After More Than 4 Years Loma Linda De-annexation Of Acreage For Colton Takeover Hasn’t Yet Occurred

Over the last 50 months since it was first introduced publicly there has been little movement with regard to the proposal to have Loma Linda de-annex over 200 acres lying within its city limits so the City of Colton can subsume them to allow a subdivision of homes to be built at the farthest western extension of the vast undeveloped wilderness sometimes referred to as the South Hills.
In general, political entities and governments which oversee nations, states, counties, cities, towns or villages seek to expand and take on more territory, more authority and more power. It goes against the grain and the flow of nature for a government to surrender power or authority or give up land. Nevertheless, that is what the City of Loma Linda is being called upon to do near its border with the City of Colton in Reche Canyon. And while all of the requirements for that to occur have not been lined up, it appears that once everything is in place, a majority of Loma Linda officials will be willing for the de-annexation to take place.
University Realty LLC is proposing to construct 350 houses on 209 acres that currently fall within the City of Loma Linda’s jurisdiction at that city’s farthest extension westward.
The property at issue lies proximate to Reche Canyon in Colton, a once rustic area that has become more urbanized as a consequence of incremental development that has been ongoing for three-quarters of a century. Simultaneously, there has been an intensification of the use of Reche Canyon Road, once a little-used back passage linking San Bernardino and Riverside counties which became a far more popular thoroughfare in the decades since the 1984 incorporation of Moreno Valley.
University Realty LLC, also known as Arizona State University Enterprise Partners, is an arm of Arizona State University which is engaged in raising money for that institution of higher learning by acquiring donations of property which can be developed commercially, residentially, and industrially to create a revenue stream, ultimately passed along to the university, or to otherwise make investments in real estate that can subsequently be sold at a profit, and to engage in development projects including what University Realty founder and chief executive officer M. Randy Levin terms “full service, ground-up development including acquisitions and entitlements of land, master-planning and building design, construction, and financing of office, industrial and multi-family projects.”
Loma Linda is contemplating de-annexation of the 209 acres because, lying at the extreme west end of Loma Linda, the property is separated by nearly a mile from the closest available municipal infrastructure and utilities further eastward in Loma Linda, on the other side of the roughly 3,000-acre undeveloped South Hills wilderness. Thus, Loma Linda cannot economically provide the road access, water systems, wastewater treatment services or other infrastructure needed to support the subdivision University Realty is proposing. Colton, however, has long established municipal infrastructure proximate to the 209-acre site. Once the property is absorbed by Colton, those services could be provided. In this way, it appears that what University Realty is trying to do is move the land use decision authority with regard to the property it is intent on developing from Loma Linda to Colton.
Levin/University Realty and Loma Linda city officials/City Hall share a devotion to educational institutions. In Loma Linda’s case that is Loma Linda University. By assuring Loma Linda University Medical Center administrators that the project planned for the property to be annexed to Colton, dubbed Rancho del Prado, will provide housing suitable for doctors and other medical professionals working at the medical center, Levin has created a commonality of interest with Loma Linda city officials relating to having the project proceed. In this way, a majority of Loma Linda officials have shown themselves amenable to going along with the de-annexation proposal.
The Loma Linda governmental structure, nonetheless, has not proven to be a monolith in supporting University Realty’s development agenda. Some officials expressed reservations about the city surrendering its land use authority with regard to the property. Under Loma Linda’s standards, no more than one home could be constructed on each ten acres of the property under discussion. What University Realty is seeking is 1.674 units per acre, or 16.74 homes per ten acres. Planning commissioners Doree Morgan and Larry Karpenko, in particular, expressed reservations about the wisdom of going along with University Realty’s proposal. Likewise, Mayor Phill Dupper is skeptical about the wisdom of the proposal.
