By Mark Gutglueck
Robert Dalquest, the local boy made good who returned to Upland in apparent triumph where he cozied up to the political establishment and provided it with the coverage it needed to carry out its developmental imperatives in the face of a growing body of residents increasingly discontented with the city’s direction, appears to be on the brink of departure as a consequence of the recent election which has seen his primary patron at City Hall ousted and two new members of the city council put in place.
As the city has dealt with some pressing development issues over the last ten months, Dalquest in his role as Upland’s development services director has been at the helm of the city’s planning apparatus while three highly controversial development projects were given approval and/or environmental certification. These were done in all cases at the recommendation of the staff he heads, over the strident objections of a cross section of the city’s residents and without the projects being subjected to the exacting scrutiny of an environmental impact report. Rather, Dalquest, in his role as the city’s primary land use expert, has ushered those projects through a far less demanding environmental certification process known as a mitigated negative declaration, which utilizes the city’s elected officials in the form of the city council or the appointed members of the planning commission to sign off on an assurance that the consequences of the project will not adversely impact the district wherein those projects are to be placed, nearby neighborhoods, the infrastructure and utilities serving the area including streets, or the city overall.
The most recent of these controversial projects was considered by the planning commission this week, whereupon that panel gave it an environmental certification and called for the matter to come before it once more at its next meeting on December 9, where based upon the statements of several of the commission’s members it is anticipated the project will be given go-ahead with some conditions that were briefly discussed this week.
In the case of the first two controversial projects given approval earlier this year, residents have banded together to challenge those approvals in the form and forum of lawsuits filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court. It is anticipated that upon the planning commission’s approval of the most recent controversial project, a warehouse slated for the south side of 11th Street between Central and Monte Vista avenues, yet another lawsuit will be filed against the city in an effort to have that approval rescinded.
Resident discontent with Dalquest has been escalating, as Dalquest’s credentials as a municipal planning official, his experience in that role and his educational background should, they say, provide him with a command of land use and zoning policy and standards leaving him sensitive to the concept of incompatible proximate or adjacent land uses, but that he has largely ignored those principles in his effort to accommodate his political masters on the city council. They feel the city, under his guidance, has acquiesced in too many such incompatible uses, such as the Amazon Project and the Villa Serena Project, and that he and his department have been remiss in looking after the best interests of the current and future residents of the city.
The issue dealt with by the planning commission this week was a proposal by Yellow Iron Development and its principal Tony Spinrad to develop a 92,225 square-foot warehouse on 11th Street, near the western city limits.
Earlier this year, the city gave approval to Bridge Development Partners to construct a 201,096-square-foot warehouse intended to function as a distribution center for on-line retail behemoth Amazon to be located north of Foothill Boulevard and south of Cable Airport. That undertaking, known as the Bridge Point Upland Project, was to include 1,486 parking spaces for delivery vans and cars, and 25 dock high loading bays for 18-wheeler trucks. Projections were that there would be roughly 50 truck trips per day to deliver merchandise to the facility and in excess of 1,000 van or delivery vehicle trips per day with roughly or slightly fewer than 187 trips per hour in the morning rush between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 171 trips per hour in the evening rush between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Because Amazon is involved in on-line sales which do not involve the levying of sales tax, the distribution center’s presence in the city was to provide it with no sales tax revenue. Calculations were that over Bridge Development Partners’ certain 50-year lease life of the facility to Amazon that would represent at least a $100 million loss of sales tax revenue to the city and approaching a $250 million loss of sales tax over the potential 100-year lease life of the facility if Amazon were to pursue the option of renewing the lease in 2070. In a gesture intended to placate concerns over the city’s inability to collect this future sales tax revenue, Bridge Development Partners initially consented to making an upfront $6.3 million payment of in-lieu of taxes fees to the city and other non-municipal Upland institutions such as the school district and the chamber of commerce. Ultimately, after protests that the $6.3 million was insufficient to offset the destruction or damage to city infrastructure such as roadways, Bridge Point upped those payments to $16 million, and then ultimately to $17 million. The development agreement, as finally ratified, committed Bridge Development Partners to routing to the city $14.5 million in what was termed a “sales tax in-lieu fee” to make up for the city’s loss of sales tax from untaxed sales at the facility, on top of which Bridge Development Partners was to provide some $2.5 million of in-kind assistance to the city consisting of road improvements and/or signalization on Foothill Boulevard, Central Avenue, Benson Avenue, 13th Street, 15th and 16th Street.
