After Nearly 4 Decades, County Yet Letting Lytle Creek Infrastructure Lag

Moving on toward a decade after Lennar Development was given what was termed an ultimate deadline by the county to complete a host of already long-delayed infrastructure construction and improvement assignments for its original Lytle Creek North and subsequent Rosena Ranch, Joanna Ranch, Sycamore Creek, Rosena Place and Sky Ridge subdivisions in the Lytle Creek/Sycamore Creek/Devore area, several of those public improvements remain uncompleted.
Difficulties with the project and its overwhelming infrastructure needs stretch back for more than a generation. In the intervening time, the county and neighboring jurisdictions, which include Fontana and Rialto, have likewise failed to ensure that offsite improvements meant to facilitate transportation, flood control and other basic services have remained abreast of the ongoing development in the area. At this point, residents of the subdivisions that have been completed over the years are importuning the county’s land use division to disallow any further development until those infrastructure projects are completed in full.
A 2,000-lot subdivision in Lytle Creek was first approved on September 16, 1985 and then later amended on June 3, 1991, allowing for extensions on the timeline for public improvements due to what were deemed “extenuating circumstances,” consisting primarily of the recession that had gripped the United States from August 1990 through March of 1991.Underlying what was then the immediate financial paralysis had been the long-festering issues of creating adequate infrastructure on land located in an alluvial creek lying in the geographical gap between the San Gabriel Mountains to the west and the San Bernardino Mountains to the east, in particular the need to ensure that all of the houses to be constructed had foundations that were at least one foot – no less than 12 full inches – above the 100-year flood plain, meaning that the residences to be built would be immune to flooding that would be statistically likely to occur, based on flood level predictions from historical records, no more than once every century.
The land is located in an area comparable to a funnel in which, during even a moderate deluge, water sloshes onto it off of the west side of the San Bernardino Mountains to the east and off the east side of the San Gabriel Mountains to the west, to say nothing of the water coming its way from the Cajon Pass to the north. In this way, all of the homes in the subdivision as well as those in the neighboring 8,400-home Lytle Creek Ranch development on 2,000 acres adjacent to the shuttered historic El Rancho Verde Golf Course and Country Club during rainstorms find themselves inundated. Moreover, soon after the road system to the area was completed, it would be learned that the intense flooding the area was subject to would greatly compromise its road asphalt.
Once the project was under way in earnest in the late 1990s and first decade of the Third Millennium, Lennar requested multiple extensions of time to complete the required levee and road and drainage improvements.
Neither Lennar nor the county were willing to acknowledge that in taking on the project that Lennar had bit off more than it could chew and that to adhere to modern development standards, completing the project would require the construction of infrastructure which would be likely to approach or exceed the proceeds to be gained from selling the homes in the subdivision to available buyers. The original Tract No. 15900 was partially re-subdivided into Tract 18402 in a questionable effort to get around those infrastructure construction requirements. Still, the remaining requirements were daunting.
On May 19, 2009, the county board of supervisors partially reduced the initial road and drainage performance securities for the Lytle Creek Levee improvement from $10,449,000 to $2,099,800. On June 15, 2010, the board reduced the performance securities for the Sycamore Creek Drive road and drainage improvements from $7,506,000 to $1,501,200.
As part of the original Tract 15900 sureties, Lennar agreed to complete the required Lytle Creek Levee improvement and Sycamore Creek Drive road and drainage improvements by July 13, 2012. After Lennar missed that milestone and cited the downturn in the housing market in requesting the suspension/delay/waiver of that deadline, the board of supervisors on September 11, 2012 granted an extension of time which moved the completion date from July 13, 2012 to July 13, 2013.
A significant permitted delay in Lennar’s performance was again granted by the county on May 29, 2013.
“This extension of time is retroactive due to delays in receiving approval documents from other agencies,” said Tom Hudson, then the director of the San Bernardino County Land Use Services Department. “This extension of time will allow Lennar until July 13, 2014 to complete the required improvements. Lennar has paid the required deposit for the extension of time. The department is satisfied that the secured amounts are sufficient to complete the construction of the required Lytle Creek Levee improvement and Sycamore Creek Drive road and drainage improvements and therefore recommends approval of this extension of time. The flood control district’s operations division is satisfied that the Lytle Creek Levee improvement is currently in good standing and therefore recommends approval of this extension of time. The performance securities will be held until Lennar completes construction of the required improvements and the board accepts the construction. The labor and materials securities will be held until six months after the board accepts construction of the improvements and the department verifies that no liens have been filed with the clerk of the board.”
The board of supervisors went along with Hudson’s recommendation.
