The paradox, ruthlessness, absurdity and inherent inconsistency of what some consider the bane, and others see as a positive attribute, of local government was on display in Grand Terrace this week.
Two decades ago, when Grand Terrace could still lay claim to being one of the county’s more affluent bedroom communities, city officials reigned supreme over the 3.5-square mile municipality’s citizenry. At present, city officials, buffeted by financial blow after financial blow and no longer able to wield the authority of government like a cudgel against anyone who stood in their way or challenged them, cower before an animated and energized electorate.
For nearly a century, code enforcement has been, if not an everyday, then a recurrent element of Southern California urban life. Municipal codes, which can vary slightly or substantially from place to place, extend to the texture of shared existence and the social contract among those living in community with one another. Those codes touch on a myriad of issues, from the colors you can paint your house, to requirements that you cultivate a lawn and landscape your yard to mandates that you not let your grass grow too tall nor water it on a date that is neither odd nor, in the alternative, even, to how many people can dwell in your home, to how long you can leave your vehicle parked in front of your home, to how loud or late you can play music, to what sort of repair work you can engage in inside your garage, to how many dogs or cats you can own, to whether or not and where you can hang your clean laundry out to dry in the sun and the wind, to how long you can delay in retrieving your empty garbage cans, to how high you can allow a hedge to grow or construct a fence or wall, to what items you can store outside, to how long you can leave a garage door open, to how many guests or nonresidents you can welcome onto your premises in any 24 hours and, literally, hundreds of other regulations relating to the conditions of a landowner’s property or activities a resident or those on his or her property can or cannot engage in.
Code enforcement officers can be somewhat officious, and enforcement can be draconian. Given government’s reach and extensive assets and financial means, not to mention the consideration that it controls the forum in which citations are adjudicated, resistance to code enforcement is likely to prove entirely futile, giving object demonstration of the phrase, “You can’t fight City Hall.”Last year in Upland, which bills itself as “The City of Gracious Living,” a professor at Mount San Antonio College who lives there, Doug Mullane, had made a New Year’s resolution to intensify the landscaping around his house. He made extensive purchases of materials with which to accomplish that goal, including plants in plastic pots, other types of vegetation in flats and 24 living trees with their root systems encased in wooden planters. The professor was making only moderate progress with his horticultural efforts, having succeeded in getting most of the ground cover that had started out in the flats to take root, transferring less than half of the potted plants into the ground and getting six of the trees in suitable locations.
On March 1, 2022, Upland’s city’s code enforcement division-initiated inspections, completing, it said, a cursory examination of 22,603 properties in the city throughout March, April and into May. A file was opened on properties deemed to be in violation and the property owners were given a ten-day timeframe to bring the properties into compliance, followed by a site inspection. If a flagged property did not meet with the city code inspector’s standard by the end of the ten-day grace period, the landowner was assessed a first minimum $72 charge to encourage compliance. If the property in question was not purged of the complained-about vegetation after being subject to the initial $72 citation fee, another $72 posting fee was layered on, and thereafter, if the city’s standards were not met, a further $278 administrative fee would be assessed on property that ultimately conformed to the city’s demand. Those property owners who were yet lagging suffered a $350 non-compliance fee, after which the city would send a contractor it had retained to abate the problem as the city defined it. The abatement costs were equal to what the city contractor charged for removing weeds or excessive vegetation from the property and an abatement supervision fee tacked on by the city. Several homeowners were hit with charges of $700 or greater, multiple with charges exceeding $800 and a handful sustained charges beyond that. Among those was Mullane, whose property was initially inspected in March. When he had not completed the full range of his planting by early April, he was fined $72. In early May, his total fine had escalated to $144. In June the city added a $350 noncompliance fee and vectored its contractor to his property. The contractor used a small bulldozer to clear the property, in the course of which the lion’s share of the planted vegetation was damaged or destroyed and all 24 of the trees, some planted and some yet in wooden boxes, were killed. Removed in the process was a picnic table around which the landscaping was to have been centered. In addition to the $494 in administrative fines, the city charged Mullane $10,434.03 for the work of its contractor. When Mullane protested the $10,928.03 assessment, the city displayed a photo of the trashed landscaping and picnic table after pushing the debris into a mound on his property before it was loaded into a dumpster to be hauled off as a justification for levying the $10,928.03 against him, disingenuously implying that the photo represented the state of his property before the abatement rather than after it.
