Redlands Voters Reject Height Limitation Measure Reconstituted To Allow Four Stories

The latest effort by the pro-development Redlands City Council to counteract or otherwise neutralize the efforts of a well-organized and energetic group of city residents intent on controlling the intensity of growth in the 36.13-square mile city was untracked with the city’s voters’ rejection on Tuesday of Measure F.
Measure F was originally drafted by former Redlands Mayor Bill Cunningham and his associates as a strict limitation on the height of buildings to be permitted in Redlands.
The initiative was intended to counter the city’s commitment in recent years to the so-called 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 evinced 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.
Moreover, in late 2019, Redlands city officials had arranged to place on the March 2020 ballot Measure G, an initiative that was intended 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 votes 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.
Cunningham, an owner of a citrus farm in the agricultural zone at the south end of the city, during his tenure on the council was an intense advocate of maintaining the city’s agricultural and open space. Now 96-years-old, he remains committed to preventing the encroachment of urbanization on the city’s still-existing agricultural district and is nearly as adamant that the city should not allow dense residential development in its existing single-family neighborhoods elsewhere in the city.
With City Hall pushing the Transit Villages concept and high-rise residential uses in the downtown area, Cunningham nearly two years ago embarked with others of like mind in gathering signatures for a petition to put an initiative on the ballot that would call for imposing height limitations on buildings throughout the city.
In just over nine months in 2020 and 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 most of the city to no more than two stories with building heights near downtown and university rail stations limited to three stories and building heights in the districts immediately surrounding the New York Street, Alabama Street and California Street rail stations limited to four stories. 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.
The board and administrators at Redlands University had for some time been considering construction of high-rise residential units on property at and around the university, ones intended to house not only students but tenants who would find such quarters suitable for themselves. The renting and leasing of those units would, the University anticipated, provide it with a reliable revenue stream.
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 would instead be subject to a master development plan allowing buildings of up 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 Proposition R, Measure N, and Measure U. 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 ballot by the vote of a mere five members of the city council on June 21. 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 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 in a dialogue with Cunningham, knowing he considered 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 such that four-story structures would be allowed within a quarter mile of the train stations at the epicenters 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 is locked in. The amended replacement measure they proposed entailed 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 measure, the petitions for which had been presented in June 2021 and which the council had reluctantly agreed to place 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.
After the city council, 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 replaced it with the substitute alternative measure, Cunningham went along with a request of the registrar of voters that the original measure submitted in June 2021 be removed from the November ballot. Ultimately, the revamped initiative was designated as Measure F by the registrar of voters.
It was widely anticipated by Newkirk, other university administrators, the university board, the city council and senior city staff that by obtaining Cunningham’s support of the alternative measure allowing the construction of four-story apartments in the University Street zone that those in Friends of Redlands and Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management would likewise prove amenable to that intensity of growth in the circumscribed and limited venues of the rail station districts.
As it turned out this Tuesday when Redlands voters went to the polls, that assumption fell short of reality.
As of 4 p.m. today, November 11, the registrar of voters’ tally shows that 5,093 voters or 39.31 percent voted in favor of Measure F while 7,864 or 60.69 percent rejected it.
The Sentinel was unable to reach Newkirk or Cunningham for comment.
John Berry, one of the organizers of the joint Friends of Redlands and Redlanders for Responsible Growth Management petition drive that in 2021 qualified the original initiative for the ballot that was later jettisoned in favor of Measure F, said that a significant cross section of the Redlands populace embraced the initial impetus for Measure F, which was to limit the height of buildings to 40 feet throughout the city with the exception of 52 feet in portions of the industrial western side of the city. He indicated that at the outset, a large number of interested/engaged/politically aware residents were in consonance with former Mayor Bill Cunningham in his effort to qualify a height limitation measure for the ballot.
When, however, city officials and Newkirk began to dialogue with Cunningham and offered him a compromise that called for locking in previously set protections against development at the south end of the city, where, Berry pointed out, Cunningham has an 18-acre farm, Cunningham agreed to water down the height restrictions contained in the original measure petition, which had originally called for a height limitation of three stories to a height limitation of four stories and 68 feet within a quarter mile of the University Street Transit Village.
This led, Berry said, to a large number of residents, ones who had supported the measure in its original conception, to abandon it, as they believed Cunningham had compromised on principle.
“We are deeply disappointed in how Bill Cunningham, who is largely responsible for Redlands becoming the ‘Jewel of the Inland Empire,’ stabbed his supporters in the back, the same supporters who gave up much of their free time to collect 7,710 signatures over 10 months in 2020 and 2021.”
Berry indicated that as a result of Cunningham accepting the compromises contained in Measure F, “We no longer have faith in him. He sold out his supporters because he wanted to help his former employer, the University of Redlands, have more height so it could make money from the apartments.”
Regardless of what had occurred, Berry said, the controlled growth sentiment in Redlands is a strong as ever.
“The city council and planning commission will never learn their lesson,” Berry said. “We beat them on Measure G in 2020, collected 7,710 signatures in 2020-2021, and now they got their fannies whipped again on Measure F.”
Berry said he does not expect the pro-development sentiment at Redlands City Hall, as embodied by the city council and planning commission, to end.
“Both panels are so freaking arrogant,” Berry said. “They will both do their bureaucratic best to work around the will of the voters to build high rises.”
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply