Redlands’ position at ground zero in the State of California’s grand cultural and land use war over addressing the state’s homeless crisis is to be on display at the Tuesday, July 19 city council meeting.
Traditionally, local government, meaning cities and counties, have had discretion over land use policy and development standards in their respective communities. But with growing numbers of homeless now living on the streets and alleyways and in tents and lean-tos pitched and erected in the parks, parkways and on the sidewalks of California’s cities, legislators and bureaucrats in Sacramento have undertaken to address the issue.
In response to the housing crisis, the California legislature has empowered the California Department of Housing with the authority to essentially usurp local land use authority and to dictate through a formula called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment how many new residential units each community in the state must build without regard to the preferences or authority of the local citizenry or their locally elected representatives. Under the Regional Housing Needs Assessment regime, the California Department of Housing in Sacramento last year determined that within Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties, which compose the region covered by the Southern California Association of Governments, 1.34 million new homes must be built over the eight-year span ending on December 31, 2028, an average of nearly 168,000 homes per year. Redlands’ share of that assessment is 4,487 dwelling units over those eight years, of which 1,248 are to be priced to be affordable to those with very low income, 789 for those with low income, 830 for those with moderate income, and 1,620 for those with above-moderate income.
In addition, the California Legislature put in place Senate Bill 330. Under Senate Bill 330, also known as the Housing Crisis Bill of 2019, a complex set of restrictions were imposed on local governments’ previously extensive land use autonomies. Senate Bill 330 is intended to prevent those governments from downzoning property, adopting new development standards or changing land-use specifications in residential and mixed-use areas if the change results in less-intensive uses, reducing residential density or imposing design standards that limit the number of housing units allowed. In addition, Senate Bill 330 allows developers to request approval of housing developments that exceed density and design controls of the underlying zoning, if the existing zoning is in conflict with that particular city’s general plan or specific plan. Senate Bill 330 expedites the permitting process for all housing development and limits the list of application materials that cities and counties can review and limits the number of public hearings a city or county can hold with regard to a project to five, at which time the jurisdiction must either approve or disallow the project. Senate Bill 330 allows those proposing a housing development to override local zoning if they can demonstrate the zoning inhibits their developmental intent as long as that intent squares with the objective of increasing housing stock and it allows property owners where development is to occur as well as potential future residents and “housing organizations” to appeal or bring a lawsuit if a municipality does not follow the state mandated process. It further limits cities’ and counties’ ability to charge application and impact fees.
While the majority of California’s cities have gone along with the state dictates on the homeless issue, a fair number of California’s cities have resisted those mandates, with some municipal officials and social philosophers and futurists warning that the precipitate adaptation of development standards calling for intensive land uses including substantial upratings in density are shortsighted, will not be readily reversible once they are effectuated and will contribute to the diminution in the quality of life of residents for generations to come. One such place where that resistance has taken hold is in Redlands.
It is worth noting that though Redlands residents have collectively been unwilling to see their community transformed into the far more densely-packed cityscape that many urban planners envision, the politicians that have been elected to the city council have proven over the last several decades to be far more tolerant of the development industry than those they represent. Despite constant petitioning and advocacy by controlled-growth and slow-growth advocates, the Redlands City Council going back over the last ten or more election cycles – led by members of the council who have acceded to the position of mayor such as Jon Harrison, Paul Foster and Paul Barich – have plumped for allowing developers to proceed as they wish in converting the property they have acquired. Redlands political leaders have taken this position whether the land in question was previously developed residentially or commercially or whether it existed as agricultural or vacant land. Those politicians have not been deterred by the arguments of the controlled-growth crowd that the building industry wants to develop the city’s remaining property more intensively than before, involving more and more density if it is transformed into homes or apartments or more concentrated industrial or commercial use if it is built upon to accommodate foundries, factories, warehouse or stores.