On its way to approval, the project on February 12, 2020 was considered by the planning commission, which was to make a recommendation to the city council with regard to the project. With then-Commissioner Alexander Novikov absent, the commission took up the critical issue of the project’s environmental certification. Then-Commissioner Yvette Walker dissented in the commission’s 4-to-1 vote to ratify the mitigated negative declaration for the project, what was essentially a finding that any untoward environmental impacts would be offset by the conditions of approval imposed on the project. The panel voted 3-to-2, with Commissioner Gary Schwary and Walker in opposition, to recommend approval of the development agreement, by which Bridge Development Partners consented to provide the city with what was at that time the agreed-upon $16 million to make up for the project not involving the collection of sales tax and to offset the city’s infrastructure costs to accommodate the development, including repair to streets worn down by the trucks and vans that will operate out of the facility.
When the project itself was considered, a motion to reject it was made, garnering the support of commissioners Schwary, Walker and Linden Brouse. Chairwoman Robin Aspinall and Commissioner Carolyn Anderson dissented in that vote. Over the next two weeks, the members of the commission were subjected to pressure from project proponents inside and outside City Hall, as well as from lobbyists for Bridge Development Partners. On February 26, the commission reconsidered the project, and then took a follow-on vote, unprecedented in Upland history, to undo the February 12 decision that had denied the project approval. With Commissioner Novikov present, the commission reconsidered the matter, at which point Novikov joined with Walker in registering opposition to the project, while Schwary and Brouse reversed themselves from their February 12 votes, resulting in a 4-to-2 recommendation that the city council approve the project and its site plan.
In the ensuing weeks, the nation, state, region, county and City of Upland fell ever more firmly into the grip of the health threat crisis created by the widespread outbreak of the coronavirus. In March, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order banning public gatherings of 250 people or more and then mandated that the state’s general population isolate themselves and shelter in place, practically prohibiting municipalities from holding traditional meetings such as those of the city council, planning commission or other entities at which members of the public were free to attend and participate. With little regard for the burgeoning opposition to the Bridge Point project, the city council, the majority of which was leaning in favor of letting Amazon operate a distribution hub within the city, ignored the call by some of the more vocal members of the project opposition for the city council to postpone any decision on the project until such time as the city could resume holding public hearings at which the entirety of those within the Upland community who wanted to attend the meeting could do so and openly provide the city’s decision-makers with their input. Staff, led by Dalquest, responding to Bridge Development Partners’ desire for an early approval that would allow enough of the project to be completed in time for Amazon to function out of the center by the Christmas 2020 shopping season, dispensed with performing an unbiased evaluation of the project on its merits upon which the city’s ultimate decision-makers, the city council, would be able to determine whether Bridge Development Partners should be given an entitlement to proceed. Rather, staff began to openly militate toward the approval of the project.
At a specially convened Wednesday night meeting called for the specific purpose of considering approval of the project, the council conducted what was supposed to be the final hearing on the project on April 1. That session was not held physically in Upland’s city council chamber, but rather virtually from the respective council members’ homes or professional offices, with Mayor Debbie Stone being the only member of the panel at City Hall, where, from her office by means of a video hook-up with the others, she conducted the meeting cybernetically. A video of the council members and the audio of the proceedings, with a 30 to 40 second delay, was broadcast or displayed on the city’s local cable network as well as on the city’s website.
Mike Poland, Upland’s contract planner, briefed the council on the project. Dalquest, in his role as community development director, provided the council with an encapsulation of the development agreement, which, given its emphasis on the $17 million Bridge Development Partners had by that point agreed to provide the city if the project garnered approval, came across as a pitch for the project’s acceptance. The public was heard from by means of a telephonic exchange. Twenty people expressed opposition to the project, and 28, roughly half of whom were members of a church who had been hosted to a free dinner prior to the hearing and whose church was provided with a generous donation by Bridge Development Partners’ representatives, spoke in support of it.