Despite that reluctance on the part of a handful of Loma Linda officials, the Loma Linda City Council in October 2017 voted to send a letter to the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees governmental jurisdictional issues, in support of letting Colton annex the property, after Arizona State University Enterprise Partners/University Realty, represented by Levin and Christine Aghassi, suggested the property should be moved into Colton’s sphere of influence. The letter stated that the property now in the possession of University Realty “cannot be served by Loma Linda with fire, police, water and other public services, either now or in the future. The City of Colton is the logical provider of these services.” The letter is widely interpreted as a clear signal that the majority of Loma Linda’s decision-makers were in favor of the project.
Levin and Aghassi have in the meantime hosted several community meetings in Colton, specifically in Reche Canyon, where they have sought to persuade local residents that the project will be a beneficial one.
Some Reche Canyon residents have not been easily sold on the idea. In the years since its 1984 incorporation, Moreno Valley has grown to become Riverside County’s second largest city, with a population of 221,387, making it larger, population-wise, than the City of San Bernardino. Reche Canyon Road extends in a winding south-southeasterly fashion into Riverside County, bifurcating at one point into the continuation of Reche Canyon Road and Reche Vista Drive. Reche Canyon Road continues southeast until it reaches Locust Avenue in the Cloverdale district of Moreno Valley. Reche Vista Drive moves generally south, whereupon it bifurcates into Reche Vista Drive and Perris Boulevard, both of which take motorists into the heart of Moreno Valley. In this way, Reche Canyon Road represents a major backroad conduit between Riverside County and San Bernardino County.
As a consequence, on a typical weekday more than fifteen thousand vehicles travel through the canyon, using the road as a shortcut to bypass the 60 Freeway and the I-215 Freeway to reach San Bernardino, the I-10 Freeway, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Redlands and elsewhere in San Bernardino County.
Reche Canyon residents, many of whom originally moved there because they considered it an idyllic rural island in the midst of the rapidly urbanizing Inland Empire, are resentful of the University Realty proposal and the hundreds of more cars it will inject into the already overburdened traffic stream on Reche Canyon Road.
In the early summer of 2020, the City of Colton was closely examining University Realty’s project proposal, and what would be needed to make it a reality. The project has not progressed any further than that, however.
This week, Councilman Rhodes Rigsby told the Sentinel there is no clear indication what will happen to the Loma Linda de-annexation/Colton annexation proposal.
“There are so many variables, it is hard to predict what will happen,” he said. “There is still so much that needs to be worked out for it to go through the planning process.”
A consistency of intent and willingness needs to be maintained on all sides, Rigsby said.
“The developer could lose interest,” he said. “The nearby residents might oppose it. The city [Loma Linda] might not be willing. Colton might not want to go along with the annexation.”
From a logical jurisdictional standpoint relating to the proximity and availability of infrastructure, the land under focus would best be located within the city limits of Colton rather than Loma Linda, Rigsby said.
“Those boundaries were set a half century ago,” Rigsby said, referencing Loma Linda’s September 1970 incorporation. “If you talk to the officials at LAFCO [the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission], which has responsibility over the borders and jurisdictions, they will tell you that the way the city borders were drawn was the product of a lazy surveying process, and for decades they have talked about fixing that. If you look at that particular property, the acreage owned by University Realty, it is completely disassociated from Loma Linda. It should have been part of Colton to begin with. The critical infrastructure that is near the property is Colton’s. Loma Linda has absolutely no ability to provide services to that land. If the officials with LAFCO were setting the boundaries today, it would not be a part of Loma Linda.”
Nevertheless, Rigsby said, jurisdiction of the property is not going to be automatically turned over to Colton. If Colton’s annexation of the property entails de-annexing a dozen or more properties or homes from Loma Linda, he said, the landowners will have a say in which city they remain in or are drafted into. “If there are 12 or more existing homes or properties involved, a request must be made of them,” Rigsby said. “They have to consent to being annexed, or it won’t take place.”
Such consent would be rendered by a simple majority vote of the landowners impacted by the de-annexation/annexation assenting to Colton’s takeover. If a majority of the voters opposed, the property would remain defined as lying within the confines of Loma Linda.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply