One Month For Redlands Residents To Examine Plan For Urban Intensification

Efforts by Redlands city staff to redefine the city as a participant in the reinvention of Southern California as a megalopolis linked by a mass transit corridor continues apace as the city of 68,747 is moving on with the adoption of the next phase of its Transit Villages Specific Plan makeover.
The Transit Villages Specific Plan calls for encouraging future development within the core areas of the city, in particular downtown, the area between Tennessee Street and New York Street and near the University of Redlands, where stops on the Redlands Passenger Rail Project are to be located. The concept calls for constructing high density, multi-story housing within walking distance of those railway stops to discourage the residents who live there from using their personal vehicles, and instead utilize the train system that is being developed in Southern California to allow those living in the inland areas to commute westward toward or into Los Angeles in the morning to work and return home by rail in the evening.
The element of the Transit Villages Specific Plan that calls for creating a dense living environment in Redlands’ downtown area and allowing for high-rise apartments as well as parking structures clashes with many preservationists’ idea of keeping the city’s historic downtown intact. Moreover, the concerted efforts of a group of Redlands residents, who are determined to prevent any further development of structures of more than three stories, are out of sync with the Transit Villages Specific Plan.
The Transit Villages Specific Plan is wedded to the completion of the Redlands Passenger Rail Project. The Redlands Passenger Rail Project features the lofty goal of creating a rail commuting system running from downtown Los Angeles to Redlands. Critics of the Redlands Passenger Rail Project have found fault with the nature of the rail engines being used, consisting of ones that are heavy diesel-powered models. Preferable would be a light rail system, they say. Such a light rail component of Southern California’s rail system does exist, that being the Gold Line, which now runs  east from Downtown Los Angeles, near Little Tokyo and Union Station, to Pasadena and along the Los Angeles County San Gabriel Foothill communities to Azusa. At present, the Gold Line is being extended from Azusa to Glendora, with the intention of it reaching Pomona by 2025. Previously, both Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County transportation officials were in consonance on having the Gold Line extended through Claremont first to Montclair and then on to Ontario Airport, perhaps as early as 2028, in time for the Los Angeles Olympics to be held that year. Thereafter, the light rail Gold Line was to go out to San Bernardino, in some scenarios as early as 2036 and then on to Redlands by 2040.
The light rail Gold Line is considered more modern, more efficient and more practical than the traditional diesel-powered Metrolink train that now runs between Downtown Los Angeles and San Bernardino. The track for the diesel-powered Metrolink, is shared with cargo trains, and it does not have frequent departures or arrivals, with the shortest time between departures from San Bernardino into Los Angeles running 20 minutes at certain times of the day and as much as two hours at other times.
Consequently, Metrolink is not heavily used and it does little or nothing to alleviate heavy traffic on the freeways into and out of Los Angeles on a daily basis.
The Gold Line, which runs on a separate track dedicated to passenger transport alone from Downtown Los Angeles to Azusa, uses lighter cars and more fuel-efficient engines, with staggered departures and arrivals of as little as every eight minutes. The Gold Line is thus heavily used, and its cars, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, neared capacity on virtually every run.
Previously, the Gold Line Construction Authority in conjunction with the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency, when it was previously known as San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), intended to continue the line from Claremont to Montclair, and then from Montclair to Ontario Airport. SANBAG had accordingly dedicated $39 million in available transportation money toward the Gold Line project, and did a joint application with the Los Angeles Metro Transit Agency for a State of California Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program grant. That application was successful and it brought in $250 million on the Los Angeles County side, which made a significant but not complete inroad on the $850 funding deficit that jurisdiction had, and provided another $41 million of the then-projected $80 million cost for the San Bernardino County portion of the projected expense on the eastern side of the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County border to get the line to Montclair.
Subsequently, however, when the project went out to bid, it turned out the cost of building the line from Claremont to Montclair would not contain itself to an earlier $73 million projection or the later $80 million estimate, but had escalated to $96 million.
In reaction to that projected cost overrun, San Bernardino County Transportation Authority Executive Director Ray Wolfe convinced a majority of the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency board in the fall of 2019 to pull the plug on San Bernardino County’s portion of the Gold Line funding. On October 10, 2019 the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency’s transit subcommittee, composed of representatives from the cities of Big Bear Lake, Chino Hills, Colton, Fontana, Highland, Montclair, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, Yucaipa and the Third Supervisorial District, endorsed Wolfe’s proposal to dispense with constructing the new Gold Line track into San Bernardino County altogether and to instead have Gold Line passengers heading eastward from Los Angeles or the San Gabriel Valley load onto another train at the Claremont Station which will run on the existing Metrolink track. Only the representatives from Ontario, Montclair and Chino Hills dissented in that 8-to-3 vote.