Thereafter, the city council’s discussion ensued and its members voted to approve the mitigated negative declaration 4-to-1 with Councilwoman Janice Elliott dissenting. The council then accepted a lot line adjustment for the project site on a 5-to-0 vote. The council, voted 4-to-1 with Mayor Stone and councilmen Rudy Zuniga, Bill Velto and Ricky Felix prevailing and Councilwoman Elliott dissenting to approve the project and its site plan. The council further voted unanimously to approve the development agreement specifying the $17 million commitment in revenue Bridge Development Partners said it would guarantee the city. The votes provided Bridge Development Partners with an entitlement to proceed.
Shortly after the council’s vote to approve the project, Mayor Stone took action to remove Novikov and Walker, the two members of the planning commission who had voted against approving the project and remained committed in that vote, from the commission. Subsequently, the unabashedly pro-development Stone moved to appoint Dr. Brinda Sarathy to one of the vacant positions on the planning commission but rescinded that appointment upon learning that Sarathy had inveighed against the Bridge Point/Amazon project.
In the weeks after the council’s approval of the project, a group of citizens, convinced that Dalquest had fallen short of protecting the city’s residents from the onerous elements and consequences of the Bridge Point/Amazon project, formed a public action committee dubbed Upland Community First. Upland Community First then sued the city, entailing a writ of mandamus filing with regard to the Bridge Point project, which included a petition for an injunction against the project proceeding. The suit sought the voiding of the project’s approval, and that the city and applicant be required to complete a comprehensive environmental impact report first if the project is to again be considered. That legal action prevented Bridge Development Partners from moving forward on the project, and as pretrial legal skirmishing between the two parties has been waged, Bridge Development Partners and Amazon failed to achieve the goal of completing a sufficient portion of the distribution center to allow Amazon to carry out a significant percentage of its Southern California delivery operations from the Upland location.
Less than two weeks after the council vote to approve the Bridge Point project, at the council’s regularly scheduled April 13 meeting, that panel, again in a meeting held remotely and conducted digitally rather than in the forum of a public gathering, took up another highly controversial project, a proposal by FH 11 LLC, a subdivision of Frontier Homes, to develop 65 single family detached residential units on 9.2 acres within a 20.3-acre site. That site, at the juncture of 15th Street and 13th Avenue within the Foothill Knolls neighborhood, had previously been committed to serve as a stormwater detention basin, an intrinsic element of an elaborate flood control network serving as a repository for water that during a deluge is channeled away from properties to the north, including the Colonies at San Antonio subdivision, as well as other surrounding properties on the city’s northeast side.
Once more, city residents earnestly requested that the city council postpone consideration of the matter until such time as a proper public hearing could be held, wherein the council would have the opportunity to hear in person the full gamut of residential input on the matter. City officials declined to do so, and the city council again held a virtual hearing in which the public was unable to have direct contact with the city’s elected decision-makers.
During the course of the April 13 meeting, Dalquest, as Upland’s development services director, in tandem with Joshua Winter, the city’s planner on the project, gave an overview of the project proposal, known as the Villa Serena subdivision. The project, for which a residential specific plan was formulated, for approval required that the council sign off on a general plan amendment along with a zone change. Environmental certification of the project consisted of the city council reaching a consensus that the mitigated negative declaration done for the project was adequate, meaning that the council was satisfied that the conditions of approval for the project mitigated to acceptable levels any impacts the project would entail. Accordingly, no full blown environmental impact report was undertaken.
The density of the proposed Villa Serena project is roughly 1.75 times the density of the surrounding neighborhood, meaning that within the incoming development, seven houses would be placed onto an acre whereas in the nearby existing portion of the same neighborhood there were roughly four homes per acre. In addition, the height of the two-story homes included in the Villa Serena project created a circumstance in which the mountain vistas of many of the existing homes adjacent to the project were partially blocked, cut off or obliterated, and the privacy of those living in the existing residences was invaded, as the second story perches of the homes to be built allowed their occupants in many cases to see right into the existing homes. There was thus a widespread perception among the residents of the district where the Villa Serena project was to be located that in making his recommendation to the city council that the FH 11 LLC’s project proposal be approved and adequate mitigation of environmental issues be declared, Dalquest was ignoring the elements of the project they considered to be incompatible with the character of their neighborhood, and that he was evincing greater concern for the developer and his own political masters – the mayor and certain members of the city council who had previously committed to supporting the project – than he had for the residents of the area where Villa Serena was to be developed.