The City of Gracious Living has demonstrated a propensity for entangling itself in code interpretation disputes, as was evinced in the case of Fernand Bogman, a resident of the 1000 block of West 14th Street in Upland who in the summer of 2013, noting that the entire State of California was in the grip of a then-two-year unrelenting drought, discontinued watering his lawn. When the City of Upland’s code enforcement division cited him for letting his grass turn brown, Bogman responded by saying he considered it to be both imprudent and immoral to “pour buckets and buckets of water on your lawn during a drought,” that he had installed a drip irrigation system, which delivers a precise amount of water to the base of plants, to irrigate the five trees and shrubbery in his yard, and that then-Governor Jerry Brown had discontinued watering the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento. The City of Upland, nonetheless, pushed forward with enforcement action against Bogman, which included charging him with a misdemeanor and pursuing the case in court, even after Governor Brown issued an executive order in 2014 mandating that residents desist in watering their lawns.
Even more harrowing was the experience of Guillermo Reyes, a resident of the Etiwanda district of Rancho Cucamonga. Reyes was able to support himself and his family working as a scrap dealer, finding recyclables which he collected and hauled to the various places that would take them with his truck. At his residence on Hyssop Drive, which was immediately adjacent to well-travelled Church Street, he had constructed bins into which he would temporarily store the materials – primarily aluminum cans, plastic bottles and glass containers – he collected. As early as 2002, records show, the City of Rancho Cucamonga cited Reyes for what it considered the unsightly bins on his residential property. Ultimately those citations transitioned to fines, which when unpaid, were recorded as property tax liens against Reyes’ property with the county recorder’s office. By 2010, with those unpaid tax liens having accumulated well beyond what Reyes could pay or finance, a tax lien foreclosure had been initiated against him and he lost the home on Hyssop Drive. For three or four years after that, the homeless Reyes could be seen making his way around Rancho Cucamonga, pushing a shopping cart. He died on the streets.
Mullane’s and Bogman’s experiences in Upland and Reyes’s experience in Rancho Cucamonga, while uncommonly egregious, are different more in degree than in character from the typical encounters residents of urban settings in Southern California have with code enforcement personnel.
Of note is that the more a community or city can lay claim to being prestigious, the more fastidious its governance is likely to become in the standards it applies and the more eagle-eyed and taciturn its code enforcement officers are in patrolling their jurisdiction.
Of San Bernardino County’s 24 current municipalities, Grand Terrace was the 17th to incorporate, doing so in 1984. As a bedroom community with little in the way of commercial development to fill its sales tax coffers, the decision by the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission to allow the city to form was touch and go. The impetus for cityhood was to prevent what was then the relatively upscale community of Grand Terrace from being annexed by blue collar Colton or subsumed by San Bernardino. At that time, what is now the county’s most affluent city, Chino Hills, had not been incorporated. Based on per-household or per capita earnings, Grand Terrace stood behind only Redlands and Upland and the higher-end neighborhoods of Rancho Cucamonga, and was comparable to Rancho Cucamonga generally, Ontario and Loma Linda.
Under the guidance of the city’s first two city managers, Seth Armstead and Tom Schwab, Grand Terrace sought to keep itself distinguished from its surroundings by maintaining an air of superiority. In particular, under Schwab in the 1990s and early 2000s, as city residents achieved a level of prosperity reflected in the acquisition of such major consumer items as boats and recreational vehicles, there was a perception that the city needed to make a show of firmness in checking the growing accumulation of such vehicles in the city’s residential neighborhoods before the situation grew out of hand and those who were parking or storing the large vehicles, vessels and trailers on the streets or prominently in their driveways or on their lawns had done so for the requisite amount of time to make a claim that such use had been “grandfathered in,” that is, an assertion that they were, by precedence, exempted from any new regulations that would prevent them from doing what they had already established a pattern of doing.
