative for the Oak Glen Creek Specific Plan as primarily residential with some parcels retained for the innovation center. The council renamed the Wilson Creek Innovation Center Specific Plan the Oak Glen Creek Specific Plan. The city made further notice of its intention of using some of the land for a relocated city maintenance yard. What was designated as the “innovation center” was to be located on the north and east side of the Oak Glen Creek Specific Plan area, and the Wilson III basin was to be located within the southern portion of the site. The remaining area was designated as residential, permitting what was enumerated at that time as up to a total of 200 homes within the specific plan area. In November 2016, the city council authorized a memorandum of understanding with the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District for the use of one of the innovation center parcels, pursuant to the elevation of the property being raised above the flood plain with excess material generated from the drainage project being compacted as a foundation, such that a 5,000-square foot office and education center, outdoor amphitheater, and associated infrastructure could be constructed.
On April 24, 2017, the city council approved entering into an exclusive negotiating agreement with KB Homes, giving KB Homes the right to negotiate the terms of a disposition and development agreement for the single family homes subdivision.
The proposal to develop the property residentially provoked a reaction from a cross section of Yucaipa’s citizenry.
“I know you need 20 million dollars to run this city, but filling in any open space there is with homes on small lots will create overcrowding of our streets and schools,” stated Bill Napier at the time. “The very thing that is Yucaipa – open space – is being threatened.”
Napier questioned whether the flood control facility to be built would adequately deal with the sheet flow once more property in the area is developed, preventing the natural absorption and percolation of water into the water table. “Adding more streets and paved areas will cause more more run-off. The primary area should be used for flood control, then it should be kept ‘open space’ for that reason and kept in its ‘natural’ state, which means leaving all of the animals in their natural habitat. If all the people in Yucaipa knew about this project and all of the approved projects, they would have objections. My suggestion would be to develop it as a natural area for a large upper Yucaipa dog park and keep them out of the community parks and away from walkers, picnickers, etc. With all the families with children, Oak Glen would be a perfect spot for a skate park and BMX area.“
Elaine Lane told city officials, “I am opposed to removing existing trees and brush. A wildlife tunnel goes under Bryant Street. Do not disturb the wildlife sanctuary. Of concern are lights, noise, water, traffic.” Lane said the city should “limit lighting and cut down on existing lighting in this area to bring back the night sky, instead of obstructing it entirely for the residents.”
Delbert Fandrich, who is also a general contractor, told the city that in considering Wilson Creek, “That’s exactly what it is – ‘a creek.’ Water has run down from the mountains and the Oak Glen area for years. Is the flood from Dunlap Acres already ‘washed’ from your memories? If you think catch basins are going to control the water, look what happened to the basins just below Riley’s Orchard. They were all destroyed a couple of years ago.”
Somewhat perceptively, Fandrich predicted, “The people involved in this project will not let it die just because a few homeowners object.”
John Lane was somewhat critical of city officials, saying they were driven by a developmental imperative that leveled all reasonable objections that stood in their path.
“Increasing the population of this city has been the dream of the city manager and city council for years,” Lane wrote. “The city does not care to consider negative consequences of additional traffic, noise or light pollution.”
Lane alluded to the city’s significant reorientation of its zoning, codes, development plans and standards in suggesting that top city officials were untrustworthy. He related that he and his wife, Elaine, “were told, by the city clerk’s office before we purchased our house that the basin is a natural wildlife corridor. The lady took out maps and a general plan to show us the area would not be developed. So much for the integrity of the city.”
In particular, he indicated that City Manager Ray Casey had been duplicitous in his dealing with city residents, providing them with assurances and promises that were not adhered to.
“It would seem that City Manager Ray Casey is not to be believed when he speaks with local residents,” Lane stated in a written comment dated September 8, 2017. “Due to Casey’s deception, we, the citizens, who met with him, are aghast by the latest development plans. The ‘current’ development plan is nothing like the plans discussed in the meeting with Mr. Casey on August 4, 2016. At that meeting, he indicated the new homes would be built on existing land without encroaching on the floor of the existing basin. The biggest concern with development on the north side of the basin, as stated during our meeting with Mr. Casey, is noise and additional lighting which will negatively affect those of us living along the south side of the basin.”
Lane clarified that “To have the noise and lighting of the city yard where it currently stands is hardship enough for the homeowners adjacent to the basin project. To have the yard moved to the rear of the [Wildwood] church will create even more light at night close to our homes. As it is, with the lights of Stater Bros. Market, Rite Aid, and the ever shining lights at the community park, the night sky is almost nonexistent in this part of the city. The city yard should be kept separate and away from the residential area. Taking into consideration the proximity of a school where youngsters play outside, a facility such as a city yard would be considered a possible hazard for the students.”
According to Lane, “Mr. Casey also talked about leaving the east end of the basin as it is today so as to build an “innovation center’ similar to the environmental nature center in Newport Beach where children can come and learn about local flora. This new plan appears to remove most of the area intended for children to become educated in native plants and animals.”
