Councilmembers Miller, Peterson Express Growing Concern Over Banning’s Future
3/4/16 – Two Banning councilmembers have decided to go public about their growing concerns over the direction the City of Banning is taking.
COUNCILMEMBER ED MILLER ADDRESSES HIS CONCERNS IN THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT:
”The willingness of the Council at the last meeting to change our zoning rules so easily would suggest that the different zoning areas were determined by the Council throwing darts blindfolded at a map, and therefore zoning is unimportant and can be changed without care. Nothing can be further from the truth. There was great thought put into the zoning, and great thought should be put into any change. This ordnance is a zoning change to permit smaller lots and more houses than the current zoning permits. Simply , we have to decide whether to go along with a developer who wants us to change our city zoning ordnance so he can build what he wants, obviously to make the most money for himself, or to stick with our city’s plan to have what we had already decided was best for our city.
In the discussion at the last council meeting, I heard not a single word from any Councilmember who voted for this project, as to why this zoning change is in the best interest of our city in the long run. All that was discussed were minor points of the project’s design
It was apparent that the discussion by the three councilmember’s who voted for the project, started with the assumption “whatever the developer want, the developer gets”. And that is how the vote ended. Why should discussion and decision making start and end with that assumption? The zoning plan for the city is the result of years of such discussions.
Has the council already forgotten that the State has promulgated zoning rules that have been so harmful and difficult for Banning to comply with, that the city was unable to satisfy these zoning rules for years? That failure to produce what is called the Housing Element, – the zoning for our city – that would satisfy the State for years resulted in our city being forbidden to apply for any housing grants from the State. The State also added penalties to those zoning requirements as a result of this inaction by previous councils.
One of the major accomplishments of this council (before Councilmember Moyer was elected) was the development of zoning rules that did satisfy the State, preventing the State from adding additional penalties.
Has the council so easily forgotten the fact that this auditorium was filled to standing room only by residents outraged by the zoning demands placed on us by the Sate? Those demands required us to reduce the amount of land for future development for larger lots. Speaker after speaker came before this council and begged that we ignore the State’s order for rezoning to higher density, smaller lot sizes, and keep Banning’s seem-rural areas. Finally, Councilmember Welch correctly said that we had no choice in our rezoning to satisfy the State, and emphasized that necessity by ending with: “the State has put a gun to our heads”. I added “and the State is ready to pull the trigger”.
Councilmember Franklin emphasized the importance of that zoning regulation after it was passed by pointing out that the passage of that zoning regulation would now permit us to apply for grants, and stop further State penalties.
So what does this prove? It absolutely demonstrates that our zoning rules are not a random, haphazard idea that should be changed at a whim, to satisfy a developer. Zoning changes require great thought and care, equal to that put into the original rules.
For any city to be successful, it must attract a mix of individuals from low to higher income. That mix is necessary for the healthy growth of our city. The final Housing Element – the zoning which was so long in approval, tried to satisfy as best it could the effort to attract this range of individuals. The State only has an interest in developing housing for low-income individuals. It was up to us to arrange for areas which would accommodate more expensive homes.
To so easily abandon one of those areas, as this new zoning approval does, violates the efforts we have put into our total plan. It was cavalierly said at the last meeting that after giving this developer what he want in this rezoning, we my be able to change some other zoning area to make up for this action. Our painful work on getting the Housing Element approved by the State shows that no zoning change should be done without extremely careful consideration of the total effect on the city, and not performed piecemeal as an inconsequential action. The residents of our city at those previous meetings spoke emphatically that they do not want our city split into smaller slices. We should remember what they pleaded with us to do about the future appearance of our city.
What also amazed me at the last meeting was the complete kow-towing to the wishes of the developer by the majority of this council, and the abject willingness to permit the developer free rein to deny any attempts to improve the project for the betterment of the city. Many problems were mentioned.
There was discussion of the lack of a nearby playground for the future residents. The developer said he did not intend to build one, and that was the end of it. The developer asked for this zoning change, and the council can make any demands it wishes as a condition of that zone change. Why was a playground at the very least not a condition for the zone change?
There was brief discussion of the fact that the developer wanted the city to take over maintenance of the earthquake fault-line area behind the development. The majority of the council accepted the developer’s demand that the city accept this as our responsibility. Why did the councilmembers not discuss whether such a responsibility was in the best interest of the city? Since the developer did not want that responsibility, I doubt that this will be a positive activity for the city to accept, yet there was no discussion as to why the city should bear that responsibility permanently, what the legal and fiscal results of this acceptance are, and why the city should even consider it at all.
35 foot height:
Councilmember Franklin asked the developer if the height limit for the buildings was 35 feet. I do not recall the developer denying that. Why was there no further discussion as to the details of the project? That is an extraordinary height for a single family home. Is here an intent to have three story homes?