A concept that city officials pretty much wholeheartedly embraced beginning nearly a decade ago was the transit villages concept. The transit villages plan calls for high density residential uses in multi-story structures to be built within walking distance of train stations located near Redlands University, Downtown Redlands and in the New York Avenue, Alabama Street and California Street districts. Those projects involve constructing tenements that will entail as many as 100 units per acre. The transit villages concept taps into a trend in urban planning in recent years which emphasizes the need to facilitate heavier use of public transportation, including commuter rail systems. Thus, city officials indicated they were ready to embrace having clusters of high-rise apartment buildings in what was envisioned as five densely packed neighborhoods throughout the city where previously commercial development or far lower density housing existed.
This flew in the face of the quality-of-life values of a large cross section of the Redlands population. Over the decades, a multi-generational contingent of Redlands residents demonstrated themselves to be more committed than any other citizens within San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities to the concept of attenuating the tenor of development within their locality, as was demonstrated by the city’s voters’ passage of the controlled-growth or slow-growth Proposition R in 1978, Measure N in 1987 and Measure U in 1997.
In the 1990s, the dichotomy in philosophy and approach toward development and the tempo thereof was illustrated by the differences between the two leading Redlands politicians of that era, Sven Larson, a general contractor by trade, and Bill Cunningham, a citrus farmer. Larson was in favor of reducing all constraints on the construction industry. Cunningham favored preserving the city’s existing orange and lemon groves and limiting to the extent that law and local ordinances could the intensity of growth that was to take place by imposing on the development community defined restrictions on residential density together with demands that those developing property had to provide adequate infrastructure to service new development and ensure that the city’s residents did not experience traffic delays or gridlock on the city’s streets and its regional highways because those roadways were overwhelmed by more vehicles than they were designed to carry.
The politicians elected to municipal office in Redlands over time, beset by lobbyists hired by the development community and the generosity developers showed in endowing elected officials’ campaign funds, grew sympathetic toward those seeking to convert the remaining groves and undeveloped property into houses, apartments, stores, warehouses and factories. Questions emerged as to whether some of those politicians were unduly influenced by the money elements within the development industry were handing around. The Redlands city council, led by then-Mayor Paul Foster, embraced the mandates from the statehouse in Sacramento for local communities to accommodate more and more residential development to ease a perceived housing shortage in California. The Foster-led council tried to go one better by using the city council’s authority to place an initiative on the 2020 ballot which was intended to accommodate accelerated construction. Dubbed Measure G, the initiative was a ploy to free the council and City Hall generally from the limitations on development inherent in past measures approved by voters in Redlands. Measure G asked the city’s residents to eliminate, in one fell swoop, the restrictions of Proposition R, Measure N and Measure U, allow developers to construct up to 27 housing units per acre, eliminate height limits on buildings in the city, relieve developers of the requirement that in completing their projects they have to provide infrastructure to maintain traffic-bearing capacity on the city’s streets equal to what was available prior to the development taking place, permit residential land use designations to be placed into the city’s general plan that did not previously exist and abolish the requirement that developers carry out socioeconomic‐cost/benefit studies for the projects they are proposing, among other things.
The city’s voters in March 2020 soundly rejected Measure G, with 9,321 votes or 64.88 percent opposing it and 5,052 voters or 35.12 percent in favor of it.
Undaunted, the city council and city staff continued to accommodate developers in their submission of projects which sought density levels substantially greater than what has been the standard in Redlands since its 1888 founding as a municipality. This included efforts by the city to clear the way for development projects in conjunction with the Transit Villages concept that called for constructing four story apartments and parking structures of anywhere from five to six stories near Redlands University, Downtown Redlands and in the New York Avenue district, with indications that the Alabama Street and California Street districts would serve host to similar projects in the future.
This provoked two Redlands grassroots groups, Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands, to gather signatures on a petition for another controlled growth measure to appear on the ballot.
On Monday, June 7, 2021, representatives with Friends of Redlands and Redlands for Responsible Growth Management, led by 95-year-old former Redlands Mayor Bill Cunningham, wheeled into Redlands City Hall three huge boxes containing petitions calling for a special election to stop tall and dense development to which 7,715 signatures were affixed. Those petitions were turned over to City Clerk Jeanne Donaldson.