Some county residents have observed that a succession of county officials, primarily the supervisors that have served since 1985 – John Joyner, Bob Older, Cal McElwain, Jon Mikels, Robert Townsend, Larry Walker, Barbara Cram Riordan, Marsha Turoci, Jerry Eaves, Kathy Davis, Dennis Hansberger, Fred Aguiar, Bill Postmus, Paul Biane, Patty Aguiar, Clifford Young, Gary Ovitt, Josie Gonzales, Brad Mitzelfelt, Neil Derry, Janice Rutherford, James Ramos, Robert Lovingood, Curt Hagman, Dawn Rowe, Paul Cook, Joe Baca Jr and now Jesse Armendarez – have been overly accommodating of a development imperative wherever speculators and real estate interests deign to invest their money, even in such cases where the cost of providing the infrastructure to facilitate that development is prohibitively expensive. This has often entailed, they point out, shifting the financial burden of paying for the up-front construction of that infrastructure from the developers who profit from that building to the residents or homebuyers who purchase the finished product those developers create.
A methodology for doing this has been the use of Mello-Roos and Marx-Roos fees.
Mello-Roos and Marx-Roos fee structures are used to fund so-called community facilities districts, which are formed pursuant to a vote involving landowners within the confines of the district, in virtually every case, before the homeowners that will live in the district and be required to pay those fees, live there. The motive for creating those districts consists of obtaining the funding to construct the infrastructure needed to allow the development in question to occur. Thus, a landowner/real estate speculator/developer will invite the government to hold a special election among those then owning or having title to the property to impose on themselves a special tax. That tax is placed on the property separate from the property tax normally applied to property in California. Upon homeowners buying homes in that district, they assume, oftentimes unknowingly, the responsibility for paying that tax or fee, which can run into thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars per year.
In 2006 Communities Facilities District 2006-1 was formed in conjunction with the Joanna Ranch Lennar Homes development project so that bonds could be sold to fund needed infrastructure, including wastewater treatment facilities, roads, traffic signals, flood control levees, water lines and parks.
Those bond issuances, which were to be debt serviced by Mello-Roos assessments on the eventual purchases of the homes to be built there, were used to provide infrastructure for that development, consisting of 2,086 homes, and the surrounding area.
Community Facilities District 2006-1 was intended to, according to the county, “provide a portion of funds needed to address specific public facilities and services that are required of the developer in the development of the Lytle Creek North Community, a 2,086 residential subdivision located west of Interstate 15.”
In October 2010 the board of supervisors approved the issuance of Special Tax Bonds Series 2010, for Community Facilities District 2006-1 Improvement Area No. 1, in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed $8,000,000.
In March 2011 the board of supervisors approved the formation of another Mello-Roos fee-defrayed community facilities district improvement area, designated Improvement Area No. 2.
By September of 2013, according to the county, $57,685,700 in public infrastructure had been completed and it was expected that over the next few years up to $84 million of the cost of the infrastructure at Lytle Creek North would be defrayed through bond financing.
That month, the county arranged to issue $9,250,000 worth of bonds to provide financing for infrastructure to facilitate residential development in the Lytle Creek area. The bonds were issued in two separate allotments, one of $6.5 million and the other of $2.75 million. Despite the bonds being intended for utilization in the same Lytle Creek North development project being undertaken by Lennar Homes, the involved infrastructure was placed into separate improvement areas mapped out within the project.
The development throughout the Lytle Creek/Glen Helen/South Devore/Rosena Ranch/ Joanna Ranch/Sycamore Creek area proceeded in stages rather in one fell swoop, which was of benefit to the developers involved but represented greater overall expense to the taxpayers ultimately called upon to cover the cost of constructing the infrastructure needed for that development.
Because each of the developers involved in the various projects before proceeding wanted to make sure the housing market was appropriate, they induced the county to release the bond financing in increments sufficient only to complete the infrastructure absolutely required for the next phase of their projects. This involved a recurrent replication of fees related to the bond issuances/sales, including fees paid to the bond underwriters, bond counsel, disclosure counsel, issuer counsel, underwriter counsel and special tax counsel, ones that drove up the cost as payment was being made for costs attendant to but not going toward the costs of actually providing infrastructure. In this way, the residents and future residents of those neighborhoods were not only paying for infrastructure costs that were traditionally the responsibility of the developers, but they were being gouged by the application of duplicative fees that had historically been avoided because when developers were in charge of providing such infrastructure, they would not have stood for being subject to such gouging. With only the county’s or cities’ staffs to look after the taxpayers’ financial interests, keeping a lid on such excessive and exorbitant costs was largely neglected.
Moreover, county officials have not adhered to the infrastructure requirements laid out in the plans for that development. For example, the 2010 Glen Helen Specific Plan approved by the county in 2010 called for the construction of a fire station, referred to as Fire Station #81, by the time 1,000 homes in Rosena Ranch were occupied. County officials, however, have allowed that residential community to come into existence and move toward being completely occupied without the fire station being in place.
