Redlands Council Trades Allowing Downtown High-Rises For Preserving Canyon

As part of a calculated political move aimed at allowing intensified development to take place at the city’s core, the Redlands City Council this week cleared the way for voters to impose substantial restrictions for the next two to three generations on development in that portion of San Timoteo Canyon that falls under the city’s purview.
In coming to the compromise, the pro-development council dispensed with a previous voter initiative it had voted in June to place before the voters in the upcoming municipal election. The council took this action in the face of the intensive support a wide cross section of the city’s residents had evinced for a measure two grassroots groups, Friends of Redlands and Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management, had previously qualified for this November’s election that would have, if passed, prevented the University of Redlands from proceeding with a plan to construct four-story dormitories or residential structures on or near the university campus. The compromise further means that the city will have a free hand to pursue the Transit Villages concept it has been ruminating on for more than a decade.
In just over five months in early 2021, 7,715 city residents, under the aegis of Friends of Redlands and Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management, endorsed a petition calling for a citywide vote on a measure that would have limited new development in the city to no more than three stories everywhere but in the district immediately surrounding the New Jersey Street rail station, where four story structures were to be allowed. Those petitions were turned over to City Clerk Jeanne Donaldson on June 7, 2021. Given that the Friends of Redlands and Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management had surpassed the number of endorsements they needed to qualify for a referendum, the city council had no choice but to schedule the measure for a vote. In August 2021, the council did so, slating the vote to take place in conjunction with the municipal election scheduled for November 2022.
Redlands University President Krista Newkirk appealed to the city council, asking it to use its authority as the city’s legislative body to place an alternate measure on the November ballot, one that would set a height limitation on buildings in the city of 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 stations that lie within the University Street Transit Village and the Alabama Street, California Street and New York Street Transit Villages, 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.
On June 21, 2022, the city council complied with Newkirk’s request, at the same time ignoring suggestions that it include in that measure a provision calling for instituting safeguards against aggressive development taking place elsewhere in the city, particularly in the city’s existing agricultural zones which are nevertheless vulnerable to zone changes in the future which would allow farmland and groves to be converted into houses or warehouses or foundries or commercial centers.
University administrators understood that sentiment against aggressive development within Redlands runs high, as was demonstrated by city’s voters’ passage of the controlled-growth or slow-growth Proposition R in 1978, Measure N in 1987 and Measure U in 1997. They sensed that Friends of Redlands and Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management, having already captured the momentum of the enthusiasm for controlled-growth in the city and having lined up a dependable 7,715 votes in their favor before the respective campaigns for the competing measures had even begun, would very likely succeed in getting more votes for their measure than the alternate 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.
The university’s administrators were acutely conscious that the measure they were pinning their hopes on had been put on the November ballot by the vote of a mere five members of the city council last month. At the same time, the measure sponsored by Friends of Redlands and Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management already had the support of all of the residents who had signed the petition to put it on the ballot, roughly 17 percent of the city’s 45,458 registered voters. With that kind of head start going into the fall campaign, coupled with the consideration that Friends of Redlands and Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management have as their inspirational leader and prime mover former Redlands Mayor Bill Cunningham, whose effectiveness in marshaling voter support for citizen-submitted initiatives aimed at limiting development and preserving historical properties is legendary in Redlands, the university’s administrators had come to recognize that using the city council’s alternative measure to thwart the original controlled-growth measure was an unworkable strategy.
To maintain their ability to build the four-story structures they covet, Newkirk and others at the university involved themselves once more in a dialogue with the 96-year-old Cunningham, knowing he considers maintaining the agricultural district at the city’s south end to be the one legacy he most wants to pass on to succeeding generations. They proposed asking the city council to cancel placing the measure it had approved at the June 21 meeting on the November ballot and instead revamping it so that it still contained the provision to allow four-story structures within a quarter mile of the train stations at the epicenter of the city’s planned transit villages while simultaneously incorporating a provision calling for “the preservation of all parcels of land within the area, including those in San Timoteo Canyon, west of the Southeast Area, identified [as] Resource Preservation in the Redlands 2035 General Plan,” such that the agricultural zoning on the property in that district will be locked in. The amended replacement measure they were proposing, if it passes, entails a requirement that the agricultural zoning could not be changed by a vote of the city council and would instead require a majority vote of the city’s residents in a citywide election if that property is to be developed into anything other than farmland or groves or left as free natural open space. Cunningham, as the official proponent of the measure sponsored by Friends of Redlands and Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management, had the authority to rescind the request for the original measure to be placed on the ballot. He agreed to do just that if the city council agreed to jettison the alternate measure it had approved on June 21 and instead ask the county registrar of voters to place the substitute alternative measure containing the San Timoteo Canyon agricultural zoning preservation component on the ballot.
The city council this week, in a 4-to-0 vote with Councilman Mick Gallagher abstaining because he lives in San Timoteo Canyon, voted to yank the alternative measure approved June 21 off the November ballot and replace it with the substitute alternative measure. Accordingly, Cunningham has now requested that registrar of voters remove the original measure submitted last year from the November ballot.
If, as is widely anticipated, the measure passes, then the city will be able to proceed with 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 clusters of high-rise apartment buildings 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.

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