San Bernardino County transportation officials declared their intention to return the $41 million State of California Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program grant that had been freed up to allow the county to overcome the gap between the $39 million in available revenue from the half-cent sales tax collected throughout San Bernardino County for transportation improvements for completing the Gold Line extension from Claremont to Montclair and the earlier projected cost of the 1.2-mile extension.
Thus, it appears, passenger rail lines on the east side of the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County divide will consist of much heavier and less fuel-efficient trains which will run on a far-less-frequent basis than the alternative light rail system.
Because the Redlands Transit Villages Concept is wedded to the Redlands Passenger Rail Project, which past and current rail line usage patterns demonstrate is unlikely to be even moderately used, there has been a fair amount of opposition to the Redlands Transit Villages Specific Plan, with Redlands residents trying to convey to city officials that they are on the verge of eradicating a huge swathe of historic properties in the downtown area in order to construct high-rise apartment complexes intended to be occupied by future train commuters who will, in fact, never materialize. Despite that opposition, Redlands officials have persisted with the Redlands Transit Villages Specific Plan, pushing forward with the compiling of a draft environmental impact report document for the initiative.
On August 31, the city gave notice of its preparation of the initial study for that environmental impact report. The notice informed the city’s residents that they had between September 1 and September 30, inclusive, to involve themselves in the “scoping” for the plan, that is, to offer feedback on what environmental considerations they believe should be made with regard to the development of the Transit Villages area, which covers roughly 947 acres in three noncontiguous expanses in the city. By late November or early December, the environmental impact report will be assembled into draft form. Thereafter, the document will be available, for 45 days, for review and further input.
The upshot is that the city is going to insist on layering the Redlands Transit Villages Specific Plan onto the city’s zoning map.
Evident from the already-available documentation relating to the Redlands Transit Villages Specific Plan and the scoping document released on September 1 is the Redlands Passenger Rail Project, the extension of the rail line from San Bernardino that is already 90 percent completed, is to become a permanent part of the landscape in Redlands, including rail line infrastructure spanning the nine miles between San Bernardino at Waterman Avenue and the University of Redlands. The rail line right-of-way is owned by the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority. In support of the Redlands Passenger Rail Project, the city is to undertake multiple upgrades, including train and traffic signalization, new bridges and culverts, existing bridge reinforcements, utility relocations and replacements. The corridor will be augmented with four train station/platforms, three in Redlands. Those stations will have accompanying parking lots where train passengers will be able to leave their vehicles in the morning before they board the train. The stations to be built within Redlands city limits will include one at New York Street just west of downtown, Orange Street in downtown Redlands and at University Street in front of the entrance to the University of Redlands.
While coordinating and incorporating rail stations into the city’s general plan and Downtown Specific Plan has been discussed at least since 2007, a clear-cut vision of what that is to entail has never been articulated. The Downtown Specific Plan was adopted in 1994 and revised through 2008. A comprehensive contemplated update took place in 2011 but was not adopted. Efforts to carry out the updating to the Redlands General Plan were long ongoing, but failed to be completed over a period of a decade. Not until 2017 was the rewrite of the general plan adopted. That document makes reference to the Redlands Transit Villages concept, but lacks clarity. A recurrent criticism of the Redlands Transit Villages Specific Plan was that it should have been coordinated with the general plan.
Of some importance, residents have said, is the city’s lack of coordination on planning for infrastructure. The city has arranged to collect fees from developers for certain infrastructure, such as sewers and a water treatment plant, but left uncovered at this point is to what degree the developers building density-intensive projects under the Redlands Transit Villages Specific Plan, given the greater burden their projects will place on such infrastructure, will see those fees increased or whether they will be increased at all.
Those taking issue with the Redlands Transit Villages Specific Plan question what provisions are contained in it regarding commitments on infrastructure as pertains to traffic circulation.
A document typically generated for this purpose is a TIA – a traffic impact analysis – meant to look into what will happen to the traffic flow on surface streets in a five-mile radius around a project. That document has not been produced, and some Redlands residents suspect the city is stalling on doing the analysis or will fail to undertake it altogether because it will show that the project will create gridlock at some intersections and that the confluence of the rail line and sidewalks which will at times result in a mortal threat to pedestrians that will be exceedingly difficult to address or eliminate.
-Mark Gutglueck

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