To effectuate compliance with the standards Schwab wanted to maintain, he secured the majority support of the city council and then set about establishing the city’s authority in such a way that it could not be undermined, even in the teeth of a wave of substantial residential resistance. This entailed selecting a vulnerable target and making a definitive statement.
A skillful bureaucrat who recognized the danger of spearheading such a move himself, Schwab delegated code enforcement to underlings he recognized would be willing, in order to keep their jobs, to sternly and resolutely deal with the displeased residents such a policy would inevitably produce. To head this effort, he selected Patrizia Materassi, the city’s director of planning and development, who was intent on career advancement and was therefore willing to carry out his imperatives, essentially without question. Schwab placed code enforcement within Materassi’s line of responsibility.
In short order, Materassi found an issue the city could use to draw a line in the sand, one which would carry with it consequences for crossing that would grab everyone’s attention and convince even the most intrepid of independent souls that it would be better to goosestep to the city’s dictates than engage in any effort at defiance.
Larry Halstead had obtained a city business license for a roughly acre-and-a-half property, an impeccably manicured piece of ground that had been transformed into an idealized romantic landscape in the tradition of a French garden. He dubbed the property Paraiso Gardens and rented it out on what was essentially a daily basis, usually on weekends, as a venue for tea parties, weddings, funerals and the like.
Despite City Hall having granted Halstead a business license for Paraiso Gardens, it soon took issue with Halstead’s enterprise, not for the activity on the property itself but the overflow parking that it generated in the area immediately surrounding it. The city revoked the business permit and forbade Halstead or anyone to whom he had conveyed permission for using the grounds for any sort of event. Halstead dug in his heels, and the city, relying upon zoning codes, its municipal code and its general authority, cited Halstead numerous times, obtaining multiple injunctions and at last charging him criminally and prosecuting him. Ultimately, asserting that he had the right to utilize his property as he saw fit and that doing so in the fashion he was had no tangible impact on the city or nearby residents, Halstead went down swinging, and Superior Court Judge Roberta McPeters, persuaded by the city’s assertions that Halstead was in violation of the city code, sentenced him to several months in the county jail.
Simultaneously, Schwab, Materassi and other city staff targeted the burgeoning number of households with boats or recreational vehicles which were parked on the street or within the homeowners’ yards.
Foremost, they asserted, the tall, broad and long vehicles presented a safety hazard, as they created line-of-sight limitations for drivers. They crowded the environment, detracting from the aesthetics the city and the majority of its residents valued, they said. Moreover, they contributed to the diminution in living standards, since in some cases, people were actually residing in them. The city’s move toward restrictions provoked an immediate and spirited protest of recreational vehicle, trailer and boat owners. The city council in large measure supported Schwab and Materassi in their efforts, though it did not absolutely prevent recreational vehicles from being stored on residential properties. The restrictions imposed were substantial, however, making it difficult or expensive in most cases and impossible in others without some alteration of the properties in question.
The city prohibited the vehicles or trailers from being parked on the street in some areas at all and in other areas for more than 72 consecutive hours. They could be parked on pavement only and could not block a garage nor come any closer than three feet to a structure or a structure overhang.
Parking within 50 feet of a crosswalk or any intersection likewise triggered a $75 per day fine. Parking on an unimproved surface, including gravel, or engaging in so-called parallel parking on a property would result in a $25 per day fine.
Parking of any inoperable vehicle on a residential property triggered a $30 fine.
The accumulation of dirt, debris or litter under or around a recreational vehicle or trailer or having a ripped or torn recreational vehicle or trailer cover summoned a $25 per day fine, as did the improper use of items such as rocks, bricks or other heavy objects to secure a tarp.
Making a sewer hookup from a recreational vehicle or a trailer entailed a $75 per day fine. An electrical hookup to a recreational vehicle or trailer for more than 48 hours would trigger a $50 fine the first day, $100 fine the second day and a $150 fine on any days thereafter.
The use of a recreational vehicle or utility trailer for storage purposes called for a $25 per day fine.
Blocking a garage door with a recreation vehicle or utility trailer involved a $25 per day fine.
