Sensing Mounting Resident Resentment, Foster Departing Redlands, SB County & California

Redlands City Councilman Paul Foster, who was elected to the Redlands City Council in 2010 and gradually drew to himself ever greater power until he became and remains the dominant presence in municipal government and the city as a whole, will resign from his elected position in January.
Despite Foster’s continuing political primacy, in recent years and months, Redlands residents in larger and larger numbers have grown disenchanted and in some cases angry with Foster over his accommodations of developmental and financial interests based outside the city to the exclusion, some say, of the residents of the city and its Fifth District, which he now represents.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Foster said he was departing because he and his wife had been presented “with an opportunity,” as he put it, to live elsewhere. Foster did not say, and was not available to respond to questions as to whether he had created the opportunity to leave or whether it had been conferred on him by others or circumstances beyond his personal control.
For some, the timing of his and his wife’s upcoming exodus from Redlands and the State of California is at the very least curious, just as a head of steam is building to initiate inquiries into whether a number of Foster’s votes in recent years have been prompted by inducements offered to him by those individuals or businesses which benefited from his votes.
Redlands, which is the fourth oldest and arguably the grandest of San Bernardino County’s cities, boasts a multitude of historic neighborhoods, filled with many stately vintage homes. As both a resort and agricultural mecca established in the 1880s, the city was long known for its abundant citrus trees, and in particular orange groves. In this respect, Redlands was no different than many other local cities and communities, including Riverside, Highland, Loma Linda, Upland, Ontario and Alta Loma. Beginning in the 1950s, some of the land upon which those citrus trees were set began to be sacrificed to make way for development, in particular the construction of homes. Gradually, and then ever more rapidly in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, those groves were destroyed as the population in San Bernardino County escalated.
In Redlands, more than in virtually every other community in the county, traditionalist sentiment became a strong and central aspect of the local culture. Efforts to preserve and conserve took hold, city resident-passed initiatives and measures limited the intensity of growth and voters consented, in league with a majority of the members of previous city councils, to issue bonds to enable the city to purchase groves to ensure their preservation and shield them from destruction and development.
At one point, more than a decade ago and before he was elected to the city council, Foster was, or at least seemed to be, involved in that movement. Prior to his being elected to the city council he had been a member of the Redlands Planning Commission, and before that he was a member of the Redlands Historic and Scenic Preservation Commission.
In his fifth year on the council, Foster was selected by his council colleagues for elevation to the position of mayor. He remained in that post until earlier this year.
According to some Redlands residents, it was around the time that he assumed the mayoralty that they detected an at first subtle and then ever more obvious change in Foster.
Though he had never been a politician who actively sought out the opinions and input of his constituents, Foster grew even more inaccessible than he had been. Particularly with regard to development proposals, Foster evinced virtually no interest in the views of his constituents, seeming to sense that they would be unwelcoming of any type of development. The only type of interaction he was prepared to engage in, or so it seemed, were meetings with the proponents of development projects. Foster grew deaf, or at best hard of hearing, to any expression of objection Redlands residents made to any of the various facets of project proposals that were to come before Foster and his council colleagues, and he grew impatient with any suggestions that development planned or proposed in the city, which he touted as “progress,” be denied approval.
Consistently, once the economic downturn of 2007-2014 subsided, Foster embraced virtually every development project that came before the city. Among his council colleagues, his enthusiasm proved infectious, and he reproved, either silently or acidly, any of his colleagues if they indicated they were so much as contemplating standing in the way of “progress.” Generally, through wheedling and cajoling, he influenced the remainder of the council to go along with him in supporting development proposals if they were not already inclined on their own to do so.
Those who want to build something and accomplish things with their lives, Foster maintained, trumped those who want to leave things as they are.
On July 20, when the city council considered a project that called for bulldozing more than six acres of 130-year-old orange trees on an 8.8 historic grove estate so 28 homes can be constructed on the land, Foster made a defense of himself and his philosophy, explaining to the city’s preservationists why they were not making any headway with him.
“I have a sensitivity that is not being recognized for the passion you have,” he told those who were asking the city council to reject the 28-house project. “But I have to weigh that against my belief in private property rights. That is going to weigh heavily on my mind as I look at [the project proposal].”
Furthermore, Foster said, he felt those opposing development were engaging in illegitimate stall tactics. “[U]sually what happens is an attorney representing one or more people …like to wait to submit their comments and drop it on us at a planning commission meeting or city council meeting when we are in the process of making the decision, thereby finding a way to delay the project,” Foster said, and then realizing that he was implying that all projects that come before the city are automatically approved, added “or delaying a decision.”
There are things more important than historic preservation, Foster indicated, and one of those things is economic development. Mature and responsible people understand the importance of not interrupting the march of progress, which is embodied in development, Foster said.
“I would just tell you, we [the city council as opposed to the public] have to look at the big picture. We have to look at everything. We cannot just be driven by emotion, even if that’s what we have a passion for, which is preserving things. We have to recognize everyone’s rights in this situation.”
Foster’s constant refrain that property rights are paramount has led a contingent of Redlands residents to the conclusion that he is being unduly and improperly influenced by the development industry.
Even as complaints about alleged political corruption involving Foster have gone to the public integrity unit of the district attorney’s office and others were moving to preparing further letters of complaint, on Tuesday evening Foster dropped a bombshell, announcing he was getting out of Dodge. He will land well beyond the reach of the district attorney’s office, not only moving out of Redlands and San Bernardino County, but out of the state.
Foster draped his announcement in as much nonchalance as he could. He made no reference to the growing disenchantment with him on the part of certain elements of the community, instead referencing the support of others who want him to continue in office.
“I have been for some time,” Foster said, “getting pressure from the community to declare my candidacy for the next election. After due diligence and thought with my family, I had planned on letting the community know sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas that I did not intend to seek reelection in the 2022 election. However, the one thing we can count on in life is change and not much else, but we can count on change. Unique circumstances very often occur in life. That has happened to my wife and I. An opportunity has presented itself for us to relocate to the Pacific Northwest Therefore I, tonight – this afternoon – I tendered my notice to the city clerk, city manager and city attorney that I’ll be retiring from the city council, effective January 3rd, 2022. I’ll be leaving Redlands in January, relocating to our new home on Camino Island in Washington State. This is in many ways, and I’m trying to hold it together here, a very emotional and difficult decision. As I have learned too well personally in my life, things happen and change very very rapidly and unexpectedly, and you need to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. I will certainly have opportunities over the next four months to reflect on my 11 years on the city council and say the many thank yous I have to the staff particularly as we move forward. It’s bittersweet in many respects, but I wanted to make sure that every one of the mayor and my colleagues had time to work with the city manager to make appropriate arrangements for my transition in a timely fashion so that the work of the council and the community would continue in a very smooth fashion as I left, and also, frankly, because my house is going on the market next month and I didn’t want anybody wondering what was going on without me telling everybody well in advance. So, [there will be] more opportunities in the future to talk to all of you and to express my feelings about my time here. In the meantime, I plan on continuing my service to the residents of Redlands as I have for the past 11 years until the day that I leave this dais for the last time on the second meeting of December.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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