City Of Redlands’ Delay In Getting Water To England Estate Puts Grove In Jeopardy

Some eight months after a considerable contretemps over an ultimately abandoned plan to convert the vast majority of the trees in the historic England Estate orange grove into a residential subdivision, reports have surfaced that the grove is not being irrigated.
Those who have observed the grove in recent weeks say the neglect is threatening the trees’ survival.
Some residents say the current situation raises questions about City Hall’s commitment to the preservation of Redlands’ historic resources, which a considerable number of residents over multiple generations have consistently supported. It has been suggested that the essentially pro-development city council has cast a blind eye toward the destruction of the grove because doing so will serve to remove an element central to the property’s historic significance, which would ultimately result in the property being intensively developed.
City officials maintain that they are not a party to the grove’s neglect or destruction.The historic orange grove property, which bears the address of 301 W. Palm Avenue and is located at the southeast corner of West Palm Avenue and Alvarado Street on the south side of the city, was planted with naval orange trees in 1891 by Thomas Y. England. The grove involved a gravity-fed irrigation system, and in 1893 England set within the grove a home in the Victorian style, which included a carriage house immediately behind it. England had also established on a portion of the property facing Alvarado Avenue a Queen Anne cottage. In 1914 the Victorian home was altered by a subsequent owner, Guy Hunter, into a prairie style home.
The England Estate containing all of its historic and still-functioning assets was sold by the Hunter Family to James and Annie Attwood in 1922. The Attwoods in turn passed it along to their daughter Mary Attwood Heeney and her husband Thomas J. Heeney, who continued to operate it as a citrus-producing grove.
The grove, its appurtenances, the estate and its structures have remained intact, though dilapidating, until the present, even as the lion’s share of Redlands’ once ubiquitous citrus groves, beginning in the 1950s and then over the next six decades, were steadily eradicated and replaced primarily with residential and commercial development.
In Redlands, more than in most other areas of the Inland Empire, an effort to preserve the vestiges of the city’s agricultural history has taken root, such that the city has ten sometimes overlapping historic zones.
More than a decade ago, Thomas Heeney’s grandson Christopher Brumett along with his wife Jacquelyn signaled their willingness to sell the 8.8-acre England Estate, including its grove property. The City of Redlands, with its available grove-preservation bond money, and the Redlands Conservancy, showed interest. The Redlands Conservancy offered $3 million for the property. The Brumetts turned that offer down, saying they wanted roughly twice that amount. Another offer, this one for $4 million, was tendered by preservationists. Again, the Brumetts balked at that offer.
Thereafter, Jeff Burum and Matt Jordan of Diversified Pacific approached the Brumetts with an offer of $2.35 million for the 8.8 acres, which the Brumetts, in June 2019, accepted. Burum, Jordan and Diversified Pacific applied with the city to convert six of the England Grove Estate’s 8.8 acres into 32 2,000-to 2,600 square foot homes on what were mostly 6,200-square-foot lots. The approved number of residences was reduced, ultimately, from 32 to 28.
The city began to consider the project proposal in earnest in 2020, allowing Redlands Palm Investment, LLC, a division of Diversified Pacific, to prepare a mitigated negative declaration for the project rather than insisting upon a much more exhaustive environmental impact report on the proposal to give the project its environmental certification. On October 1, October 15, and December 17 of 2020, and then on March 4, 2021 the Redlands Historic and Scenic Preservation Commission reviewed and discussed the initial study the city had completed as part of the proposed mitigated negative declaration. Ultimately, the historic and scenic preservation commission adopted a resolution at its March 4, 2021 meeting documenting its findings that the proposed mitigated negative declaration and cultural resources report did not adequately identify and address the potential impacts to cultural and historic resources, while recommending that a full environmental impact report be prepared for the project to comprehensively identify and analyze any potentially significant impacts.
The Redlands Planning Commission took up consideration of the project at its May 11, 2021 and June 8, 2021 meetings.
The city council considered the project at its July 20, 2021 and September 6, 2021 meetings but failed to come to a definitive conclusion with regard to it, balking at adopting the mitigated negative declaration as a number of Redlands residents formed a group tentatively calling itself Save The Grove, which retained attorney John McClendon to represent it. McClendon cited what he said were multiple shortcomings in the fashion in which the environmental certification for the project was being conducted. In addition, McClendon pointed out, Measure U, an initiative approved by Redlands voters in 1997 to enact several principles of managed development within the city and which prohibited any “land undeveloped as of March 1, 1997 and designated in whole or in part as ‘urban reserve’ or ‘urban reserve (agricultural)’ in the Redlands General Plan in effect as of June 1, 1987, and/or any land parcel that was in active agricultural production on November 3, 1986 regardless of zoning” from being “re-designated or rezoned to permit residential density greater than the estate residential classification.” He said the city could not approve the project as Burum and Jordan were proposing. Despite that, on December 7, 2021, the project was given go-ahead by the city council.