There was a brief discussion of the size of the homes to be built, but there was no requirement whatever with respect to his critical factor. Does not home size affect the acceptability of this change?
Negative Environmental Declaration:
Councilman Peterson spent a considerable time pointing out the errors in the Negative Declaration, which claims there are no environmentally important effects of this project.
While it is standard practice to use significant parts of previous reports in preparing a new Environmental report, it is mandatory that the final report accurately reflect the actual conditions of this particular project. The number of citations referring to other cities and other entities leaves doubt as to whether this report was prepared for this project with sufficient care. Yet the three members voting to approve this project did not ask one question regarding this report.
Accuracy of the Environmental report is critical. About ten years ago, our city approved a housing project on the Bench with a complete Environmental report. After the project was approved, a law firm sued the city claiming the environmental report was inaccurate or faulty. After years of litigation, the city had to pay the law firm about $1 million in fees, and probably the same to our city attorney. The project was never built and our city lost $2 million from the general fund. So inaccuracies in the environmental report are not something to shrug our shoulders about, but we must be sue the report is accurate.
Franklin’s size comparison
What was most astounding, however, was councilmember Franklin’s statement that her home was 1/3 acre or 7000 sq ft comparable to the size of the lots being requested in the zoning change. Her home lot size is indeed nearly 1/3 of an acre, but is actually 13500 sq. ft. She proceeded to use the incorrect number of 7000 sq. ft. to justify her argument that the lot sizes in this project were big enough since her home had trees and enough land for children to play.. Councilmember Franklin has been on the council for 11 years, and has been involved in many zoning, construction, and development decisions. It is difficult to imagine that she does not know how large an acre is. However, since she used that incorrect number in her decision regarding the acceptability of this project, it should be clear that this vote should have been rescinded, and the entire project reevaluated.
What can the future of our city be when we have, and have had, councilmembers that have had so little faith in its future of our city that they considered having a sludge plant here to burn all of Orange County’s human waste, refused to recognize the economic benefit of having Wall-mart and its draw of other tax producing businesses here, considered that a probation office is the only thing our downtown is capable of supporting, and believes our city will never have residents with enough income to buy reasonable size homes? Can our city survive under the council philosophy that “something is better than nothing” for our city instead of “our city deserves the best”?
When councilmember Franklin was Mayor, she had the opportunity to talk about Banning on NPR. In that interview she described Banning as a “low income city”. While that may be accurate, is that the image that we want to spread nationwide? I would certainly would not have said that. I would have emphasized the natural beauty, the closeness to the cultural events of the L.A. basin and desert cities, and the semi-urban appearance of so much of our city.
Why does that difference matter? Because that difference in mind set of
these concepts and approach to our city‘s future is of significant importance.
Should we be satisfied with Banning remaining a low income city? I believe this city has the potential to improve and attract higher income residents as well.
This proposed project is the battleground of those different ideals for this city. Unlike Beaumont, which has staked out virtually unlimited land area, our city is landlocked, and must use our available area wisely. We should not be ready to accept developers ideas instead of our own as to how our city should look in the future. If our zoning is to be changed, we need to do it ourselves, in a thoughtful manner. I know it is hard for the three councilmembers who voted for this project at the last meeting to reject it after accepting campaign contributions from associates of the developer, but it can be done. I ask the council to also have high hopes for our city, and maintain this area for the better projects for which it is intended.”
COUNCILMEMBER DON PETERSON STATES AS FOLLOWS :
“JUST MY HUMBLE OPINION: MORE SPIN”
“Although, I do not normally read the “Opinion” section in the Record Gazette, I happened to glance at it today (3/4/16). I noticed that our City Manager, Michael Rock, had written a Letter to the Editor, so I began to read it. However, two sentences into his letter I began to laugh, and wondered what Council Meeting he attended. As it certainly was not ours.
On February 23, I gave a speech in open session, and I pointed out that, City Manager Michael Rock agreed with Council Member Miller and I that the 10,000 sf lots should remain, and not be re-sized to 7,000 sf. However, in Rock’s Letter to the Editor, it seems he is authenticating the decision made by Council Members Moyer, Franklin and Welch to reduce the size of the lots, and he seems to welcome lower valued homes and higher density neighborhoods.
Nevertheless, I found it amusing the way he manipulated the number of 7000 sf lots. He says: There are 31 lots that will be 7,000 square feet, and the remaining 67 lots will be larger than 7,000 square feet.
I looked at the Tentative Tract Map 36939, and personally counted 69 lots that are less than 10,000 sf. Which leaves 29 lots that are over 10,000 sf. Isn’t it amazing how each side can present the numbers? Is the glass half full or half empty?