In the course of the April 13 meeting, members of the public were provided with the opportunity to remotely voice their views with regard to the proposal. 22 members of the public, most of whom live in the immediate environs of the project, addressed the council. All 22 registered opposition to the project. Thereafter, the council voted 4-to-1 to approve a motion by Councilman Ricky Felix seconded by Councilman Bill Velto to approve the residential specific plan, accede to a general plan amendment and parallel zone change, and then certify the mitigated negative declaration, tentative tract map and design review. Councilwoman Janice Elliott dissented from the majority in the vote.
Thereafter, the Friends of Upland Wetlands formed and is now pursuing a lawsuit against the city relating to its approval of the Villa Serena project, including the filing of a writ of mandamus and a petition for an injunction to halt the project.
More recently, Dahlquest became immersed in a third controversy, one which arises from a clash of compatibility between residential and industrial land uses.
In Upland’s current and immediately preceding general plan, the land use designations in the area at the city’s west side south of Foothill Boulevard and north of the city limits with Montclair, the zoning provides for variegated types of light and medium industrial uses. In 2005, despite the zoning in that area, Lewis Homes, which also goes by the corporate names of the Lewis Group of Companies and Lewis Operating Corporation, submitted an application with the city to develop a 31-acre project site at the northeast corner of 11th Street and Monte Vista Avenue into a 318-unit residential subdivision to be known as the Harvest at Upland. The planning commission and city council approved the application for the project in 2006, but the downturn in the economy that began in 2007 intervened. In 2014, the Lewis Operating Corporation signaled its readiness to revive that effort using a corporate sub-affiliate, SC Baldy View, and entered into a development agreement granting the company an entitlement to build and clearing the way for the project to proceed, subject to a series of steps, which included zoning adjustments and a general plan amendment. Having secured that entitlement, the Lewis Operating Corporation entered into an agreement with KB Homes to build the homes on the western 40 percent of the project. Subsequently, the Lewis Operating Corporation closed a deal with Lennar Homes to build the remainder of the homes within the Harvest at Upland subdivision. Work on those homes began and a portion of them have been completed, with many of them now occupied while construction on the remainder continues.
The eastern terminus of the Harvest at Upland development is Dewey Way. In 2015, another Lewis Group of Companies sub-affiliate, Lewis Land Developers, LLC, entered into a development agreement with the City of Upland to obtain an entitlement to build on the 19-acre site adjacent to the Harvest at Upland east of Dewey Way and north of 11th Street. That project, dubbed the Enclave, is to entail 192 residential units, comprised of 116 two-story detached condominiums and 76 three-story attached condominium units. Lewis held off on initiating construction at the site, intent on allowing sufficient time for the Harvest at Upland project to be completed. At its May 11, 2020 meeting, the Upland City Council, at Dalquest’s recommendation, approved an amendment to the 2015 development agreement with Lewis Homes for the Enclave at Upland project, extending the term of the development agreement from its expiration on July 27, 2020 to July 27, 2021. It is anticipated that with the work at the Harvest at Upland project now near completion, work on the Enclave will begin soon, either prior to the end of 2020 or shortly after the new year begins. This means, potentially, that work on the Enclave development will coincide with work on the Yellow Iron Development warehouse project, which is sited directly across the street.
This week, on Wednesday, November 18, the Upland Planning Commission took up consideration of a request by Yellow Iron Development and its principal, Tony Spinrad, to construct a 92,275-square foot warehouse building, consisting of 86,775 square feet of warehouse space with 2,750 square feet of ground-floor office space and a 2,750-square foot second-floor mezzanine, along with associated improvements on a 4.9-acre site located on the south side of 11th Street between Central Avenue and Monte Vista Avenue. The project site is located within the city’s light industrial/business park general plan designation and Upland’s light industrial zone. The project is to include 11 truck bays and two other truck loading facilities.
