Again Using Time-Tested Christmas Season Meeting Scheme, Yucaipa Hides Controversy In Plain Sight

To the consternation of municipal governance observers in Southern California, Yucaipa city officials this month maintained their demonstrated pattern of utilizing the year-end holiday season to minimize residents’ resistance to or questioning of controversial or potentially problematic city action.
This year, on December 15, the Yucaipa planning commission approved an addition to an existing senior housing project on Third Street and signed off on an architectural review for a long-delayed project involving 22-single-family homes to be built by Pacific Horizons Homes that will be located west of Bryant Street and south of Sunnyside Drive.
The first project calls for 27 units to be built on what was variously represented as a .38-acre, a roughly .45- acre, a 1.03-acre or a 1.104-acre site, translating into a density of, variously once more, 71 units to the acre, 59 units to the acre or slightly over 26 units to the acre.
The second project is to offer an overall density of 3.87 units per acre, which is more in keeping with the intensity of land use traditionally associated with Yucaipa neighborhoods. Nevertheless, there were Yucaipa residents who told the Sentinel after the December 15 hearing that there were issues relating to the project and its placement, including impacts on adjacent and nearby properties that they wanted addressed before the project was given go-ahead. They said the city snuck the December consideration of the project past them.
According to Yucaipa Assistant Planner Christian Farmer, the city is providing Urban Housing Communities, LLC with a density bonus and granting it a conditional use permit to complete the final phase of what was originally permitted as an apartment complex limited to those 55 years of age or older, known as the Horizon Senior Housing Project on Third Street.
Farmer said the 77-unit senior housing project was first approved by the planning commission on June 17, 2009. The initial entitlement to build expired, however, and a new conditional permit was approved by the planning commission on December 3, 2014. The first phase of the project was completed, entailing the first 50 units and all of the complex’s resident amenities. Thereafter, the conditional use permit on the remaining 27 units expired.
The action before the planning commission on December 15 consisted of allowing Urban Housing Communities to pick up where the project had left off.
The project is to consist of a two-story, 32-foot tall building of approximately 20,000 square feet to accommodate 19,790 square feet of internal living space. That living space is to involve 23 one-bedroom units ranging from 665 square feet to 698 square feet along with four two-bedroom units of 1,026 square feet.
The city is granting Urban Housing Communities a housing density bonus consistent with state guidelines that allow for such incentives to encourage the construction of senior living units. In this case, Yucaipa has a minimum 750-square foot standard for one-bedroom units. That is being waived because Urban Housing Communities has agreed to reserve 30 percent of the units for low-income tenants and 15 percent of the units for very-low-income tenants.
At the meeting and in the documentation for the project, there was contradictory information with regard to the project’s parameters, which have led to some confusion as well as criticism with regard to the city rushing the project toward approval.
One item of confusion was the size of the project site. At one point, it was referenced as being .38 or an acre. There was a variant indication the project property was actually 1.104 acres. Another calculation was that the property being developed was .454 acres. Another held that the property in question totals 1.03 acres.
The parcel upon which the project is to be built is zoned multiple residential, which carries with it a requirement that each structure be built on a 7,200 square-foot minimum lot. As the parcel is at least .38 of an acre – that is 16,552.8 square feet – the project meets that criterion. Nevertheless, the eventual residents of the project will be crammed very closely together.
As the floor plans of the units total 19,790 square feet and the building consists of two stories, the building can cover an area of no less than 9,895 square feet, which is equal to .227 of an acre.
How large the lot is was not clear from the context of the documentation prepared for the meeting.
A reference to the project site said it was .38 acres. In his report on the project, Farmer stated “The building coverage is approximately 22 percent of the project site.” Elsewhere in the report, Farmer wrote, “the subject property is 5.02 acres in size.” There is no direct statement as to the precise building size or the lot size upon which the building is to be sited. One interpretation is that the entire Horizon Senior Housing Project, including all 77 residential quarters, the facility’s office, clubhouse and amenities, covers 5.02 acres. This would indicate the current project site is 1.104 acres. Another interpretation is that the 9,895-square foot footprint of the building is 22 percent of the project site, such that the lot being built upon is 44,977.27 square feet, roughly 1.032 acres.
Because of the holiday closure of city offices, Farmer is not available to make a clarification.
It is because municipal offices shut for the Christmas break that those monitoring city operations feel that placing issues where the public at large may have questions or objections to what is being proposed and approved is ill-advised.
It is not just city officials in San Bernardino County, Southern California and the Golden State but rather ones throughout the United States who have developed a time-tested stratagem of concealing from the public action that may prove controversial, problematic or embarrassing. That approach consists of hiding the action in plain sight by scheduling such matters for discussion during meetings falling right before or after major holidays, the classic manifestations of which are those just prior to Christmas or between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Yucaipa has not been shy about using that legerdemain.
In December 2019, the Yucaipa City Council sold to an unspecified entity one week before Christmas and four days before the onset of Hanukkah 1.67 acres of public land originally donated to the Yucaipa community by Ruben and Lester Finkelstein with a deed restriction that it be utilized for public purposes. Though the Finkelstein brothers the proprietors of the variegated Lester Ruben Corporations No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, the Finkelstein Foundry Supply Company, the Finkelstein Supply Company in Los Angeles and the L and R Cattle Company in Yucaipa – made the donation of the property in question, much of which was used for the creation of Crafton Hills College, prior to the incorporation of Yucaipa as a city, the property ultimately came under the ownership of the city with the original deed restrictions.
-Mark Gutglueck

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