Parking a recreational vehicle or trailer on a street, city right-of-way or any city property or having a recreational vehicle block or overhang a sidewalk within the public right-of-way summoned a $75-per-day fine.
Parking more than one recreational vehicle or trailer on a single lot called for a $25 per day fine. Having no approved drive approach for the parking of a recreational vehicle or trailer triggered a $25 per day fine.
Parking a recreational vehicle or trailer on an unimproved surface in the front yard, corner yard or corner lot or parking a recreational vehicle or trailer on an unimproved surface or on non-graveled surface in the rear yard engendered a fine of $25 per day, as did parking or storing an unmounted camper or cab-over-camper in the front yard or corner side yard or corner lot.
The city council, over the strenuous objections of scores of recreation vehicle owners, put the ordinances in place.
Doubling down, the council gave authorization to Schwab, Materassi and the rest of city staff to compound the fines, such that, according to the ordinance, “Each and every day during which a violation continues, except in cases which a given time has been allowed for corrective action to be taken, shall be a separate and distinct offense. Any and all persons guilty of an infraction shall pay the fine within 30 days or be declared delinquent and the fine doubled. Failure to pay within ninety days shall result in a tripling of the fine and filing of the amount with the county as a tax lien against the property.”
In the heyday of Schwab and Materassi, the city was king and the residents serfs, subjects who paid homage to the king with obeisance and compliance.
In short order, however, Materassi left the city and in 2008, Schwab was felled by health complications, leading to a prolonged drama over his continuing tenure, which was settled the following year with his final exit as city manager.
In 2007, the nation, state, region and city were gripped by an abrupt economic downturn, the aftereffects which lingered for six years. In the meantime, local governments in Southern California contracted. Grand Terrace, the third smallest city in the county population-wise and smallest city geographically, was not immune to those vicissitudes. City Hall began shedding employees and cutting many of those it kept to part-time status.
By 2016, the city was still employing 59, but 36 of those were part-time.
At the beginning of 2018, Grand Terrace had 25 employees but as of December 31 of that year employed only 19. Four of the 25 employees it started with – Lissette Rayas, Barrie Greer-Owens, Ambur Lattin and Steven Livings – were employed as code enforcement officers. The four were also responsible for animal control in the city and three were part-time.
In 2020, the city staff had dwindled to a mere 12 employees, although those were augmented by a half dozen contract specialists. In May of that year, the staff was cut in half to six, with one of those being part-time.
As the number of city employees in Grand Terrace declined year after year, the intensity of the code enforcement effort likewise diminished. Over the last 14 years, the transition from vigorous to less intense to desultory to lax to nonexistent code enforcement has not only emboldened Grand Terrace’s citizenry to the point that the city’s codes are observed less in obeyance than they are in their disregard but instilled in a cross section of the 13,169 population a recognition that the city’s authority figures have little to no authority and virtually no city staff to command and thereby hold residents or businesses accountable. In the same timeframe the popularity and buzz of social media, led in part by dissidents who were never part of the political establishment and have always been on the outs with City Hall along with former members of the city council who were turned out of office and erstwhile elements of the former establishment who have likewise grown disaffected, has grown into a political force that rivals that of the city council. All of the council members are keenly aware that sentiment in their favor can turn on a dime against them if they adhere to any policies or take part in any decisions contrary to whatever the fast-moving and evolving public opinion of the moment happens to be.
In the once grand and well-kiltered residential neighborhoods of the city, there is example after example after example of most, if not all of the city’s codes pertaining to property maintenance being ignored, disregarded or outright violated. With only a handful of exceptions, most of the residential lots outside of Honey Hills in Grand Terrace extend to little more than a quarter of an acre in Grand Terrace’s neighborhoods. Strewn among them are yards in such a state of disarray, neglect and dishabille that they come across as if their owners are competing to get a contract to have their property used as the set for the ramshackle Walden Farm in a modern remake of God’s Little Acre, with broken down washing machines and other machinery, rusted implements and tools strewn about in front yards, no-longer running cars littering driveways, and vehicles of all makes and descriptions parked so long on the street in front of houses that they appear anchored to the ground by spiderwebs. Relatively few of the properties in the city are as bad as all that, but recurrent are recreational vehicles and trailers as well as rarely used or moved commercial vehicles and equipment parked or stored in a manner inconsistent with the city’s codes.