Dr. Paul Thomas made a written request to the city, stating, “Please do not not relocate the city yard to the area behind Wildwood Calvary Chapel.”
Satashi Sakaino, who lives on Deerfield Drive, told city officials, “I do not want to have more houses on the next street because we will get more traffic jams, the school level will go down, there will be too much dust, there will be damage to my house from construction vibration and I do not want weird people around my neighborhood.”
Billie Randolph told the city council that previous development in the area that had disturbed the former tranquility of the environs and its livability had been accepted “as improvements to our city and necessary for the population. We have always thought of the wash behind our home as a flood plain. It was with surprise that we watched an entire neighborhood of tract homes spring up almost overnight on Oak Glen Road and seemingly in the flood plain. We now understand that flood control has been accomplished and that further development is to come. Our wish is that the planners will do due diligence in planning for this area as if they were going to be living above this area as are the many homes overlooking the wash. While realizing that nothing can remain the same, I urge the committee/planners to give this the same thought and care that they might have given in the past to the betterment and beautification of our town.”
Carolyn Smith and John Manlowe told the city, “We do not want an ugly basin as was built above Bryant Street. We want a wildlife corridor that is not a cemented wash. We want trails for walkers and horses, not for bikers. We are concerned about night sky pollution. We want to be able to continue to stargaze and teach the stars to our 4-month-old granddaughter as she grows up. We want to continue to hear and see coyotes, roadrunners, and wildlife that burrows as well as flies in the air.”
Susanne Marco said she wanted city officials to note that “Once a change is made, it cannot be reversed. The property has always been designated and used as a wildlife corridor, connecting the Crafton Hills to the Oak Glen area. Twice each year, the north banks of the wash area are used by the coyotes as whelping dens. It is one of the few remaining parcels of ‘raw’ land within the city limits that has the original ‘rural’ atmosphere, which has attracted so many of our residents.”
Marco asked, “Why does the city have such a need to develop one of the few natural pieces of property remaining within the city proper? Would not a ‘natural’ setting be more consistent with Yucaipa’s ‘hometown’ reputation? Would not the captured groundwater be able to percolate back into the underground water table with a green or natural base? Does not the city have a piece of property that would be more conducive to the placement of the city yard than behind the church and school, shown as an innovation center?”
Marco said, “Since the major stated reasons for the entire project is to provide additional flood control and water storage, it is hard for me to understand how scraping the ground bare, as it is in the holding ponds east of Bryant Street now, would help the water percolate faster than with the limited natural vegetation that is there now.”
If the city is intent on allowing the housing component of the project to proceed, Marco said, it should consider reducing the number of homes by 40, specifically those planned south of the extension of a line from the homes at Amberleaf Way all the way to the drainage channel, so that “it would allow a much wider catch basin, require less shifting of earth, and not affect the wildlife as the current plan would.”
The Oak Glen Creek Specific Plan was reviewed and recommended for adoption at the November 15, 2017 planning commission meeting. On February 26, 2018, the city council adopted Resolution No. 2017-47 approving the Oak Glen Creek Specific Plan. It also certified the environmental impact report for the project was completed in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, accepting the mitigation measures identified in the environmental impact report, despite citizen objections. The city council directed staff to file a notice of determination to complete and fulfill the required environmental review.
At that point, much of the fight went out of those registering opposition to the project.
The city remained committed to KB Homes, which over time sought and obtained four amendments or extensions to the exclusive negotiating agreement with city. Those amendments prolonged the negotiating arrangement with KB Homes until November 24, 2018. City staff and KB Homes representatives ultimately were unable to come to a final agreement on the terms of the development agreement and a disposition and development agreement for the project. KB Homes relinquished its interest in the project and discontinued its negotiations with the city.
Casting about for some other entity to fill the void left by KB’s withdrawal, the city ultimately made contact with Riverside-based Woodside O5S, LP, which has been in existence since 2008 and has another corporation, Paracorp Incorporated, as its registered agent and chief corporate officer. Paracorp Incorporated has as its registered agent Matthew Marzucco of Sacramento.
With virtually no alteration of the parameters of the project as proposed by KB Homes, the city proceeded in closing a deal with Woodside. On September 23, 2019, the city council approved and authorized an exclusive negotiating agreement with Woodside O5S relating to the Oak Glen Creek Specific Plan, including the Wilson III Basin Project. The negotiating agreement was extended at the regular May 11, 2020 city council meeting to allow for additional time to finalize the development agreement and the disposition and development agreement pertaining to the land Woodside O5S intended to purchase from the city to undertake the project. A portion of the property that the developer has to acquire from the city includes the San Bernardino County Flood Control District surplus property which is to come into the possession of the city with the completion of the basin project. On May 20, 2020, Woodside Homes submitted a letter of intent to the city, which was approved by the city council on June 8. The letter of intent essentially serves as the outline of the development agreement. At its June 22, 2020 meeting, the city council approved an amended letter of intent for Woodside to purchase the proposed 144 lots within Tentative Tract Map 20130.