In any event, have you seen the play/movie “Chicago”? If so, remember when Richard Gere said, Razzle dazzle ’em and they’ll never catch wise. Hmmmm, seems to be the thoughts and practices of many Politicians and City Managers.
I also reviewed the videos of the Council meetings held on February 9th and February 23rd. I was specifically watching and listening for the City Attorney’s “AFFIRMATIVE RESPONSE” in regards to the legality of the Mitigated Negative Declaration. As you will read below, the City Manager wrote: “Mr. Heiss also failed to mention that the City Attorney, when asked by Council Member Peterson whether the mitigated negative declaration was a properly written and legal document answered in the affirmative.”
Well let me tell ya folks, the City Attorney never gave an “AFFIRMATIVE RESPONSE”. To the contrary, he deferred all decision making authority to the Council Members. Stating: the approval of the MND is at the Council’s discretion. Furthermore, the City Attorney said: He never reviewed the MND, as it never came to his office. And, this was something he wanted to change.
I have posted the City Managers “Letter to the Editor”, and I also posted the speech that I read during open session. Please read both. And, if you get the chance, go the City’s website: https://banninglive.viebit.com/ and watch the following videos:
City Council Meeting 2-09-16 for attorney response 01:57:40 to 02:02:17
City Council Meeting 2-23-16 for attorney response 01:32:20 to 01:34:42 “
FROM THE RECORD GAZETTE
Posted: Thursday, March 3, 2016 8:43 am
To the Editor,
On February 25, 2016 David James Heiss wrote an article about a zone change for a housing tract in
Banning. There is some information that is a bit misleading that I wanted to clarify for the community.
Mr. Heiss stated that the City Council took action to reduce lot sizes of properties in the 34.6 acre site
from ninety seven 10,000 square foot lots to ninety eight 7,000 square foot lots. This is not accurate.
There are 31 lots that will be 7,000 square feet and the remaining 67 lots will be larger than 7,000
square feet. Many readers were left with the impression that all the lots will be 7,000 square feet,
which is simply not true.
It should also be clarified that brand new homes of 7,000 square feet or more clearly are not low
income housing. Most of the 98 homes are considered affordable by state standards.
The Council did amend the overlay zone of 10,000 square foot minimum lots to allow for 44 homes
to be smaller than 10,000 square feet.
It was also not pointed out in the article that the Housing Element, adopted by the City Council and
approved by the State requires a mix of high density, medium density and low density housing and
affordable housing units must be identified in the Housing Element.
Mr. Heiss also failed to mention that the City Attorney, when asked by Council Member Peterson
whether the mitigated negative declaration was a properly written and legal document answered in
the affirmative. This is simply an issue of telling all sides to a story so the reader can then decide
where the truth lies and what the facts are.
City Manager, City of Banning
MY SPEECH, READ DURING OPEN SESSION ON FEBRUARY 23RD
“Recently, a few Councilmembers have said that I am Anti-Growth, and that I do not want to see anything new in the City. I guess this “Anti-Growth tag came about after I opposed the downsizing of 10,000 sf lots to 7,000 sf lots in a new housing development being built by Diversified Pacific in the area of Wilson and Sunset. (of the 98 lots, 69 of them are less than 10,000 sf) I believe, the majority of the people living in Banning enjoy the rural environment, and contrary to what Council Member Franklin believes, Sustainable and Affordable housing on small lots is not the best way to achieve growth. It will eventually lead to overcrowding, and an inter-city project environment.
Nevertheless, a few weeks ago, Councilmember Miller and I had a meeting with our new City Manager, and we happened to discuss this project. The City Manager told Council member Miller and I that, we were in the minority on this project, but he happened to agree with us.
Although, the City Managers opinion is nothing more than that, he did say, the 10,000 sf lots should remain, and we should try to keep the larger lots. So it makes me wonder, since the City Manager’s opinion parallels mine. Does this make the City Manager Anti-Growth?
Fortunately for me, and unlike my collogues, I do not believe “Something is better than nothing”.
Let me give you the “All Time” example of “Anti-Growth”. In 2007, Mr. Lloyd Fields sold 90+ acres of land to First Industrial Realty Trust. First Industrial Realty had secured financing with the California Teachers Retirement System, and the land went in to escrow.
The project was comprised of warehouses and retail store fronts that, began east of Hathaway and proceeded easterly along Ramsey Street and ending at the Morongo Reservation. It is estimated that, 500 jobs would have been created with this project, not to mention Business licenses, utilities, sales tax, and property tax based on developed land instead of vacant land. Furthermore, the project would have been the catalyst to begin development on the East side.
