Controversy over what a vocal cross section of the Redlands community considers to be City Hall’s too-aggressive land use policy has manifested once again.
Next week, the Redlands Planning Commission is slated to once again consider a 24-unit single family residential subdivision in Live Oak Canyon approved in 2015, the tract map for which has twice expired.
In a deft move the city’s critics say is intended to attenuate accusations that the city council is being far too accommodating of developmental interests, the planning commission on January 24 is to consider giving property owner/developer Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC a third one-year time extension for project entitlements approved more than seven years ago.
Involved in the project as a representative of the developer is Pat Meyer, who on multiple occasions in the past has represented entities seeking project approvals on developments that have garnered considerable resistance from Redlands residents.
At issue in the project under consideration are what a segment of the community seeking to ultimately preserve the entirety of the just over 180 acres of natural open space in Live Oak Canyon directly adjacent to the Herngt ‘Aki’ Preserve says are violations of both the spirit and the letter of Redlands’ 1978 Proposition R and 2005’s Measure R. 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, as well as the agricultural zone preserving Measure R in 2005.
Efforts by developers to convert much of the land within Live Oak Canyon stands in defiance of that sentiment. Development intention toward the property in question goes back decades. The property was slated for development nearly 18 years ago.
On April 19, 2005, the Redlands City Council gave the Frank J. Mistretta Family Trust an entitlement to build, consisting of an approval to a final environmental impact report and general plan amendment and the granting of a conditional use permit and tentative tract map, for what was then referred to as the Covington Development Project, consisting of an 85 residential lot subdivision along with five common area/open space lots on 181.82 acres in Live Oak Canyon. That action removed property along a segment of Highview Drive from the city’s agricultural preserve and changed its zoning from Agricultural (A-1) to Rural Residential.
Two groups – Citizens of Redlands for Redlands and Redlands Residents for Rural Living – formed in opposition to the project. Redlands Residents for Rural Living filed suit in San Bernardino Superior Court, challenging the city’s approval. Simultaneously, Citizens of Redlands for Redlands proposed a referendum to stop the zone change. The divide in popular opinion within the city between the pro-development and anti-development factions strongly favored those objecting to the project. Though they were faced with the daunting task of gathering enough valid signatures of city voters in an abbreviated timeframe in order to qualify a referendum on the project for the November ballot, those objecting to the project were able to do so through a coordinated effort of creating flyers and door hangers and going door to door to obtain signatures. Upon encountering residents who were not home, they would leave literature on doorsteps and porches and return later. Redlands voters from all over the city proved eager to sign the petition, which forced the city into placing what was dubbed Measure R on the ballot, asking whether the city’s residents were willing to approve the agricultural-to-residential zone change on the property. With the initiative on the ballot, citizens from all parts of Redlands banned together in a concerted grass roots effort involving doorstep lobbying, door hangers, yard signs and a letter-writing campaign against supporting the zone change in Live Oak Canyon by rejecting Measure R.
Measure R, which would have allowed the project to proceed on the terms proposed by the Frank J. Mistretta Family Trust and approved by the Redlands City Council on April 19, 2005, failed to pass, with 10,675 votes or 58.1 percent against it to 7,700 votes or 41.9 percent in favor of it. The property therefore remained, as it is yet today, zoned for agricultural use within the city’s Agricultural (A-1) District.
Redlands Residents for Rural Living filed suit in San Bernardino Superior Court, challenging the city’s approval.
The lawsuit, heard by Judge John Wade, ended with a stipulated judgment finalized in December 2006 that determined Mistretta Canyon Partners would be permitted to proceed with a planned residential development consisting of a “clustered” residential development not to exceed 36 residential lots/units, referred to as the “general plan alternative.”
The clustering meant that the units could be built on a confined portion of the 181.82 acres, with the remainder left as open space.
The project however remained dormant for seven years.
On January 29, 2014, a purchase and sale agreement was executed between the City of Redlands and Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC, and Mistretta Family Partners, LLC, by which 60 acres of land to was conveyed to the City of Redlands, and required Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC, and Mistretta Family Partners, LLC, to create a separate legal parcel, known as Lot C in accordance with the Subdivision Map Act.
According to the city’s timeline with regard to the project history, on May 26, 2015 the Redlands Planning Commission approved Tentative Tract Map No. 18845,
Conditional Use Permit No. 1036, and Variance No. 773 for the project.
