Upland To Let Tesla Use Two Acres Of The City’s Corporate Yard As A Makeshift Lot To Store Unsold Vehicles

Two weeks after the Upland City Council backed down from its plan to allow Tesla, Inc. to store 300 of its vehicles intended for eventual sale from its Upland dealership on slightly more than two acres of undeveloped parkland in the city’s Sycamore Hills district, next Monday, May 22, it is scheduled to sign off on letting the electric car company use the city’s corporate yard to lodge the vehicles that would overfill its sales lot.
Tesla, Inc. has leased the large showroom property formerly occupied by CNC Motors at 1018 East 20th Street, just west of the confluence of the 210 Freeway and Campus Avenue along the northern periphery of the Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivision. The building’s south side is proximate to and is visible from the freeway. During the property’s previous incarnation as CNC’s showroom for vintage and high-end modern collector vehicles, all of CNC’s inventory was kept inside, and the paved parking around the facility to east, north and west accommodated the cars driven by CNC’s employees, CNC’s clientele and those simply there to tour the vintage car displays. At present, with Tesla’s inventory running three to four times the volume of CNC’s and a good portion of the building being used as a repair facility, the existing paved parking lots at the site are inadequate for the inventory, the cars driven by Tesla’s corporate, administrative, financing, sales and automotive service staff and the facility’s customers. At present, virtually all of the paved parking lot at 1018 East 20th Street parking is full, with employees and customers parking along 20th Street and in an unimproved field north of the freeway to the west of the dealership. Earlier this year, Tesla began construction on a permanent vehicle storage lot on a 1.3-acre parcel adjacent to the dealership to the east. Early in May, word was that the lot would not be ready for another two to three months. As of this week, however, the lot appears to be nearing completion.At its November 14, 2022 meeting, the Upland City Council approved a lease agreement with Tesla to allow the company to use a 35,000 square-foot area, or roughly 0.8-acre, within a city-owned reservoir site on the northwest corner of 15th Street and 6th Avenue to park/store up to 100 new vehicles.
As a retailer of big ticket items, the current minimum price of which is $44,380 with a model at the high end of the scale running to $200,000, it is predicted that once the Tesla dealership is fully in gear, it will likely be the city’s largest source of sales tax. Accordingly, the city’s elected officials and staff members were anxious to accommodate Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla, and the company’s senior corporate officials.
They arrived at a tentative agreement to allow Tesla to lease for two years 2.07 acres within a 58-acre property zoned as open space within Sycamore Hills located approximately 80 feet east from Park View Promenade and set back approximately 145 feet from the residential dwellings on Plan Tree Dive to the south and roughly 196 feet east of the single family residential lots along Hemlock Lane, which lies west of Park View Promenade.
On April 24, the 2.07 acres were graded in preparation, which alarmed a number of nearby residents.
There is some dispute over how knowledgeable the city’s top-ranking officials were with regard to the commitment to convert that open space into a temporary car storage lot.
Nearby residents contacted City Councilwoman Shannon Maust, whose First District encompasses Sycamore Hills. She informed them that she was not aware that the property was to be leased to Tesla for use as a parking lot and did not know anything about the grading of the property. When Maust made an inquiry at City Hall about the matter, the city sent notices to residents living within 300 feet of the temporary parking lot. The first of those notices arrived on April 27.
The city council was scheduled to approve the lease with Tesla at its May 8 meeting. The agenda for that meeting had been prepared and was posted on May 3. Nevertheless, more than a week-and-a-half prior to the posting and more than two weeks prior to the scheduled official approval of the lease, the property was being altered to accommodate what was to be a gravel parking lot.
A vocal contingent of city residents, including several who lived in the Sycamore Heights District, assumed the premature action stemmed from the full council’s silent acquiescence with the grading and eventual conversion of the property into a temporary or even permanent parking lot. Such a conclusion was supported by the consideration that the property in question was sequestered behind fencing and a locked gate off to the east of the northernmost extension of Park View Promenade and that the key to the gate’s lock was in the possession of the city. The contractor who graded the property could not have accessed the site that was graded without the consent, at the very least, of someone on the city’s staff. It was not likely, the vocal contingent of city residents figured, that city staff would have allowed the contractor onto the site to do the grading without having gotten some order of an indication from the city council that the grading should occur.