Unlike the cases of the Bridge Point/Amazon and Villa Serena projects, the city council did not assume authority for providing final approval of the project. Rather, discretion over whether the project should be allowed to proceed was given to the planning commission. There are a number of people in Upland who perceive the development to be incompatible with the nearly-completed Harvest and the yet-to-be initiated Enclave residential projects. They feel the juxtaposition of the light industrial use with the residential uses will represent a diminution in the quality of life to those living in the residential subdivisions, as well as a threat to their health and safety. A number of those residents have expressed the belief that Dalquest’s recommendation to allow the warehouse project to proceed without an environmental impact report such that its environmental certification has now been provided by the planning commission’s mitigated negative declaration is a repetition of the questionable use of mitigated negative declarations in the Bridge Point/Amazon and Villa Serena project proposals, which are now mired in litigation.
Further, during Wednesday night’s hearing, a few things came to light that make the city’s acceptance of the project even more troubling to those who previously had reservations about the wisdom of locating just such a project at that site. In particular, it was learned, Yellow Iron Development has not yet lined up a tenant, or tenants, for the facility. Spinrad made that disclosure to the planning commission, stating at one point that he thought it possible the building might be occupied by two separate operations. For some, this stigmatized what Yellow Iron Development is proposing as an inadequately described and defined operation, such that the city does not have a full understanding of what it is being asked to approve.
Another representation made at Wednesday night’s meeting was the assertion that the total vehicle trips into and out of the facility per day would be limited to no more than 250. According to statements made during the course of the meeting, the “equivalent total” of vehicles anticipated at the warehouse is 214 daily, including 130 involving passenger cars and 34 involving trucks, specifically six two-axle trucks, eight three axle trucks and a quantity of 20 four-axle trucks. That limitation evolved out of an apparent concern with regard to the facility’s proximity to the Harvest and Enclave subdivisions. That proposed limitation was given with the caveat that if the operations at the warehouse could not confine themselves to the 250 vehicle trips per day limit, either Yellow Iron Development or the tenant would be required to return to the planning commission to seek clearance, which might not necessarily be granted, to increase that truck activity. This immediately struck many of those in attendance as implausible, and a manipulation of the approval process that was intended to allow a far more onerous degree of activity that would be incompatible with the project’s surroundings than was being openly acknowledged at the meeting. The developer was seeking approval of a project in which the exact nature of the operation and the exact or even approximate number of vehicles it would entail was unknown.
An analysis of known and indefinite factors relating to the project and the property upon which it is proposed to stand indicates that the eventual tenant will be called upon to spend roughly $92,000 in basic rent per month or $1.1 million per year to occupy the proposed building, based upon a $1 per square foot per month rental cost, which falls within the average rate in Southern California. Leasing would only be a small percentage of a warehouse’s operating costs. In addition, other cost elements to open the doors of a warehouse or distribution facility and make it operational would be involved, including but not limited to the provision of utilities, purchase of and debt service for the acquisition of equipment, vehicles and furnishings, plant maintenance, insurance, taxes and personnel. These costs could zoom to as much as $500,000 per month. In order to meet this financial burden, an energetic and intensive warehouse operation will be required, entailing trucks flowing in and out all day long, perhaps in three shifts per day. Yet, based upon what was said at the November 18 meeting, the eventual tenant will be prevented, from the outstart, from operating more than a very small number of trucks, including those engaged in receiving merchandise into the warehouse and then dispatching vehicles loaded with merchandise for either wholesale of retail delivery. This limitation would seem to reduce considerably the number of entities that would be willing to locate on the property, since the ability to generate sufficient income as a going concern involved in warehousing and deliver would likewise be diminished, perhaps to below that which would be profitable.
That consideration has led some in the community to conclude that Yellow Iron Development and Spinrad were purposefully underrepresenting the intensity of the future use of the property in an effort to obtain an entitlement for Yellow Iron Development to proceed. The perception is that Dalquest is far too sophisticated to not understand or have missed that reality, and that he and city staff were knowingly going along with the misrepresentation as to the intensity of use at the proposed warehouse, knowing that once operations were at full swing there, vehicle trips into and out of the facility will approach or exceed a thousand per day.
Addressing the planning commission Wednesday night was Carlos Garcia, who was elected earlier this month to fill the vacant position on the city council representing Upland’s Third District, in which the Yellow Iron Development warehouse project and the Harvest and Enclave subdivisions are located.
