Back To Scratch For Mistretta On Live Oak Canyon Project

Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC’s controversial plans for what ultimately was intended to be a 24-unit single family residential subdivision in Live Oak Canyon first approved to a differing density standard nearly 18 years ago and which have been repeatedly delayed and kept viable by a series of procedurally suspect extensions of what was originally a three-year tentative map will need to go through the approval process anew if the project is to proceed, according to Redlands officials.
While opponents of the intended development of 181.82 acres in the rustic canyon at the southeastern extreme of Redlands hailed the decision to withdraw the project from consideration, the proponents have not revealed their ultimate intention with regard to the property. If the project is yet to be pursued, either by Mistretta Canyon Partners or some entity to whom the property is sold, land use standards now in place that have been imposed by the State of California to induce local jurisdictions to promote residential development to redress a perceived housing shortage and homelessness dilemma could redound to allowing a more intensive use of the property that could involve, potentially, a density that would conceivably involve twice or thrice as many homes.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 the aforementioned 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 (R-R).
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 2005 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 grassroots effort involving further 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 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 was conveyed to the City of Redlands for just under $1.6 million. The conveyance 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.
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.
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 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 Assembly Bill 1516 to automatically extend the life of the tentative tract map and conditional use permit by 18 months to November 26, 2022.
Late last year Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC, and Mistretta Family Partners, LLC. and Frank Mistretta Jr. in earnest sought to move forward with obtaining final clearances, permits and entitlements to build. Frank Mistretta, who was working with a pro-development city staff, a pro-development planning commission and a city council equally favorably disposed toward his goals to ensure success, retained 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.
Even after the November 26, 2022 extension of the tentative tract map elapsed, city officials were on the brink of facilitating the application. There was a suggestion, as well, that the project density might double. 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 as late as three months ago maintained the project proponent had legal clearance to proceed with the project as 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 retained the right to develop 24 units, according to the city.
Those opposed to the project, however, cited what they called “a flawed timeline” and “an invalid doubling of the permitted density for the project.” They maintained that the Frank J. Mistretta Family Trust’s, Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC’s, Mistretta Family Partners’ and Frank J. Mistretta Jr.’s’ entitlement to build had elapsed, based upon the May 26, 2017 expiration of the tentative tract map, which was granted with the planning commission approval on May 26, 2015. Moreover, project opponents said, since the two-year time extension to 2019 claimed by the city for the project was based on AB 166, which was only effective through 2013, the effort to extend the tract map was therefore doubly invalid, given that the Mistretta Tentative Tract Map was not even approved by the Redlands Planning Commission until 2015.
Throughout December 2022 and into January 2023, the city and Frank Mistretta Jr. proceeded as though the extensions were valid. On January 24, however, upon weighing all of the arguments pro and con, the Redlands Planning Commission denied Mistretta a third one-year time extension for project entitlements approved more than seven years ago. That started the clock running on an appeal. On February 16, Frank Mistretta Jr. requested a continuance of the appeal hearing to the May 16 city council meeting, at which he hoped to “explore options for the subject property,” including a revival of the earlier 24-unit proposal or some compromise, perhaps involving as few as 12 large estate homes on the property. The council granted the request.
Word now comes, however, that Meyer, upon whom Mistretta was counting to line up all of his ducks for the appeal, has suffered a stroke, completely untracking the appeal process. The Sentinel was not able to verify that, as it was unable to reach Meyer or anyone affiliated with him this week.
On April 13, an email from the Save Live Oak Canyon Team to its supports went out. It stated, “The owners of 120 beautiful acres in Live Oak Canyon have withdrawn their request to continue with development. The planning commission decision will stand; the tentative tract map has expired; the land cannot be built upon without a new development process; and there will not be an appeal hearing at the May 16 Redlands City Council meeting.”
Efforts by the Sentinel this morning to verify that report at Redlands City Hall were not successful.
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 three controlled-growth or slow-growth initiatives – Proposition R passed in 1978, Measure N in 1987 and Measure U in 1997, as well as their rejection of the agricultural erasing Measure R in 2005.
As intensive as the hopes of those to prevent open space in Redlands from being converted to wall-to-wall housing have been the efforts by some landowners, land speculators and developers to convert much of the land within Live Oak Canyon to residential estates to reap a profit.
While the withdrawal of the Mistretta application based upon all of the preceding entitlements, tract maps and extensions going back nearly 18 years was heartening for the project’s opponents, the battle they are engaged in is not necessarily over. Moreover, based on the state’s changing land use standards, they might encounter, in the face of a continuing resolve by the Frank J. Mistretta Family Trust, Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC, Mistretta Family Partners and Frank J. Mistretta Jr. to develop that property, an even less desirable outcome from their standpoint than if the 24-unit project had been allowed to proceed.
If the Frank J. Mistretta Family Trust, Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC, Mistretta Family Partners and Frank J. Mistretta Jr. were to reapply for an entitlement to build and go through the project vetting and approval process from scratch, the imperative handed down by the California Legislature and the California Department of Housing might allow the property to be developed in accordance with what they consider to be City Hall’s too-aggressive land use policy.
Specifically, Redlands residents resisting the development are 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 so the land will be set aside as perpetual open space and wildlife sanctuary. They insist that any development would be a violation of both the spirit and the letter of Proposition R, Measure N, Measure U and Measure R. Yet, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, a host of new laws that have been put into place over the last several years, including Senate Bill 13, Assembly Bill 68, Assembly Bill 881 and Senate Bill 330 in 2019, and Senate Bill 8, Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 290 in 2021 trump preexisting land use policies that limited growth as long as the development will assist in overcoming California homelessness crisis by promoting accelerated residential development. In this way, if Frank J. Mistretta Family Trust, Mistretta Canyon Partners, LLC, Mistretta Family Partners and Frank J. Mistretta Jr. are willing to go through the bother and expense of again seeking approval for a residential project on the property they yet control in Live Oak Canyon, it is not inconceivable that they could obtain approval on a project with double or even triple the density of the 24 homes they have just given up on trying to build.
For that reason, the Sentinel is informed, preservationists are looking at their options in moving to purchase from the Frank J. Mistretta Family Trust the 121.82 acres that entity yet controls in Live Oak Canyon.

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