Even before the recent storms that overwhelmed a portion of the infrastructure that has been provided for the Lytle Creek/Glen Helen/South Devore/Rosena Ranch/Joanna Ranch/Sycamore Creek/Rosena Place/Sky Ridge area, some residents living there were letting county officials know that they will no longer tolerate the county operating in a manner which financially benefits the developmental interests which bankroll the political careers of the county’s highest level decision-makers, the board of supervisors, who are elected by the county’s voters and taxpayers to represent them.
Almost a year ago, on March 30, 2022, Robert Marquez, a resident of that area, wrote a letter to Steven Valdez, who was the senior planner assigned to the proposed undertaking the San Bernardino County Department of Land Use Services designated as PROJ-2021-00148, which is to consist of residential development on the grounds of the former El Rancho Verde Golf Course.
The Sentinel has obtained a copy of that letter.
As a concerned citizen of Rosena Ranch, Marquez wrote, “I am opposed to project #PROJ-2021-00148 at this time because the County of San Bernardino has breached its fiduciary duty regarding public safety in this area which was covered in the 2010 Glen Helen Specific Plan. In 2010, it was estimated that this area at full growth would have a population of 32,720. That was before the county decided to change the zoning from a golf course to a single residential housing zone where this project is being proposed.” Marquez continued, “The 2010 specific plan stated that a fire station (Station #81, which is now being built in Fontana) was to be built prior to the certificate of occupancy of the 1,000th detached single family housing unit in the Rosena Ranch Project. The fire department was supposed to have been funded by the developers and the Fire Protection District-5 tax. This is a significant mitigation issue. Our assigned fire station is Station #2 located in Devore. This station covers 49.6 square miles and handled 1,700 calls for service last year. When they were not available, Rialto Fire Department had to respond to emergencies in our area. There is no local police/sheriff department in this area and on average it takes over 20 minutes for the sheriff’s department to respond to a call for service from the Fontana station. The fire department’s average response time is 10.22 minutes, almost three times the national average, according to the National Fire Protection Association. This may lead to lawsuits from the public as well as the firefighters who might succumb to line-of-duty deaths and injuries based on the county not following the National Fire Protection Association standards. National Fire Protection Association standards are evidence of what a reasonably prudent fire department would have done under the circumstances. Reasonably prudent response times are critical when it comes to patient care.”
According to Marquez, “This also applies to the understaffed sheriff deputies as well as the California Highway Patrol, which responded to over 1,000 vehicle accidents in this area last year. This is a significant mitigation issue based on the county’s substandard response times which impacts a patient’s standards of care or delay of care.”
In addition, Marquez said, “There are not enough schools in this area. The only school in our community is Paakuma Middle School. According to one of our neighbors, Paakuma is no longer accepting new students. In addition, the children attending the school need to be safe. Earlier this month, I saw the paramedics at Paakuma middle school and noticed the paramedics on scene came from a fire station located in Fontana. Once again, our assigned fire station and the closest fire station to the school is in Devore. If a child is severely injured at the school, prolonged fire department response times could increase the severity of a child’s injuries.”
Marquez noted that “Clearwater Parkway is still being used as a sewage dumping ground because the county has failed to do needed repairs for the dilapidated sewer system located at Glen Helen Regional Park. When I questioned the county about this practice, they responded by saying it is being done as a matter of efficiency. The sewer system at Glen Helen Regional Park was built to hold 20,000 occupants and the amphitheater holds over 65,000 people. If you do the math, that means there is a potential for the solid waste sludge from over 45,000 people being drained into a sewer utility access hole on Clearwater Parkway. The sludge is normally dumped by a vacuum tanker truck a few days after an event at the amphitheater.”
The transportation system in the area is inadequate, according to Marquez.
“On any given afternoon the I-15 freeway is at a literal chokehold and travelers like to take a shortcut through Glen Helen Parkway onto the uncompleted bridge,” Marquez wrote. “On average, the shortcut often leads to a forty-car backup over the bridge that leads to Cajon Boulevard. The traffic problems in the area also put constraints on the fire department as well as the sheriff’s department, as they respond to emergencies in our area.
“The roads in our area are covered with slurry trails and need to be repaired,” Marquez stated. “Although the San Bernardino County Land Use Services Department said it just took over the streets in this area, it should have noticed during county inspections what was happening and forced whoever was in charge of maintaining the streets to comply with the Glen Helen Specific Plan.”
The area is yet dealing with amalgamating rural and urban or semi-urban cultures, Marquez said, which is exacerbated by the county’s failure to institute a full range of infrastructure improvements in the area.