McClendon, on behalf of the collection of city residents which had by that point officially adopted the identifying moniker Save The Redlands Orange Groves, filed a petition for a writ of mandate, with the city as the respondent and Redlands Palm Investment, LLC as the real party in interest, challenging the project approval.
In April of this year, MLC Holdings, a division of Scottsdale-based Meritage Homes, agreed to purchase the six-acre England grove from Diversified Pacific/Palm Investment, LLC and forego the development of the property, allowing the orange trees and their gravity fed irrigation system, one of two such facilities remaining in California, to be preserved. MLC, which had previously sought to develop 317 homes on 58.6 acres of planted oranges and fields north of Domestic Avenue, had been thwarted in that effort by litigation. In a deal worked out between the preservationist parties within the city, MLC and City Hall, MLC was to be permitted to proceed with its so-called Bergamot project on the 58.6 acres of Orange Groves near Domestic Avenue in exchange for agreeing to preserve the England Estate and its grove.
According to Anna Allissi, who lives on Walnut Avenue in Redlands, “A simple drive-by will illustrate the dry, declining citrus in such poor condition some have died or will not be able to recover. The residents of our neighborhood fought long and hard and expensively to save the grove. Diversified Pacific, the developer, relented [in its] assault on our neighborhood and the grove was saved. Or so we thought.”
Allissi said she and others were “mistaken… to think the grove would be better cared for by the City of Redlands. The city has done a worse job of maintaining the grove than the developer. The gravity fed water system which has worked for a century no longer worked upon Diversified Pacific’s release of the land, an odd coincidence. Jacinto Farming was purported to be in charge of the grove care and arrived with a burst to connect city water on a temporary basis. Once again our hopes as a neighborhood were raised that the grove would be saved, then dashed when Jacinto Farming’s care of the grove was also worse than when under the developer’s charge.”
In an email to the Redlands City Council dated August 4, Allissi asked, “Isn’t the city responsible for the repair of the water line? When will this be repaired? When will it function? Who is responsible and who can residents contact?”
Allissi closed her email by stating, “If I understand properly, letting the grove die upon settlement was not a part of the lawsuit.”
Carl Baker, the City of Redlands’ official spokesman, maintains the city is not responsible for the upkeep of the grove and should not be blamed for its neglect.
“The property is privately owned,” Baker said. “The city has provided water to the property. You would need to contact the property owner for information on the irrigation cycle.”
Former Redlands Mayor Bill Cunningham disputed Baker’s assertion. Cunningham was an orange grower for 40 years, is the president and manager of West Redlands Water Company and is an indefatigable advocate of the preservation of Redlands’ existing citrus groves.
“The whole crisis lies at the feet of one individual, your utilizes director, who has made the unilateral decision to not honor Redlands Water Company’s legally binding agreement with the city that was entered into in 1996,” Cunningham on August 4 told the Redlands City Council in a letter.
In general, efforts to ensure adequate water to allow citrus groves to survive have been well established and were formerly respected in Redlands, Cunningham said.
“Such agreements date back to the 1960s with South Mountain and Redlands Heights water companies and have been honored by the city all through the years,” Cunningham said. “In response to a city council request in 1996, the city staff conducted a definitive study of these agreements and came to the conclusion that such agreements were of positive benefit to the city both in terms of water but also economically.”
In the present circumstance, Cunningham said, “All it will take to save the England Grove is for the city to honor the agreement. As it stands, any other attempt to do anything else, with the time it would take, will see the grove dead.”
Baker’s rhetorical effort to divert the blame elsewhere is not credible, Cunningham said. “The grove’s death would leave the city the sole agency responsible for the death of an historic grove by deliberately and knowingly denying it water,” he wrote.
The only issue that is not clear, Cunningham said, is whether the neglect of the England Grove is one that came about because of city staff’s incompetence or because of deliberate intent.
“It is my understanding the attempts to irrigate the grove have been made by placing a meter on a fire hydrant located in a usable location, which then feeds the grove by gravity, as has been done since 1887,” Cunningham said. “A water meter placed in that approximate location would solve the problem forever.”
The way in which the current plan to water the trees is being pursued is, Cunningham said, “insane. Any proposal to run a new line from the Redlands Water Company distribution box to the low end of the grove, as proposed by the utilities director, would require a pump and a sprinkler system. Such an arrangement would take time, would require electricity and unnecessary costs. Who would pay for running power to the site and pay the monthly Edison bills is unanswered. All that [is being done] to avoid honoring a contractual agreement between the company and the city, a contract the city voluntarily made. It should be noted that the city owns 83 percent of Redlands Water Company, and the citizens of Redlands will bear 83 percent of these unnecessary costs. Such an act borders on idiocy, if not lunacy.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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