Undeniably, the citizenry has long grown accustomed to the codes not being enforced, and this has engendered an attitude that, essentially, anything goes.
Grand Terrace Councilwoman Sylvia Robles, considering that the economically-driven pendulum might have swung too far in one direction, sought to initiate an examination of the city’s dormant code enforcement ethos, requesting that the entirety of the city council on June 27 authorize staff to look into formulating an “ordinance banning recreational vehicles parked on driveways, including load trailers and boats within 13 months, allowing residents to secure parking storage” such that the council might consider and vote on it at a future meeting.
Before Robles made the request for the discussion item to be placed on the June 27 council meeting agenda, she spoke with former Mayor Walt Stanckiewitz, who advised her that there would likely be solid resistance to the entire concept.
Stanckiewitz’s reading of the public sentiment was accurate.
Even before the meeting took place, local social media erupted with objections to the issue being raised altogether.
Perhaps understandably, there was a strong current of suspicion that City Hall was going to get back into the practice of bullying its citizens, using its governmental power and reach, not to mention take advantage of the natural deference shown by the court system toward official entities over common citizens and backed by the city’s ability to use taxpayer money to enforce its will against taxpayers. A good cross section of residents, including ones who did not blanch at being identified and some who sought to remain anonymous, rushed in to preempt the city from reviving its draconian power of code enforcement. That effort took many forms.
As the progenitor of the call to look into either enforcing the ordinance already on the books or to create a new one, Robles became a primary target. Some personalized the attack, using an ad hominem approach that dwelled more upon her than the actual issue of the need for code enforcement or the lack thereof. At least one of those detractors, seizing upon the consideration that Robles is Hispanic, sought to exploit the historic undercurrent of tension between Mexican-Americans and Anglos that had existed prior to Grand Terrace’s incorporation when it was considered to be an upscale district of Colton.
Simultaneously, the rest of the city council did not go unscathed, as its members were being called upon to intensify, or so it seemed, the city’s code enforcement efforts.
One theme was that Grand Terrace residents had purchased their homes at substantial expense, including $1.10 per $1,000 of property value at the time of purchase and yearly since have made two installments of property tax, and that as such, they had a right to do with their own property as they deemed fit, including parking or storing whatever vehicles, which they had rights to possess as they also paid fees and taxes to the state in licensing them.
Calls on social media and fliers went out, importuning the city’s residents to turn out at the June 27 city council meeting to prevent the council from eroding residents’ rights.
A sign that any alteration of the city’s codes with regard to recreational vehicle storage or parking was unlikely to gain traction was the widespread distribution of a flier that was put together by one of Mayor Bill Hussey’s supporters, Rodney Spencer. Before the June 27 meeting had commenced, many interpreted Spencer’s handiwork as a sign that any new ordinance limiting the terms of recreational vehicle ownership or storage in the city was moribund.
A near-capacity crowd turned out at the June 27 council meeting.
As the matter had been initiated by Robles, Hussey gave her the opportunity to explain what she was proposing. Right off, Robles moved to leaven the ultimate impact of her proposal. Her recent research indicated, she said, that storage facilities for recreational vehicles, boats and the like are in extremely short supply within Grand Terrace and the surrounding area, which she said made a requirement that they be banned from being stored on the property of their owners unworkable.
“I need to amend my request, because there’s no way anybody can comply with this in 13 months,” Robles said. “I looked and there’s no capacity [to store recreational vehicles].”
While she relented on having the city prevent the storage/parking of recreational vehicles within residential neighborhoods altogether, she yet said it was time to review the city’s existing ordinance to see if it should be updated.