Councilman Carlos Garcia, whose Third District lies roughly a mile south of the Sycamore Hills area, told those who contacted him that he, like Maust, had not been informed about the lease or the circumstance.
Given that the councilwoman in whose district the grading had taken place was unfamiliar with lease arrangement and had not given even tentative approval to the grading and that a second member of the council was likewise uninformed about what was going on, word spread that it was Mayor Bill Velto on whose authority the grading had been allowed to take place. Because the grading was an intrinsic element of the accommodations for Tesla pursuant to the pending lease, logical deduction led many city residents to conclude that a consensus to lease the property to Tesla had already been arrived at. Since by their statements Maust and Garcia were not in the loop with regard to the lease of the property let alone its grading, a large number of Upland residents concluded that Velto and councilmen Rudy Zuniga and James Breitling had agreed in advance that the lease should be approved. An account to that effect circulated.
The Sycamore Hills District lies west of Benson Avenue and north of 16th Street, running virtually to the western city limits with Claremont and Los Angeles County. A substantial number of the district’s residents were growing increasingly upset over what was happening in their midst. Sycamore Hills is hemmed in on the north by the 210 Freeway, which in Claremont runs east-west along a tangent south of 16th Street, known as Baseline Avenue in Claremont. Near the Claremont/Upland boundary and county line, close to the San Antonio Wash, the 210 Freeway sweeps north before reorienting again as an east-west corridor, below which is Sycamore Hills. There is an existing residential subdivision at the northwest corner of Benson and 16th Street. As one proceeds west on 16th Street toward Claremont, there are three north-south roads extending into the Sycamore Hills neighborhood, those being Mountain Shadow Road, Burl Drive and Park View Promenade. It was near the confluence of Park View Promenade and Iris Lane, in the field/open area to the east, that the 2.07 acres enclosed behind a gate had been graded. The 2.07 acres were part of some 58 acres of designated open space, consisting of chaparral and a utility access road easement. The marketing of those residential subdivisions had included representations that they were adjacent to city-owned open space that was to remain as it was until such time that it is converted to a park and other outdoor recreational facilities and/or a biking path, equestrian trail or walkways. Some of the residents of the subdivisions had paid more than the going price for the other homes in the neighborhood to purchase houses that were proximate to, and within the visual range of, that open space and eventual parkland. In the latter days of April and the first days of this month, those living along east-west Plan Tree Drive who were closest to the intended parking lot were informed that for the next two years and perhaps for an extended two years beyond that and maybe even for two years after that, there was to be a parking lot full of cars roughly 135 to 150 feet north of their of their backyards.
A firestorm of protest ensued. Councilwoman Maust was given an earful by several of her irate constituents, at least one of whom accused her and her council colleagues of being on the take and having received bribes from Tesla. Other residents, ones who learned either directly or through the grapevine that Maust and Garcia had been caught unawares by the lease arrangement and the grading, accused Velto, Zuniga and Breitling of violating the Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law, by having reached a decision to approve the lease outside the forum of a public hearing and well prior to the May 8 council meeting.
Recognizing that the lease and grading of the property was triggering widespread discontent, Velto pulled the item pertaining to the lease off the agenda for the May 8 meeting.
The Sentinel had inquired with City Hall and several city officials in preparing an article that ran in its May 5 edition about the grading of the 2.07 acres in the Sycamore Hills District to accommodate the parking lot. Other than a statement from Alan French, Upland’s principal engineer, the Sentinel was not provided with any information by City Hall with regard to the planned parking lot prior to the publication of that article beyond what was contained in the agenda and staff report for the May 8 meeting. French said that the city has relatively exacting standards with regard to the proximity of a parking lot to residential units and that the setback of 145 feet from the backyards of the homes along Plan Tree Drive likely met or exceeded the city’s standard. French said the parking lot would not be incompatible with the open space zoning since it was not paved nor permanent.
On May 12, Councilman Zuniga contacted the Sentinel by email, indicating he had recently read one of the emails sent to City Hall inquiring about the issues pertaining to the parking lot. He upbraided the Sentinel for “stating that Mayor Velto, Councilman Breitling and myself knew about the Tesla parking lot ahead of time but Maust and Garcia didn’t. I ask you to please do your homework and verify as all good journalist do, before making ridiculous and untrue statements. I can only speak for myself and I assure you that I had absolutely no knowledge about any Tesla parking lot being added anywhere in the City of Upland until I started getting emails from concerned residents.”