Forced by the successful petition drive of Friends of Redlands and Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management, the city council at its August 3, 2021 meeting adopted a resolution to submit the initiative ordinance prepared by Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands for consideration by the voters at the regular municipal election of November 8, 2022.
At that point, officials with the University of Redlands, concerned that the Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management/Friends of Redlands initiative would preclude it from proceeding with a residential project on and near its campus that was to entail four-story dormitory or apartment buildings, opened negotiations with the representatives of Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands as the originators of the initiative to ascertain whether a substitute to the measure might be instead placed before Redlands voters, one which would allow the university to proceed with its dormitory/apartment project. After those negotiations had proceeded, representatives of the university approached the city and asked that the city council use its authority to place an alternative measure, one that would allow the university to construct residential quarters to a height of four stories, on the November 8, 2022 ballot. City officials say that the university’s administrators told them that those speaking for Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management/Friends of Redlands agreed to withdraw the measure they had qualified from the ballot if the city council approved placing the alternative measure on the ballot as a city-initiated measure.
The Sentinel is informed that Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management/Friends of Redlands had engaged in the negotiations with an expectation that the university’s administration had enough influence with city officials to be able to prevail upon them to have the city make other concessions with regard to the intensity of development within the Redlands community overall if Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management/Friends of Redlands were to prove amenable to allowing the residential construction contemplated by the university to reach a height greater than permitted in the original version of the measure that was qualified in the Summer of 2021 to appear on the ballot in the November 2022 election.
At issue in the bargaining over the ultimate form that the measure was to take was whether the city was willing to trade Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management’s and Friends of Redlands’ toleration of an intensification in the development that was to take place at the university and in the city’s Transit Villages districts in exchange for substantial restrictions on development elsewhere in the city, in particular in San Timoteo and Live Oak canyons, including the creek, its wildlife habitat corridor, the so-called Emerald Necklace consisting of a series of what some local residents consider “gems” that include open spaces, Heritage Park, existing citrus and avocado groves, the historic Barton House on Nevada Street, the sports park adjacent to Redlands Municipal Airport, the historic Crystal Springs Ranch & Water Company property and other points of interest linked by an encircling scenic road and hiking, bicycling and equestrian trails system, a portion of which is the last remaining stage coach road in California.
Last month the Redlands City Council was provided with two written reports dated June 21, 2022, one from, collectively, Development Services Director Brian Desatnik, Redlands Management Services/Finance Director Danielle Garcia, Assistant City Manager Janice McConnell, City Attorney Yvette M. Abich Garcia and City Manager Charles Duggan, and another from the law firm Devaney, Pate, Morris, & Cameron, LLP. Those reports both stated that a number of provisions that are contained in the Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management/Friends of Redlands measure are not in compliance with California law, including SB 330 and the California Department of Housing’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment mandates. Bolstered by those reports, the city council adopted a resolution placing an alternative measure on the November ballot that calls for buildings in the Downtown Transit Village and the University Street Transit Village districts being limited to three stories and a height of 43 feet from the ground level to their highest point visible from the fronting street with the exception of buildings that are located within a quarter mile of the transit station that lie within the University Street Transit Village, which are to instead be subject to a master development plan and shall be limited to four stories and a height of 68 feet as measured from the ground level to their highest point visible from the fronting street, along with another exception on buildings in the Alabama Street, California Street and New York Street Transit Villages, which are also allowed to reach four stories and 68 feet in height as measured from the ground level to their highest point as viewed from the fronting street. The alternate measure retained the original language of the Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands measure which imposed a two story and 35-foot height restriction on any building to be erected within an established and constructed single-family residential neighborhood.