“I’ve gotten a lot of emails on this,” she said. “The thing is, we’re here to consider everybody’s property rights and preserve the residential character of the neighborhoods and the property values. So, I think we need to study what rules are currently in place and possibly have an education part. Change is hard. Since we allow RV parking, we could consider a moratorium in the future, we could consider putting it on the ballot, there’s a lot of things we could choose to do. On my street, every neighbor without exception has spent a considerable amount of money to accommodate their RV out of their driveway. I personally weighed buying a RV and looked at both the cost of the purchase and storage. I never considered parking in my driveway. Many homes in Grand Terrace have two- and three-car garages, but cars, RVs, boats, utility trailers are all in the driveway. State rules say the RVs’ must be three feet away from homes, but we seem to have a conflict with our rules. ADUs [accessory dwelling units or secondary residences on a residential property] are very controversial but guests can stay in an RV for up to a week. There are apps that will rent your RV out for you. They will also rent out your driveway for other RV owners. So, I think there are a lot of issues we need to look at. My request is to study the issue and during our deliberations we will come up with something or nothing and the public will be duly advised of any future ordinance. I would suggest that we pledge, when we get to any ordinance on this, that we would also take the step of putting it in a newspaper, so you don’t only have it in an agenda, and you have a wider scope of looking at it.”
Before Mayor Hussey opened the public hearing, Robles again sought to make clear that she was no longer advocating that the city ban the parking of recreational vehicles on residential properties as long as the storage site meets all of the criteria established in the city’s previous ordinance pertaining to the matter.
She said she wanted to see how new developments relating to recreational vehicle use might have a bearing on the way the city’s existing ordinance should be “altered.” She insisted, that she and others “can’t say we’re banning it [recreational vehicle parking].” She called for “a study session, direction to staff to go over the whole thing.”
With his opening of the public hearing in the confines of the council chamber which was filled to near capacity, Mayor Hussey unleashed a level of pent-up hostility toward city officials and Robles that had been building for several days. Though some of those weighing in on the issue took stock of Robles’s acknowledgement that her initial call to study the codification of a new ordinance outlawing the parking of recreational vehicles in the city’s residential neighborhoods was unrealistic because of the lack of alternate storage opportunities, others seemed entirely unmindful of the concession that Robles had made. Some of those proceeded in keeping with the presumption that Robles and the rest of City Hall were militating toward banning recreational vehicles, boats, jet skis and the like entirely from the city’s neighborhoods. Some engaged in pointed rhetorical attacks upon Robles, with a few suggesting she should do herself and the city a favor by considering resigning from office.
Hussey, noting that for many of those who were in the audience “emotions are high, especially when they hit you in the pocketbook,” sought to discourage ad hominem remarks and to keep the exchange between the city’s residents and the council focused on the issue at hand.
“Respect each other as you are speaking out there,” he pleaded.
Hussey was relatively successful with this, but at the conclusion of virtually every comment, which universally seemed aimed at convincing the council to forsake pursuing any new regulations relating to recreational vehicles in the city, the gathered crowd would break into thunderous applause. Despite the standard format of the meeting in which Hussey was ostensibly the presiding officer in control of the ebb and flow of the discussion and debate, the atmosphere was rife with tension. On a few occasions, when Robles made a brief verbal response to some hyperbolic comment or characterization, jeers jostled the proceedings, which Hussey for the most part ignored as part of a strategy to keep the proceedings moving and things on an even keel to prevent the overtones of the audience’s discontent from ripening into sedition or outright rebellion.
Among those addressing the council was Mary Gifford, who said that under the contemplated ordinance, “I may not be able to park my boat on my private property. I guess I question, in regard to this future agenda item, how much is it going to cost us to look into this ordinance that may or may not come to fruition? There’s so many other things we can be spending our money on to look into things that could better our community than taking away parking my recreational vehicle in my driveway that I’m already having three feet away from my house, three feet away from the street, whichever the ordinance is. I’ve done it. If it’s a dilapidated RV or they are not going according to code, you should take that up on a person-to-person basis or homeowner-to homeowner basis, not a blanket statement of all RVs can’t be parked in your driveway. I pay taxes for my property. It’s my property. As long as I’m obeying the ordinances that are already in place, which are pretty good ordinances – it’s my driveway and if I’m already obeying the ordinance – I don’t think we need to spend any money on a new ordinance, to look into it when you can see the community, for the most part, don’t want this.”