Speaking as an Upland resident rather than in his role as councilman-elect, Garcia said, “This does affect our community,” pointing out that the Harvest subdivision is nearing full completion with residents already living there, and the Enclave project will soon be under way. Garcia, who will be sworn into office soon and complete the term of former Councilman Ricky Felix who resigned in May to move to Utah, expressed the view that the warehouse as proposed does not fit the light industrial business park description contained in the city’s zoning code and, as such, is an incompatible use adjacent to a residential neighborhood. He said the truck traffic the warehouse will generate will prove problematic. “There is one way in and one way out,” Garcia said, noting, “We have already seen 18 wheelers on 11th Street.” The addition of the warehouse will exacerbate that problem, he said. He further alluded to the mystery relating to who will actually occupy the warehouse once it is built, saying Yellow Iron Development was “creating a project there, but do we have a tenant? There is nothing solid or concrete. There is nothing to tell us what is actually moving in there, so we can know the impact.”
Steve Bierbaum said that despite representations that the warehouse proposal was in compliance with the city’s zoning and land use codes, in fact Upland’s light industrial designation does not permit a warehouse facility. The primary issue, Bierbaum suggested, was the intensity of truck traffic that will emanate from and be drawn to the warehouse, and its immediate proximity to two nearby and separate residential neighborhoods. “This is not in compliance with the general plan,” Bierbaum said.
Lois Sicking Dieter told the commission, “I’m concerned about the proposed 11th Street development project. Staff has published an initial study with a recommendation for a mitigated negative declaration. This mitigated negative declaration includes individual environmental impacts which appear to be understated. Furthermore, the cumulative environmental impacts of other projects under development are not included. The cumulative environmental impact of these projects is seemingly significant and would best be evaluated under an environmental impact report in order to determine compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.”
Sicking Dieter continued, “This project consists of a three-and-a-half story warehouse/office building, expected to accommodate warehousing, office space, distribution of goods and services, including heavy duty diesel truck loading bays, trailer parking stalls, and over 200 vehicle parking spaces with a two-acre first floor and a second-floor mezzanine on a 4.9-acre site. This project does not appear to comply with designated zoning, the Upland Municipal Code, the general plan, designated truck routes or the California Environmental Quality Act. In addition, we do not know the user. You have proposed that there is going to be 164 vehicles trips [per day]. How are you going to enforce that? This is seemingly understated, based on the capacity for this warehouse and available parking, and a 24 hours a day/7 days a week operation. Who is the intended proposed client?”
With one of the Upland Airport Land Use Committee members, Ronald Campbell, participating, the planning commission voted Wednesday night to deem the utilization of the 4.9 acres on 11th Street as a warehouse as being in accordance with the Cable Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan. Thereafter, Campbell no longer participated in the deliberations.
At this point, the membership of the planning commission, which had stood at six members and one vacancy this spring, has changed substantially. Three of the members of the commission at that time – Chairwoman Robin Aspinall, Gary Schwary and Carolyn Anderson – remain on the panel. But three of the former members – Alexander Novikov, Yvette Walker and Linden Brouse – have departed. Four new members – Thomas Grahn, Serge Mayer, Christine Caldwell and Patrick Shim – now round out the body’s membership.
Caldwell was the member of the commission who on Wednesday night most vociferously expressed reservations about the compatibility of the warehouse project with the nearby residential uses. When the vote was taken with regard to accepting the mitigated negative declaration for the project, which essentially certifies that all of the impacts from the project will be mitigated by the conditions of approval imposed on the developer, Caldwell and Schwary alone dissented. Aspinall, Anderson, Shim, Mayer and Grahn voted to accept the mitigated negative declaration as adequate.