However, the City Council of 2007, which included Council Member Debbie Franklin voted to approve an “Interim Urgency Ordinance No. 1373”, a warehouse moratorium in Banning, which blocked the entire development. (A warehouse moratorium, really? Like Banning has too many warehouses, right?) Anyway, after enumerable meetings with the City Manager, and the Tribe, representatives from First Industrial Realty Trust gave up, they pulled out of escrow and the project died. It should be noted that, the land remains undeveloped today. Oh, and by the way: This moratorium also killed the development of 3 million square feet of warehouses on the O’Donnell Property, and on property south of I-10 that is owned by the Messenger Group. In my opinion, this was the death of Banning. Instead of warehouses and more than a 1,000 jobs, we got a Court House and Government buildings, with no local jobs.
I would like to speak more, on how the Tribe pressured the City to block these developments, all because they didn’t want the warehouses built next to the reservation, but at this point it really doesn’t matter.
What does matter is, the Thousands of Dollars the Morongo Tribe contributes to certain Council Members at every election, like Council member Franklin, Councilmember Moyer and Mayor Welch. It should be noted that, our newest council member, Councilman George Moyer was given a $5,200.00 contribution from the Morongo Tribe during the last election. BTW, and just so the public knows, Council Member Franklin and Mayor Welch are the City’s representatives to the Tribe.
And now that, I am talking about contributions, I would like to point out the contributions made by Diversified Pacific, or from their Officers to, our sitting elected officials. Looking over the Form 460’s of Campaign Contributions received by Council Members Franklin, Moyer and Mayor Welch, it was noted that all three of them received contributions from individuals affiliated with Diversified Pacific. For document verification, the public can view their 460’s on the Banning Informer. Com.
At the City Council meeting held on February 9th, 2016, Mr. Peter Patasi introduced Nolan Leggio, as the Assistant Planner for the project’s developer Diversified Pacific. Nolan’s father Christopher, has been listed as a member of Diversified Pacific’s Finance Committee. Nolan’s Uncle Mark Leggio (Christopher’s brother) was convicted of Criminal Campaign Money Laundering in 2009, and received a 180 day jail sentence. The laundered money was used to fund former Banning Mayor Brenda Salas Freeman.
This being said, when it came time for Council Member Franklin, Council Member Moyer and Mayor Welch to vote on a Diversified Pacific project, the 3 of them approved the project without hesitation. In spite of testimony from the public, who stated, they are against the project for many reasons, and a known plagiarized and fraudulent document that, is not specific to this project. The document given to our Planning Commission still possessed the Master Application Number assigned to the Habitat for Humanity for their project in Jurupa Valley.
Furthermore, several local realtors spoke about the reduced lot sizes, and pointed out that, there is NO need for more small houses on small lots. However, there is a critical shortage of large homes on large lots in Banning. What is it that these politicians don’t hear? Did their campaign contributions influence their decision? I guess we will never know…….. But when their vote defies reason, doesn’t it make you wonder?
When Council Member Miller and I ran for Office in 2012, we each had a single donor. We each received a single contribution from a SINGLE LAND OWNER IN BANNING that IS NOT a Developer, but a LAND OWNER. Furthermore, during the last three years, there have been no issues before the Council that would have benefited this single donor.
Council Member Miller and I have not received any contributions from Special Interest Groups, unlike our colleagues Council members Franklin and Moyer, and Mayor Welch who have received more than $25,000.00 from special interest groups in the last two elections. Special Interest groups like: Pardee Homes, Builders Associations, Unions, Diversified Pacific and its Officers, the Morongo Tribe, and the list goes on.
So, my colleagues and the local pundits may continue to call Council Member Miller and I “Anti-Growth”, and “Negative”, but no one can ever call us bought, or corrupt.
I would also like to remind the Public of a project that occurred several years ago on the Banning Bench. It seems that, an Environmental Report for a housing project was challenged, which ultimately ended up in court. After several years of litigation, the City ended up paying over two million dollars in judgement and legal fees. I also believe Council Member Debbie Franklin voted to approve the questionable Environmental document. BTW, the legal fees had to be paid from the General Fund. So, one question: Is there an indemnification clause in this MND? Has the City Attorney reviewed this document in its entirety?
In case the Public does not know, there are many group available to challenge environmental reports. One such local group is Cherry Valley Acres and Neighbors (CVAN). These groups are watch dogs for the rights of the people and the environment. Should this Council pass this particular MND, I believe they are inviting a lawsuit against the city. CVAN has sued three local projects, with two of them in Banning.
I would like to say to our Mayor: “Sometimes Nothing is Better than Something”.
Once again, I recommend that this project be denied, and the 10,000 sf over-lay remain in place, as the City has no need for more 7,000 sf lots.”
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