Scott Meinert told the council, “The decision to restrict and limit our property rights is in the wrong direction. We do not live in a homeowner’s association with limited property rights. The mayor and city council need to focus on constructive agendas, not on a destructive, off-course agenda. Do not take our property rights away.”
Mike Avila said he has had an RV for some 30 years and that he had put down $5,000 worth of concrete on which to park it in compliance with the past instruction of the city’s code enforcement division. He said he was deemed to be in compliance previously and that if the city changes the rules to make his storage of the vehicle out of compliance, “I cannot afford $200 or $300 [per month] to store this.”
Avila disputed assertions that the presence of recreational vehicles on properties would cause a decline in property value.
“About Property Value: My property went up over $400,000 and my RV has been there over 30 years,” he said. “So, is property value going down? Mine went up over $400,000.”
Deirdre Baggett said she recently purchased jet skis, a custom boat and a fifth wheel and then spent $16,000 in compliance with the city’s permitting process to make improvements to her property so she could comply with the rules to store them on her property.
Sandy Campbell, who has lived in Grand Terrace since 1959, said, “At 75, to take my RV away from me would break my heart.” She said the city’s contemplated action was “penalizing for a lot of people with their lifestyle.” She said those who live Grand Terrace have earned the right to do with their property as they see fit. “We pay really high taxes here,” she said.
Sara Eller offered her opinion that “This is a pure example of government overreach. It should not be even a topic to discuss.”
Harold Olivo told the council, “As a citizen who actively participates, votes and pays taxes in this city, I am indignated that this ordinance is even being entertained. These types of ordinance are in alignment with an HOA [Homeowners Association], not a family-friendly city such as Grand Terrace. When my wife and I bought our RV in 2021 during the pandemic, we did it because we wanted to take our kids out camping during that time, because we wanted to make sure we could go out with our family. We made that decision, based on the fact that we could park our RV in our driveway and not have to pay for elevated RV storage fees. [At] the local RV storage place in Grand Terrace, the fees currently range between $125 and $260 per month, depending on the size of the RV. I would like to add that currently there are only three spaces available here in Grand Terrace. If this ordinance were to go further, it would mean that most of us, who currently park our RVs in our driveways, would not be able to store our RVs locally and we would have to go to a different city. This ordinance represents a financial burden to our families.”
Bobbie Forbes suggested that in Grand Terrace, as a haven for a population that is a bit ahead of the curve financially compared to some other local cities, tolerating items of conspicuous consumption such as recreational vehicles is part of life.
“If they don’t have an RV or trailer or jet skis or something like that, they have extra cars,” she said of the city’s households. “If you have a five-bedroom house, you need extra parking.”
Forbes called upon the city to “enforce the rules that are currently in place.” She said having recreational vehicles parked in many of the city’s residential driveways enhanced rather than lowered property values “It is important that you listen to what these people are saying,” she said.
Yvonne Campbell said, “The idea of possibly eliminating recreational vehicles is outrageous. I understand wanting to have better code enforcement for those who don’t comply with current regulations, for those with semi-trucks that are dilapidated, trailers that are a possible fire hazard or ones hanging out in the street, but to propose a ban on recreational vehicles in Grand Terrace altogether is not only preposterous but an unnecessary cost and a burden to the citizens.”
David Ascosta [phonetic] told the council, “You see depreciation when you look at those RVs. I see America. I see dreams. I see children growing up and doing things we can’t do, what a lot of other countries can’t do. It breaks my heart to see that we taxpayers pay such high property tax just so you tactfully restructure your verbiage as a study to remove, to look at [recreational vehicles]: No! You’re elected by the people. We have all spoken. You want to study something? Study about the weeds that are on Grand Terrace Road that our visitors who come in here look at. We pay taxes for our city employees to pull those weeds. Look at that. Study the street racers. Study something that is valuable that we the residents really want you to do for us, not take from us. Clean your own house before you look at ours. We’re pouring concrete. We’re keeping out weeds. We’re washing. Look at that.”
