Will The City Council Defy The Will Of The People ?
8/2/15 – In the Federal, State and local political arenas alike, self-serving politicians often rule from the top down : with an attitude suggesting that “they know best” what’s good for us, those elected officials often make decisions that do not serve the interests of the public.
The latest developments regarding the Paseo San Gorgonio/Probation Department project appear to fall into this category.
HISTORY OF AN ILL FATED PROJECT
For those new to this issue, here is a brief recap of the course of events :
For almost 6 years, Santa Monica developer Arthur Pearlman has been promising to build a retail/hotel project on the former San Gorgonio Inn site in downtown Banning. Pearlman had been recruited by now Mayor Debbie Franklin.
In order to accommodate Pearlman in pursuing the project, the City spent close to $ 4 million buying up the San Gorgonio Inn, along with several adjacent properties. The previous City council then ordered the once famous Inn torn down.
The properties that had been acquired for $ 4 million were sold to Pearlman for a mere $ 1,020.000, creating an immediate loss to the taxpayer of $ 3,000,000 (story). And in case you wondered, Pearlman was not asked to come up with any cash – he got all properties “NO MONEY DOWN” ! This is what sweetheart deals look like in the City of Banning.
This ill-advised transaction allowed Pearlman to be in control of the project, without any financial risk to himself. Incidentally, we had predicted such a one-sided arrangement would occur, long before the deal was actually made (see our 2009 story here)
As time went by, Pearlman claimed a hotel was not feasible. Without a public hearing, without council approval, without City attorney review and in violation of public meeting laws, former City manager Takata allowed Pearlman to change the “hotel” designation to “office” (see Takata letter).
Pearlman then proposed to build a first phase with his partner firm Vanir (story), consisting of only office space – and no retail at all. The office space was to be occupied by the Riverside County Probation Department, which decided to make Banning the probation hub of an area reaching as far as to the Arizona border.
When this plan became public, citizens became outraged. The proposal would mean that downtown Banning would get flooded with criminals, which are now out on the streets due to the early release program mandated by AB-109 (story here ).
However, despite enormous public outcry, it soon became painfully obvious that two council members – Mayor Debbie Franklin and good-ole-boy sell-out Art Welch – backed the controversial Probation Department proposal, come hell or high water.
BANNING’S PERFECT WAY OUT
At the time, project proponents argued in favor of the Probation Department, mainly because of concerns that the City would be exposed to “litigation”, should the project be prevented from proceeding. The possibility of litigation was indeed a valid concern.
But as of December of last year, Pearlman’s “JMA Village LLC” has defaulted on the $1,020,000 promissory note issued in connection with the purchase of the land. Pearlman’s entity failed to make any principal or interest payments.
This default now creates a way out for the City, enabling the council to finally sack this ill fated project, once and for all – WITHOUT ANY RISK OF LITIGATION for the City whatsoever. It is Banning’s PERFECT way out.
NEW COUNCIL MAJORITY CONTINUES TO PURSUE PROBATION DEPARTMENT PROJECT
But a new council majority, made up of Debbie Franklin, Art Welch and now joined by newly elected member George Moyer, appears hell bent to shove this project down our throats, yet again.
It appears that Pearlmans’ former partner, Vanir, now wants to take over the defaulted project. Franklin, Welch and council newbie George Moyer appear to be on board to let Vanir proceed.
During last year’s election, we had warned about George Moyer not being an advocate of the people of Banning. A look at his special-interest campaign contributors speaks volumes (view filing). So does his 2014 letter to the editor of the Record Gazette (view), in which he accuses critics of the Probation project of using “scare tactics”. In the letter Moyer gives his unconditional endorsement to the project; therefore, it should not come as a surprise to anyone if he continues to so today.
Are we about to be proven correct about George Moyer? We shall find out at one of the next council meetings, which will start again beginning August 25. The issue will have to be brought before the public.
Two council members can be expected to continue to hold a critical view of the project. Council member Ed Miller clearly realizes that bringing in thousands of criminals from all over the county has nothing to do with “economic development”.
Miller has correctly stated that the redevelopment bonds, which were floated so this project could be subsidized, could not possibly be serviced by the tax revenue generated by a Probation Department. Common sense tells us that criminals are not great sales tax generators.
Council member Don Peterson is thinking along the same lines. As a former cop, he has repeatedly warned about the devastating impact a Probation Department will have on Banning. We recently also heard a sobering report from Police Chief Diaz about the present impact of AB-109 on Banning (view), a serious matter, even without there being the proposed Probation Department hub in Banning.
Council member Peterson, however, will not be able to vote on the issue : he owns real property in close vicinity of the project, disqualifying him by law from participating in the decision. This leaves only one true advocate of the people on the council : councilman Ed Miller.
IS “SOMETHING” REALLY BETTER THAN “NOTHING” ?
Supporters of the Probation project often interject that “something” may be better than “nothing”.
This suggestion seems rather naïve, as it neglects to account for the very problems that this “something” is bound to create for the community. Wouldn’t it be better to wait until retail demand reaches downtown Banning?
Anyone who understands real estate development realizes that retail always follows residential development. With almost 7,500 homes approved or in the approval process in Banning, it is only a matter of time until the San Gorgonio Inn property will become the desirable retail jewel it set out to be. All that is needed is time. In the meantime, why not use the property as a revenue generating parking lot for the new Court house ?
To now build “something” only hurts Banning’s future. This “something” will steer future retail developers away from downtown. With tons of criminals roaming the streets, “something” will kill downtown commerce. “Something” will create fear and drive residents away from downtown.
No, “something” isn’t better than “nothing”. Not at all.
Will Franklin, Welch and Moyer be using every excuse in the book to pave the way for big money developer Vanir, so they can have their way with Banning – at the expense of the entire community? You bet they will.
There is every indication that this trio is about to defy the will of the people of Banning, because they think “they know best”. Is it time for this community to rise up and stop the madness? You decide.
Correction: A previous version of this article referenced a zoning ordinance prohibiting “Government offices” in the downtown area. As it turns out, this ordinance is no longer valid. The ordinance was changed in October of 2013 and now allows “Government offices” downtown.
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