Letter to Banning’s Citizens from Council Member Jerry Westholder
As the newly appointed Banning City Council member, I’ll be the first to admit I am the new kid on the block. Those of you who know me realize I do not claim to have all the answers to every question, but I do pay attention and I will always listen.
I have been closely following the public’s concerns about the Riverside county Probation Department relocating to Banning’s new prime retail/office project known as “Village At Paseo San Gorgonio”. I feel that the citizens of Banning have a right to know where I stand on this issue and why.
First of all, it concerns me that we (Banning citizens) have spent close to $4 million on this property which was once home to the San Gorgonio Inn. I’m sure the purchase was made with high hopes that one day this site would provide great income back to Banning. Again, the previous City Council bought this site for $4 million but sold it to a developer in 2012 for $1 million. We haven’t made a profit just yet. Critics will say that the rest will come back in tax revenues but when I do the math, it just doesn’t add up. It will be close to 10 years before enough tax revenues would come in to make up the $3 million especially since now there will only be office spaces and not the promised hotel.
We have been told that the Riverside County Probation Department will be the master tenant in the new development. Not a single commercial tenant has signed a lease so far. I don’t see tax revenue flying in at this point. Is this reason for concern? I believe it is.
Proponents of this project make the point that this is somewhat of a “non-event” as the Probation Department has been operating quite smoothly in Banning for over 40 years. The current building is 400 feet away from the new proposed building site. However, these proponents have not yet mentioned that the new Probation Department is increasing in size by approximately 400%! It is currently about 2,700 square feet and will be growing to 15,432 square feet. Additionally staff is expected to increase by 400% as well. Do you think they may be expecting a 400% increase in clientele as well?
You may be asking now, “What is the purpose of such a large Probation Department?” Glad you asked. The answer is AB109 – the 2011 Public Safety Realignment Bill. AB 109 dilutes the traditional distinction between probationers and parolees. Due to AB 109, many convicted criminals are now set to be released early and placed on parole. Their parole will be administered by the County Probation Departments. This is the real reason for the 400% growth in size and staff. It is also the reason for my concerns, as the new clientele will not only be greater in numbers, but also more criminal in nature as it has been in the past. This is no longer an issue of a Probation Department simply moving 400 ft. to a new location.
Once in place and up and running, I am also concerned that the presence of this huge Probation Department will stifle commerce with a half mile or so radius. I have difficulty understanding why the Banning chamber of Commerce would back the use of this site for such purposes. What ‘commerce’ is being conducted by this use that the Chamber could be so excited about? What effect will the use of this site have on property values of the surrounding area? Will tax revenues increase or will they decline due to this impact? I have not been given answers to any of these questions. I’m not even aware if a study has been done.
The Probation Department lease was also solely made possible via a signature of former City Manager, Andy Takata. He did not bring it before the City Council nor was there a required public hearing. Mr. Takata chose to change the site designation from ‘Hotel’ to “Office Building’. I was shocked to learn of this during the last Council meeting.
Many years ago, when the City of Banning came up with the idea of revitalizing the downtown area, I doubt they intended to do so by bringing more criminals into the area. However, after having spent millions in the area, this is what we’re looking at. I am deeply concerned for Banning if we continue in this direction. I understand that the City Council does not have the authority to approve a specific tenant, but I will do whatever is in my power to correct this current course.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Banning City Council