Two days prior to that, on May 10, Upland City Manager Michael Blay wrote the Sentinel, stating “I share residents’ concern that the construction company began staging the area before councilmembers ever had a chance to consider the project. Tesla’s success at their new Upland location has exceeded expectations, which is great for everyone. We want to continue to be a partner in their success, which benefits the entire city.”
Bray further stated, “In developing the initial idea to lease two of the 58 acres of raw land, I considered the lease revenues at this site to be a good way to begin bringing in revenue for developing the park space for the neighborhood. However, I’m glad that residents reached out early to let us know their preference so that we can work towards another plan to bring to council. Our goal here is to assist an Upland business and bring in revenue while respecting our residents’ desires and I believe we can do that.”
The agenda that was posted for the upcoming May 22 Upland City Council meeting includes an item that calls for the city council considering a lease agreement with Tesla, Inc. for city owned property located within the Upland Municipal Corporate Yard located at 1370 North Benson Avenue.
A staff report pertaining to the item submitted to the council by Blay and authored by Upland Development Services Director Robert Dalquest recommends that the council approve a lease agreement between the city and Tesla for 2.01 unoccupied acres at the “public works department’s yard.”
The lease will yield the city $27,000 a month for the 2.01 acres.
According to the report, the lease and use of the property as proposed would not require any environmental impact report or other type of environmental certification. The report references Tesla’s November arrangement with the city to store 100 new vehicles at the 15th Street and 6th Avenue northwest corner location, that Tesla is completing the 1.3-acre expansion of its lot east of the dealership and that the company had recently approached the city, indicating its need for a large offsite lot to increase its capacity to temporarily park/store an additional 300 new vehicles. “[T]he Upland facility [i.e., Tesla dealership] is not receiving a maximum delivery of vehicles each week from the Tesla manufacturer because of the overall lack of storage capacity, even with the 15th Street Reservoir leased area and the 1.3-acre site next door,” according to the report. “The Upland facility’s lack of storage capacity has a direct correlation to the actual number of vehicles that the manufacturer will deliver to their facilities. The vehicles that the Upland facility could be receiving if not for the lack of storage capacity are now going to Tesla’s Riverside and Burbank facilities, who are getting the point-of-sale revenue that would have gone to Upland. This is the reason the 15th Street Reservoir site is not at capacity. The number of vehicles being delivered to the Upland Facility are well below their capacity to process. As a result, in the 2nd Quarter of 2023, the Upland Facility was down 40 percent as compared to the 1st Quarter 2023, which was due to the lack of vehicles delivered from the manufacturer.”
According to the report, “The proposed lease agreement is for 2.01 acres within the city’s public work’s department yard with a dimension of approximately 250 feet by 365 feet. About four years ago, the subject site was leased by Mountain View Chevrolet to store their vehicle inventory. The lease area would be set back approximately 32 feet from single family homes to the east. The Upland Police Department’s impound yard is located to the south and city-owned vacant land is located to the north under the approach path by planes landing at Cable Airport. The subject site is zoned Open Space District which allows surface parking as a permitted use. The zoning designations of adjacent property are Public District to the south and west, Open Space District to the north and RS-7.5 (Residential Single-Family-Medium) to the east.”
According to the report, the term of the lease is three years with an option for two extensions of one year each if Tesla needs to use the property beyond that. Tesla is to prepare the site, including grading the land and placing a four-inch gravel base underneath the cars, and will install an entrance gate on the north side of the corporate yard. Tesla has sole responsibility for enacting security measures it deems appropriate for the premises, which is likely to include night vision cameras. Tesla will not install lights and generators on the property and will disarm car alarms on all its cars while they are stored. Tesla is to assume all risk of damage to the vehicles and incidental equipment, while waiving all claims against the city, except for claims caused by gross negligence or willful misconduct of the city or its authorized representatives. The lease is not transferable, and Tesla is to repair and restore the premises to its original condition when the lease ends. Tesla is agreeing to indemnify the city with regard to any third-party claims based upon its lease of the premises and is required, during the term of the lease, to maintain liability insurance, worker’s compensation insurance and commercial automobile insurance at the levels redeemed appropriate by the city.
-Mark Gutglueck

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