The alternate measure approved by the city council at its June 21, 2022 meeting did not incorporate any of the compromises pertaining to limiting the intensity of development elsewhere in the city that had been the subject of negotiations between the representatives of Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management/Friends of Redlands and the university’s administrators. In this way, the alternative measure was one that simply met the needs of the university with regards to the intended construction of the residential property on and around the university’s premises and in the various transit district locales around the city. It stood in stark contrast to the original measure, which matched in all respects the growth management expectations of the proposed measure outlined in the petitions that had been signed by 7,715 city voters and turned over to City Clerk Donaldson in 2021.
The calculation of city officials was that in a fair toe-to-toe matchup between the original measure sponsored by Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management/Friends of Redlands and the city’s adopted alternative measure, its alternative measure could obtain passage and by more votes than the Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands measure if the city council put the full weight of its authority, credibility and popularity behind the alternative measure. Under California’s Government Code and Elections Code, if two voter initiatives are in conflict and both pass during the same election, the one with the greater number of votes goes into effect.
Upon reflection, however, the university’s administrators took stock of how it was that the Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands measure had qualified for the ballot to begin with: on the strength of the endorsement by 7,715 city voters. The university’s administrators were acutely conscious that the measure they were pinning their hopes on had been placed on the ballot by the vote of a mere five members of the city council, an authoritative body to be sure, but one that is nonetheless at odds, and at losing odds at that, with respect to a very passionate element of the Redlands community.
The controlled-growth forces in the city count among their ranks former Mayor William Cunningham, Redlands Historical Society Board Member Steve Spiller, former Hemet City Planner Ron Running, Rettig Machine Inc. treasurer and chief financial officer Susan Rettig, historian and former educator Tom Atchley and a number of others with some degree of sophistication and networking ability involved in industry, commerce, government and politics. The likelihood is that in a repeat of what occurred in 2020 when the city council sought to impose its more aggressive developmental ethos on the city’s residents with Measure G, the city’s voters will side with the Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands with regard to a contest over how intense future development in the city should be.
Consequently, according to a staff report prepared and submitted by City Attorney Abich Garcia, reviewed by Assistant City Manager McConnell and recommended by City Manager Duggan for the upcoming July 18 council meeting, the city received a “request by the University of Redlands to modify the alternative measure placed on the ballot by the city council on June 21, 2022 for the November 8, 2022 General Municipal Election” and “withdraw [the previous] alternative measure from the ballot.”
In their report, Garcia, McConnell and Duggan circumscribed what had already been brought up in previous reports they, Desatnik and Garcia had provided to the city council along with the report by the law firm Devaney, Pate, Morris, & Cameron, LLP before the June 21, 2022 vote on placing the alternate measure on the ballot for November. According to those reports, Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands, through their advocacy of the measures to limit the intensity of growth in Redlands, are running head-on into the State of California’s current ethos, embodied in Senate Bill 330 and the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, of encouraging virtually unbridled development in an effort to build more and more housing to alleviate the housing crisis. Not explicitly stated but implied in Garcia’s, McConnell’s and Duggan’s report for the July 18 meeting were that the pro-development city council and the development industry working in Redlands face the intractable and hard reality that the city has become a hotly contested battleground over the state’s mandates to liberalize development standards to prompt home construction as a strategy to undo the Golden State’s housing crisis. Garcia’s, McConnell’s and Duggan’s report told the city council that the University of Redlands had asked the council to consider withdrawing the alternate measure for the November election it had approved on June 21 and instead place on the November ballot a “modified alternative ballot measure” that covered the same ground as the already approved alternate measure but which added language calling for “the preservation of all parcels of land within the area, including those in San Timoteo Canyon, west of the Southeast Area, identified Resource Preservation in the Redlands 2035 General Plan, are hereby zoned Agriculture.” That covers the area of compromise that had been the subject of negotiations between the University of Redlands administrators and the representatives of Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands, including Cunningham.
Garcia’s, McConnell’s and Duggan’s report noted that the provision relating to the preservation of property in San Timoteo Canyon “will not actually result in the rezoning of any parcels of land, as the land it refers to is already zoned Agriculture. It will, however, prevent the city council from rezoning this land in the future; by including this provision in the modified alternative measure it would take a future vote of the people to implement a rezoning.”