Thus, the action taken this week, on Wednesday, was essentially a formality, as the commitment between the city and Woodside Homes was for all intents and purposes a done deal when the terms laid out in the letter of letter of intent were approved on June 22.
The project had come before the Yucaipa Planning Commission on June 17, 2020, essentially to be rubberstamped by that body.
The inevitability of that outcome was telegraphed when a resident in the area proximate to the project, David Noble, asked about characterizations of the basin to be built as a “lake.” Planning Commission Chairman J.R. Allgower nimbly deflected the question by stating that the basin would be constantly filled with water.
With little further ado, the commission, with Commissioner Aron Wolfe absent, adopted by a vote of 6-to-0 the development agreement with Woodside Homes and determined that the subdivision and development agreement are within the scope of the environmental impact report for the project as it was approved when KB Homes was the applicant.
On Wednesday, Matlock told the public and the city council that Tentative Tract Map No. 20130 and the development agreement between the City of Yucaipa and Woodside Homes, if approved, would clear the way for the subdivision of a portion of the Oak Glen Creek Specific Plan area into 144 single-family residential lots with a 7,200-square foot minimum lot size, which is slightly smaller than one-sixth of an acre. Matlock said the project will also set aside a single lot for the designated innovation center, and lettered lots for future flood control improvements and landscape areas, and will include a public park, the acreage for which he did not identify.
Under the Oak Glen Creek Specific Plan reviewed and recommended by the planning commission on November 15, 2017 and adopted by city council on February 26, 2018, Matlock said there were to be three specific components, which included a residential district of up to 200 single family lots of 7,200 square feet, an open space district to include the Wilson III Basin, native open space, recreational amenities and a so-called innovation district of up to 5,000 square feet of non-residential structures, not including accessory structures.
While the project was yet being pursued by KB Homes, Matlock said, the planning commission on November 15, 2017, reviewed and recommended a development proposal deemed to be consistent with the specific plan which called for constructing 144 single family lots, a lot for the city yard, a lettered lot to connect to the basin and lettered lots for landscaping. Lettered is a term peculiar to planning professionals that designates a lot upon which no structures are to be established, distinguishable from numbered lots, where structures are to be built.
Obliquely, Matlock stated that no environmental impact report for the project as put forth by Woodside Homes was carried out but that rather the city was proposing that the environmental impact report adopted by the city council for the specific plan be substituted for that purpose. That previously completed environmental impact report, Matlock said, had determined that all potentially significant impacts could be mitigated and that no statement of overriding considerations was required. He said the environmental impact report included a mitigation monitoring and reporting program and that the California Code of Regulations Section 15168 allowed the use of the prior environmental impact report to be applied to the current approval of the project, such that no additional California Environmental Quality Act document was required for the tentative tract map or development agreement.
Matlock said the planning commission had recommended that the city council approve the tentative tract map, subject to the conditions of approval as contained in the staff report for the project, and that it approve the development agreement between the city and Woodside Homes and make a finding that the subdivision and development agreement are within the scope of the environmental impact report.
This week, only two people registered an objection to the project being approved. One, Leola Green, said the project posed an existential risk to wildlife in the area. She said the city had issues with the provision of both water and electrical power to sections of the city, including that in the area of Oak Glen Creek. There were problems with water quality as well as silt and rocks clogging water filters, she said. The area had been hit by electrical blackouts, as well, Leola Green said. Sinkholes had plagued the area she maintained, suggesting the property where the homes were to be built was not stable and might give way under the weight of homes that would be constructed there.
“We are losing our open space,” Leola Green said. “We already have enough housing as it its. Are we really ready to add to [our neighborhood]? I think not.”
Leola Green also questioned why the city was taking up the issue of approving the project while the state and its residents are yet under restrictions and mandates to refrain from participation in public forums.
Norma Green told the council that Yucaipa was already experiencing “power outages” which she quantified as “at least seven a year.” Putting more homes and utility uses into the area would involve further “power shutdowns,” she said.
She likewise cited a problem with water quality in the area, in particular, she said, water that was malodorous. Referencing 177 homes in the project, she said they were too closely packed together “like crackerboxes. Those are half lots.”
The city council was clearly favorably disposed to the project. Councilman Greg Bogh seized upon Norma Green’s misreading of 144 homes as 177, adroitly using that as a rhetorical point and pretext to persuade his council colleagues to disregard and reject her reasoning. After Bogh had Matlock establish that the project consisted of 144 homes, Councilman Bobby Duncan moved that the council adopt the staff and planning commission recommendations and approve the development agreement, the tentative tract map and the project. “I think this is a fantastic project,” Duncan stated. All five members of the council voted in favor of approving the project.
Prior to that, the city council had followed a staff recommendation relating to the awarding of a contract for the grading of a new city yard site within the footprint of the Wilson II Basin. The low bid that had been submitted on the project by James McMinn of Riverside was deemed unresponsive, and a $156,804 contract with Three Peaks Corporation of Yuciapa was approved to have that company do site preparation for the new city yard, including mobilization, clearing and grubbing, over excavation, and rough and final grading for the street building and drainage improvements.
By Mark Gutglueck