In its discussion with regard to approving the project, the commission dwelt to a certain extant with regard to imposing conditions that might offset those aspects of the warehouse’s operations that some consider to be onerous with regard to the proximate residential uses. One of these was a condition suggested by Schwary that the trucks coming into and leaving the warehouse be prohibited from using Dewey Way, a north/south street which is slated to run from Foothill Boulevard to 11th Street. Dewey Way separates the Harvest and Enclave sites from one another and is to provide ingress to and egress from both of those neighborhoods. There was further suggestion with regard to tightening the restrictions as to the number of vehicle trips relating to the warehouse, and making them a part of the conditions of approval. Thus, the vote on the approval of the project was postponed until the commission’s next meeting, which is to take place on December 9. Based upon the tenor of the discussion, and Spinrad’s indication of his amenability with regard to the imposition of those conditions, the final approval of the project at the December 9 meeting appears to be inevitable.
Because the planning commission is considered to be the ultimate arbiter of the project, its approval, its environmental certification and its conditions of approval, those wishing to second guess that approval, assuming it is given, will need to pay a fee of $6,800 to the city to appeal that decision to the city council.
There is sufficient discontent among a cross section of Upland’s residents with regard to the anticipated project approval, the Sentinel has learned, that some challenge of the project appears highly likely. With the $6,800 cost of appealing the planning commission approval, some of those intent on making an issue of the matter are leaning toward yet another lawsuit against the city, as the initial expense in such a case would be the $450 filing fee at the courthouse and the $2,500 required to retain either of two law firms that have demonstrated a willingness to challenge Upland on its land use decisions.
Shannon Maust, who was elected earlier this month to represent Upland’s First District and will take office next month, indicated that she would be amenable to having the council reconsider the planning commission’s vote to approve the warehouse project if there is support for doing so among at least two of her council colleagues when the time comes.
“If there is substantial resident concern over this issue, then I think the city and the city council should become more engaged in a civic procedure to work those differences out,” Maust told the Sentinel on Wednesday afternoon, prior to the planning commission meeting. If, as Maust suggested, the council consents to reconsider the planning commission’s decisions with regard to the warehouse project, a lawsuit against the city contesting the project’s approval might be headed off.
Maust, in whose First District the Bridge Point/Amazon project is located, was opposed to giving that project go-ahead last April.
At the planning commission meeting Wednesday night, Maust was present, as was Garcia and Councilman Bill Velto, who defeated Mayor Debbie Stone for the mayoral post in the municipal election held on November 3.
A contingent of Upland residents is convinced that protecting Upland’s population from the untoward impacts of development are neither Dalquest’s first nor second priority. They have expressed the opinion that in any circumstance where either the residents of the city generally or residents within a specific neighborhood in the city have a dispute with a project applicant over the conditions of approval for that project, under Dalquest such questions are likely to be solved in favor of the developer rather than the city’s residents. For that reason, they are intent on seeing Dalquest relieved of his position as the city’s director of development services.
The Sentinel reached out to Dalquest this week, placing several calls to his office to which he did not respond. At the meeting Wednesday evening, Dalquest said he would respond to questions sent to him by email. The Sentinel sent him an email yesterday.
In that email, the Sentinel referenced the proposed imposition of limits on the number of trucks to be allowed to operate out of or into the warehouse, and whether Dalquest was concerned that such restrictions would discourage a tenant from locating his operation into the warehouse, and whether Yellow Iron Development’s failure to secure a tenant beforehand might complicate Spinrad’s and Yellow Iron Development management’s efforts to achieve financing to move ahead and complete the project. The Sentinel delved into whether Dalquest was concerned that the conditions of approval the planning commission will consider on December 9 might render the project Spinrad is proposing unviable as a warehouse.
The Sentinel asked Dalquest about resident concern that the eventual tenant has not been identified and apparently is not yet known to Spinrad, nor the planning commission nor the city, even as the commission is moving toward preconditioning approval of the project by limiting the use of trucks at the facility. The Sentinel inquired as to whether Dalquest believed competent planning procedure had been exercised when the city is committing to allowing Yellow Iron Development’s warehouse proposal to proceed when neither the proponent nor the city are knowledgeable about crucial project details.
The Sentinel sought from Dalquest whether he believed the residential and light industrial uses that will be juxtaposed along 11th Street vis-à-vis the Yellow Iron Development warehouse and the Harvest/Enclave subdivisions to be compatible and, if he did not consider them compatible, what elements of buffering should exist between them. The Sentinel asked if in Dalquest’s view there existed sufficient distance between the Enclave/Harvest sites and the Yellow Iron site to effectuate such buffering. The Sentinel asked Dalquest if in the event that he did not believe adequate space for the buffering existed, why he recommended that the Yellow Iron Development project be given go-ahead.