According to the City of Redlands, on May 26, 2017, Assembly Bill 116 automatically extended the life of the Tentative Tract Map by two years to May 26, 2019. On April 9, 2019, the Redlands Planning Commission approved a time extension for the project’s tentative tract map and conditional use permit to May 26, 2020.
On October 21, 2015, an amended stipulated judgment was filed with the Superior Court, which indicated that the City of Redlands had been conveyed approximately 60 acres of land and the development rights to 12 lots/units, from Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC, and Mistretta Family Partners, LLC. Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC, and Mistretta Family Partners, LLC, retained the remaining 121.82 acres (approximate) and the development rights to 24 lots/units.
On April 14, 2020, the planning commission approved a second extension of time for the project’s tentative tract map and conditional use permit to May 26, 2021.
On May 26, 2021, Redlands planning staff claimed the city used used Assembly Bill 1516 to automatically extend the life of the tentative tract map and conditional use permit by 18 months to November 26, 2022.
According to Redlands residents opposed to the project, the city is using a flawed timeline and an invalid doubling of the permitted density for the project to allow the project to proceed in that the Mistretta entitlements to include the tentative tract map in fact expired on May 26, 2017, two years after the planning commission approval on May 26, 2015, since the two-year time extension to 2019 claimed by the city for the project is based on AB 166, which was only effective through 2013 and is therefore invalid for the Mistretta Tentative Tract Map which was not even approved by the Redlands Planning Commission until 2015.
Moreover, according to the city, the January 2014 purchase and sale agreement allows each residential lot/unit to include a second residential unit as allowed under Government Code sections 65852.1 and 65852.2 and the City of Redlands Municipal Code. According to the city, the tentative tract map and conditional use permit applications would be amended as per the general plan alternative.
The city maintains the project proponent has legal clearance to proceed with the project as now proposed – extending to 24 units – since the general plan alternative locked in with the December 2006 stipulated judgment specified that the residential development was not to exceed 36 residential lots/units. Because the October 21, 2015 amended stipulated judgment conveyed the development rights to 12 lots/units to the city, Mistretta retains the right to develop 24 units, according to the city.
Those questioning the city’s action in considering approval of the project maintain that the Frank J. Mistretta Family Trust’s, Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC’s and Mistretta Family Partners entitlement to build has elapsed, based upon the May 26, 2017 expiration of the tentative tract map.
In a letter dated January 10 to the Redlands City Council, Steve Rogers, a Redlands resident and licensed civil engineer, requested that the council intervene to prevent the planning commission from proceed with the processing of the Mistretta project application.
“This project was approved solely by the planning commission in 2015 and was never taken to the Redlands City Council for approval in 2015 and that is why all the time extensions are being granted by the planning commission without being recommended to the city council for approval,” Rogers stated. “I can remember questioning this process as not being consistent with the California Subdivision Map Act. Former City Attorney Dan McHugh sent me over a section of the municipal code that indicates this is possible if no one on the city council ‘calls the map up’ to be considered. I believe that this section along with the section of the Redland Municipal Code indicating that the city can give three one-year time extensions for an approved tentative map rather than the maximum of a two-year extension makes the Redlands Municipal Code out of compliance with the California Subdivision Map Act state law.”
According to Rogers, “Additionally, the final map for this tentative tract must be signed by the city engineer after the city council approval.” Consequently, Rogers asserted, “For the city council to not have taken any action to approve the environmental impact report/tentative tract/conditional use permit entitlements in the first place or approve any of the time extensions, all of which were instead approved by the planning commission, is improper and in violation of state law.”
The Sentinel has been provided with communication between Redlands residents in which options being discussed with regard to the Mistretta proposal includes retaining an attorney for legal action if the planning commission approves the project and the city uses it as the final determination as to the entitlement to build.
Putting as diplomatically as he could, Redlands land owner Ron Simmons in an email dated January 15 intended for all Redlands officials to Brian Foote, the city’s planning director, wrote, “I strongly urge the Redlands City Council to collaborate with the Mistretta family, environmental and conservation groups, and Morongo (Cahuilla) Tribal leaders to refrain from housing development in Live Oak Canyon and set this land aside as perpetual open space and wildlife, as well as human, sanctuary.”