Commission Hearing On Redlands Density Intensification Raises Civil Unrest Prospect

Redlands city officials’ indulgence of the development community’s push for the intensification of density in the ongoing urban transition of that city’s once stately downtown is propelling the 71,707-population city toward a state of civil unrest.
Historically, Redlands, which was incorporated as a city in 1888, has been considered San Bernardino County’s most refined city, what many considered an idyllic blending of upscale homes and orange groves. With the gradual and eventually wholesale destruction of the citrus industry that began regionally in the 1950s and accelerated in the decades thereafter, Redlands residents more than those of any other local cities pushed back against the urbanization trend, passing controlled-growth initiatives Proposition R in 1978, Measure N in 1987 and Measure U, all of which were intended to reduce growth to manageable levels.
Despite that sentiment among a sizable contingent of the populace and the force of law the measures provided in limiting development, members of the city council have over the last two decades proven determined to clear the way for landowners and the builders they work with to construct projects that will more than double, triple and quadruple the density of residential and commercial land use, while compacting these improvements in smaller and smaller spaces near the city’s downtown core.
Whereas downtown Redlands had features such as La Posada Hotel, the Casa Loma Hotel, the Alvarado Hotel, the Fox Theater, the Orley Building and the Mitten Building, the city council and planning commission are now accommodating projects that will put three, four, five and six story apartment buildings and parking structures downtown, allowing for up to 100 residential units to the acre. The concept promoted by city officials is to convert the city’s historic train depot into one modernized to handle large numbers of working commuters using the yet-to-be-fully-realized-and-actuated regional rail system to travel daily to Los Angeles and other Southern California destinations, and transform the downtown area into a series of high-rise apartments to house individuals who travel most often not by car, but use public transportation. There is some debate as to whether these residents will be families or mostly unmarried individuals or couples without children. Though urban planners say these downtown denizens will not often use their own personal vehicles, the city yet plans to make places for their cars, which will generally be parked in structures as high as six and seven stories.
There has been substantial citizen resistance to this plan, but so far those proposing projects in keeping with this vision in Redlands have been warmly received by the city council, the planning commission, city administration and the city’s planning division.
Next week, on Tuesday April 12, the planning commission is to consider a proposal by VPV State Street Village, LLC to redevelop 11.5 acres of the now mostly dormant Redlands Mall site with a mixed use project that includes residential and commercial uses within five new multi-tenant buildings. The project calls for demolishing existing on-site buildings and improvements; constructing five mixed-use buildings up to four stories high; building up to 700 multifamily dwelling units, i.e., apartments and condominiums, to include studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom, and live/work units; constructing an approximately 6,000 square-foot recreational amenity building including a pool and other private courtyards for residents; building up to 71,778 square-feet of commercial floor area on ground floors to include retail and restaurant uses, as well as a rooftop restaurant; constructing up to 12,328 square feet of office space on upper floors; establishing a pedestrian plaza totaling approximately 22,742 square-feet on Third Street; constructing a five-level above-ground parking structure with 686 spaces; and constructing two subterranean parking garages with 269 and 225 spaces. Included in the plans are public and private open space areas to involve landscaping, shade trees, street trees, and pedestrian improvements; and related site improvements to include sidewalks, driveways, landscape, lighting and street lights, storm drains, flood prevention features, and public and private utility connections.
A cross section of Redlands residents are hopping mad about what is being proposed. Some have suggested that city officials, including members of the city council, the planning commission and city staff have conflicts of interest growing out of the intensification of density in the downtown area. An allegation, unverified by the Sentinel, is spreading that the city manager has a sibling involved in the local real estate market who will profit if the project to be considered Tuesday is approved.
City officials want to discourage the prospect of an untoward incident during the hearing. On the basis that an overflow and angry crowd is expected in the city’s meeting chamber, the city has already moved to limit seating, and is forcing all others who want to participate in the hearing to utilize Zoom, an online audio and web conferencing platform, to do so. The police department has been put on alert and will have officers paid overtime on standby in and near City Hall to deter any acts of civil disobedience or acts of violence toward the commissioners or planning staff.
-Mark Gutglueck

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