Troy Hazeleth [phonetic] likened Robles’s proposed ordinance reevaluation to “lighting a fuse to this bomb. I would say you table this until we’re all gone, meaning we’re not on this planet anymore, because if you haven’t noticed yet, there’s a lot of passion – a lot of passion. And you just kind of kicked one bee. Now, there’s a houseful of bees. I can’t wait to see what happens if this goes any further and we really rally the troops.”
Cathy Meinert said, “When I see RVs and boats, I see families that enjoy doing things with one another. I don’t see it as bringing down the value of our homes. We put $9,000 into our property to be able to properly store our RV. I don’t see that as negative.”
Councilman Jeff Allen was the lone voice of support for Robles’s proposal to reexamine the ordinance relating to RV storage.
“All of our ordinances: we have to periodically review them over the years,” Allen said. “Times change. Society changes. Politics changes. Culture changes. So, every few years we have to go through this with our ordinances and this happens to be a fine time because I don’t know how many of you have driven through Highgrove – the industrial part of Highgrove, recently – and seen the RV parking that goes on over there. I think if you will just sit back calmly and let your council [act], we want to preempt something we don’t want to happen here in our city.”
Still, Allen said, the issue at hand is not a need for a new law but more that the existing law should be enforced.
“We have an ordinance that addresses RV parking in the city and when that ordinance is adhered to, I don’t see any problem, myself,” Allen said. “I just don’t want us to end up, you know, you see it on the news every night: the street parking that goes on out around LA and in the west part of San Bernardino County. I just don’t want to see that come to our area.”
Councilman Ken Henderson said, “If the current ordinance is effectively and efficiently enforced, the issues that are identified by the suggested item for a future agenda essentially cease to exist.”
Accordingly, Henderson said he “could not support a future item.”
Robles said, “This is an awkward thing.”
Admitting that the language on the agenda calling for an “ordinance banning recreational vehicles parked on driveways” was “in my wording,” Robles said, “when I put 13 months, I’ll own it. I thought that’s a signal of saying we would give you time. When I started getting emails and I started looking and I saw there was no capacity for it [storing recreational vehicles and boats locally], I thought – well, I’ll be very honest – I would not want to burden any one of you.”
Robles suggested that current recreational vehicle owners could be grandfathered in and be allowed to have their vehicles and store them in accordance with existing ordinances. She implied, however that the proliferation of the RVs and boats and trailers in the city’s residential zones was reaching a critical point.
“My suggestion would be a moratorium [on further recreational vehicle parking beyond what is currently taking place],” she said. She told the crowd that the city was allowing those owning recreational vehicles at this point to carry on as before “under the existing rules” and that she was not intent on having the city withdraw that permission. Nevertheless, she said, the city should consider drawing the line after that. “I wouldn’t want to see any more RV parking in the city,” she said. “That is exactly where I sit.”
She sought to propound, as Allen suggested, that cultural changes afoot made revamping the ordinance appropriate.
She said that she believed people who do not own RVs are now “renting out their driveways.” This provoked a roar of catcalls from the crowd.
“If you want to string me up, I’ll be available out in the back parking lot,” she responded.
Hussey said he thought there were a minority of recreational vehicle owners and others who were violating the city’s current ordinances.
“There’s ten percent that ruin it for everybody,” he said. He then referenced “commercial trailers” in the city’s residential areas. “I don’t think anyone wants a semi in front of their house, loading and unloading,” he said.
Further, Hussey said, “We have to maintain [code enforcement standards] that if you have a business running out of your house you have to respect your neighbors, so you’re not bringing construction equipment in your neighborhood and storing it, because that’s not right for the neighbors. There’s an ordinance for everything.” Hussey then acknowledged that he has a “trailer in my yard” that is “within the regulations.”
When the council came down to voting on Robles’s motion, seconded by Allen, to have staff study the issue of the city’s recreational vehicle parking ordinance and have it brought back for reconsideration or alteration by the council at a future date, Hussey recused himself from the vote, based upon the trailer on his property.
With Robles and Allen in favor of the motion and Councilmen Doug Wilson and Ken Henderson opposed, the vote deadlocked 2-to-2, and the item failed to pass.
The paradox, ruthlessness, absurdity and inherent inconsistency of what some consider the bane, and others see as a positive attribute, of local government was on display in Grand Terrace this week.