“Recently, the sheriff’s department made several arrests and a multitude of detentions because a California Highway Patrol officer reported that people were shooting automatic weapons at an illegal gun range in Sycamore Canyon, which is across the freeway where this project is going to be constructed,” Marquez wrote. “This is a continual problem and a supervisor at the sheriff’s department stated that they do not have enough staff to mitigate the problem, which is in a high wildfire hazard area. This area is an extreme fire hazard area because the County of San Bernardino has failed to mitigate the fire fuel vegetation in accordance with county ordinances, California law and the Glen Helen Specific Plan.”
Marquez asserted, “All of these issues have been brought up with numerous county officials and little to nothing has been done to mitigate the problems. Based on the above-mentioned facts, I believe all new building in this area should be stopped until these issues are mitigated.”
According to Marquez, the county, in the aftermath of his letter to Valdez has continued to be more indulgent of the development community than the residents of Rosena Ranch and its environs.
He sought to lodge with Supervisor Joe Baca Jr., who in his capacity as a member of the Rialto City Council before he was elected San Bernardino County Fifth District Supervisor in 2020 was tolerant of the developmental intent of Lytle Development with regard to the Lytle Creek Ranch development, his concern about county’s planning division’s seeming lack of concern over the incomplete and inadequate infrastructure in the area south of Devore. Marquez had a meeting scheduled with Baca for January 20 of this year. Prior to that meeting, he encapsulated in writing the concerns he had in a letter to Baca.
The Sentinel has obtained a copy of that letter, which reiterates some of the issues explored previously.
“In 2005, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors approved the Rosena Ranch development plan, which stated that a police and fire station would be constructed after the 1,000th house in our community was built,” Marquez wrote to Baca. As time passed, additional communities were built and they include Rosena Place, Rosena Place extension and the community of Sky Ridge. In all, 1,700 houses have been built.”
Quoting statistics obtained from the California Department of Transportation indicating the average traffic volume on the I-15 in San Bernardino is around 200,000 vehicles per day and noting the presence of an 800-student elementary school in the area as well as the presence of Little League and soccer league facilities in the district, Marquez wrote, “I contacted the county fire department in January 2022, and I was informed that our area has a population of 9,863 and the average response time is 10 minutes and 26 seconds. Recently, a pregnant woman was shot in the head, and it took seventeen minutes for the fire department to respond. Furthermore, it took almost fifteen minutes for the fire department to respond to a family member who was having a stroke. Long response times can lead to delays in care for cardiac, stroke, and trauma patients who are involved in accidents. Additionally, if a person stops breathing, their brain cells begin to die within five minutes, and they can die within ten minutes. Fire Department staff informed me that Fire Station #2 in Devore manages our area and covers 49.76 square miles with only a captain, an engineer, and a firefighter/paramedic. This means that if there were a house fire, they would not be able to enter the house due to the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s two-in, two-out rule, and would have to wait for additional personnel before entering a structure to attack a fire.”
Continuing, Marquez wrote, “In comparison, unincorporated San Antonio Heights, which has a population of only one-third ours, has three fire stations within six minutes (stations #12, #162 and #164). All three of these fire stations are within two miles of each other. In the unincorporated area of Del Rosa on the east side of San Bernardino there are four county fire stations within four miles of each other.”
Marquez referenced the board of supervisors’ recent approval of a new $26 million fire headquarters project in San Bernardino and a new training facility, to be known as Station 80, that is to cost millions of dollars to construct in Fontana, as well as the county’s just-approved reconstruction of Station 226 on Del Rosa in San Bernardino.
“If that is not enough, the county is spending $45 million to construct a new animal shelter in Bloomington.” Marquez wrote. “Meanwhile, our community is being deprived of fire department services that have been paid for with development fees and years of annual taxes which can be as high as $1,200 a month. In addition to these taxes, the county is now asking for an increase in sewer fees.”
Pointedly, Marquez called upon Baca to ask himself “Is the County of San Bernardino’s focus and the focus of the San Bernardino County Fire Department on the effort to build structures or on preventing loss of life and great bodily injury?”
Marquez told Baca, “The fire department is also requiring our homeowners’ association to pay for a fire mitigation habitat study and fuel modification zone because the San Bernardino County Department of Land Use Services failed to thoroughly inspect housing development in the past when it was being constructed. The habitat study and the fire abatement maintenance were supposed to be paid for by the developers and is now costing us thousands of dollars. In addition, deferring the building of the fire station will prove to be costly. It would have been less costly if they would have followed the development plans.”
Marquez said that “Based on these facts,” it was his conclusion “the County of San Bernardino is being negligent towards our standard of care by breaching their fiduciary duty to provide us with our desperately needed basic infrastructure needs. I urge the board of supervisors to take immediate action to address these issues and provide our community with at least a temporary fire station until the new fire station that we were promised can be built.”
This week, Marquez reported to the Sentinel that his meeting with Baca had failed to resolve the issues he brought up.
“Complaints to Supervisor Baca go unanswered,” he said.
The Sentinel was unable to reach Baca for comment.

Leave a Reply