The Sentinel asked Dalquest about suggestions being heard around Upland that the Yellow Iron warehouse project was rushed before the planning commission while the current city council is in place at City Hall so that the complexion of values with regard to the planning process in Upland would be more favorable to the project than it will be after the new city council, which is to incorporate Maust and Garcia among its members, is in place.
The Sentinel in its email to Dalquest referenced how the current council has allowed controversial projects to be considered and approved without a full blown environmental impact report, instead deeming a mitigated negative declaration to be sufficient environmental certification for those projects. The Sentinel then asked Dalquest if as a land use and planning professional he was comfortable with such arrangements and whether he had any misgivings that at some future point in his career as a planning official this might come back to haunt him.
The Sentinel asked Dalquest point blank if he could say with complete confidence that he had done his best for the current and future residents of the Harvest subdivision and the future residents of the Enclave subdivision to prevent the Yellow Iron Development project from intruding upon their lives. The Sentinel asked if Dalquest, in general, believed that a mitigated negative declaration can suffice as an alternative to an environmental impact report.
In the email to Dalquest, the Sentinel noted that the character and zoning of the stretch of 11th Street between Central Avenue and Monte Vista has traditionally been more light industrial than residential and that the current zoning gives Spinrad and Yellow Iron Development leeway to develop a light industrial use there, while pointing out that the city nonetheless, when it approved both the Harvest and Enclave projects, seemed to be pushing the character of that district in a different direction, toward becoming a residential district. Given those factors, the Sentinel inquired of Dalquest if in his opinion as an urban planning professional he felt giving the Harvest and Enclave projects go-ahead, in hindsight, was a mistake. If he deemed that the city had made a mistake in allowing the land where the Harvest and Enclave projects are located to be converted to residential use, the Sentinel asked Dalquest what he thought the most responsible way of dealing with that paradox/dilemma was. The Sentinel asked him how, in his view, allowing a light industrial use next to more than 500 residential units made sense from a land use standpoint.
The Sentinel asked Dalquest to address Bierbaum’s contention and Garcia’s suggestion that Upland’s light industrial designation does not actually allow for the development of a warehouse.
The Sentinel asked Dalquest if he and his staff were in any way pressured politically to compromise the land use and planning standards he would normally adhere to so that the Yellow Iron Development project proposal was accommodated and, if so, if he had confidence that the soon-to-be-in-place city council, which will include Maust and Garcia, will look with approval upon his having made that compromise.
The Sentinel asked Dalquest if he considered the planning commission’s approval of the mitigated negative declaration on Wednesday night to have set in motion what will be the eventual approval of the project.
The Sentinel asked Dalquest if he considered the proceedings on Wednesday night to be a valid expression of the community’s will and a defensible exercise in the planning process.
Dalquest had not responded to the Sentinel’s email by press time.
One knowledgeable observer of activity and developments at Upland City Hall said there are two reasons why the city council’s cashiering of Dalquest in the near term is unlikely.
The first element of saving grace for Dalquest is that he and the city’s mayor-elect, Velto, attended Upland High School together and have a warm relationship. Indeed, this week when the Sentinel contacted Velto to ask if he considered the proposed Yellow Iron Development warehouse to be incompatible with the Harvest and Enclave residential developments, Velto sought to deflect the question by pointing out that there are existing light industrial uses in the 11th Street environs that are not inconsistent with the warehouse Spinrad is proposing. Velto redirected the question in such a way that he did not take into consideration the current presence of the Harvest subdivision and the future presence of the Enclave subdivision.
Another layer of protection and at least temporary job security for Dalquest built into the current circumstance, the Sentinel was informed, is that there is another even more spirited move afoot to have the council relieve City Manager Rosemary Hoerning of her position as the city’s top administrator. “I don’t think the city council will be willing to lose its city manager and development services director at the same time,” that individual said.
The planning commission is scheduled to consider approving the Yellow Iron Development warehouse project at its December 9 meeting, which is to be held at the Upland Civic Center in the city council chamber, located at 460 North Euclid Avenue, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
By Mark Gutglueck