Garcia, McConnell and Duggan emphasized “The modified alternative measure carries over provisions in the Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management measure that proposes a number of provisions that are not in compliance with state law based on the staff’s analysis of the alternative measure in the June 21, 2022 agenda report and the legal analysis obtained by the city from the law firm Devaney, Pate, Morris, & Cameron, LLP.”
Nevertheless, Garcia, McConnell and Duggan stopped short of recommending against the city council placing the modified alternative measure on the ballot in November, stating that the city council should “hear the presentation from the University of Redlands on the modified alternative ballot measure proposal and determine whether or not to approve placing the measure on the ballot for the November 8, 2022 election as a city-initiated measure and withdrawing the alternative measure placed on the ballot on June 21, 2022.”
A factor running through all of the calculations revolving around development issues in Redlands is deep-seated institutional knowledge regarding venality on the part of Redlands’ elected leadership in its role overseeing development issues in the community going back for nearly a generation. It is no secret that several of the city’s decision-makers were influenced by money provided to them from elements of the development industry, either in the form of donations to the politicians’ electioneering funds or outright bribes and kickbacks to both elected and staff officials. Last year, scrutiny of that circumstance had reached a critical level, such that then-Councilman and former Mayor Paul Foster was obliged to resign his council position and move out of the state. Foster’s public/political career and involvement in civic affairs had had begun with his activities in support of the controlled-growth/limited-growth movement in Redlands but had made a 180-degree transition to support of intensive development within the city in the years after his 2010 election to the city council. After he had made a slew of votes in favor of highly controversial development projects in the months and years prior to his resignation, Foster announced his pending resignation from the city council effective the first week of January this year, and moved to Camino Island in Washington State, where he hopes investigators with the FBI, IRS and California Attorney General’s office will not follow him. Virtually all of the members of the city council over the last decade had cited Foster’s guidance and reasoning with regard to making votes in support of those oftentimes controversial development projects.
There is concern at Redlands City Hall about the degree of both knowledge and proof that the Redlands controlled-growth advocates possess relating to Redlands city officials’ bribetaking in recent years. It is this concern, bordering on the verge of alarm, that those slow-growth advocates will marshal that evidence and connect it with the headlong rush that state officials are currently engaged in with regard to facilitating residential development not only in Redlands but up and down the state that is preventing city officials from using heavy-handed tactics to outright prevent Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands and their supporters from engaging in their efforts at preservation and limitation of development.
Meanwhile, Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management and Friends of Redlands and their supporters are preparing to not only turn out at the polls in November to ensure that the city adheres to the developmental standards they believe will safeguard the city’s traditional quality of life but that they drive to those same polls a majority of their fellow and sister residents who ultimately embrace the same attitude.
The Sentinel has obtained communication from former Mayor Cunningham to Redlands Historical Society Board Member Steve Spiller. In that missive, Cunningham tells Spiller, “As I’m sure you know, we got shot down in our attempt to restrict canyon development, a defeat rooted in the fact we had no voices in support, which was, in part, the fact that I was assured we would not need them.”
Cunningham’s statement alluded to the consideration that in approving the alternate measure on June 21, the council did not include any provisions limiting development in San Timoteo or Live Oak canyons.
Cunningham indicated he and the votes and forces he represents are not willing to let the city and current pro-development city council outmaneuver and outhustle the city’s controlled-growth forces. “On the 19th [i.e., July 19] the council will vote whether to rezone San Tim agriculture/resource preservation, which, if passed, would protect the canyons from development,” Cunningham told Spiller. “This time around we need support. Is there some way that the society could make itself heard on the 19th? It would be very helpful to the cause of preserving the canyons. I’m convinced this is our last chance. Chinese investors are buying up large parcels and they will expect a return on their money.”
Redlands’ position at ground zero in the State of California’s grand cultural and land use war over addressing the state’s homeless crisis is to be on display at the Tuesday, July 19 city council meeting.