Controversial 3,400 Home Mega Development Nears Final Stage Of Approval
9/16/16 – Located on Banning’s South side, the Rancho San Gorgonio project will add up to 3,385 homes and 9,000 residents ; it was just approved by the Planning Commission and will soon come before the City council for its final ok.
Upon closer examination, however, one cannot help but notice that this project will have major implications for the community – and this raises many concerns.
AVERAGE LOT SIZES
As a rule of thumb, lot sizes usually are directly related to home values. Small lots always serve as the best way to maximize developer profits, but rarely benefit the community, because they usually create a low value, bare bone type product.
Such a squished together, “cookie cutter” concept usually will not benefit a community that wants to create value and true quality of life for its citizens – and this is where Rancho San Gorgonio appears to fall short.
The average size of single family residential lots remains undisclosed by the developer, but is believed to be minimal. When asked directly during the Planning Commission Session of September 7 about the average lot size, the developer’s representative, Peter Pitassi, dodged the question by merely giving the commission a range of lot sizes. Why would the developer attempt to hide this information? Could it be, that the average lot sizes will be so small that doubts about the project’s quality will be raised? The lot size range cited by Pitassi was between 4,500 to 7,000 square feet.
Should such deceptive tactics by the developer surprise anyone? Maybe not: Rancho San Gorgonio is a project developed by Diversified Pacific, based in Rancho Cucamonga. Its principle, Jeffrey Burum, will be on trial next month in the largest bribery scandal on record in the history of San Bernardino County. The case is brought by the Attorney General in conjunction with the San Bernardino DA’s office (for the most recent Press Enterprise article – click here).
Based on the developer’s proposal, it appears that in order to achieve a more reasonable 10,000 sqft average lot size, the number of dwellings would have to be reduced substantially.
Again, the developer’s representative avoided answering the question of average lot size. How can anyone make an intelligent decision without this information ?
On September 7, the Planning Commission failed miserably in determining or discussing density, not only because they neglected to get straight answers from the developer, but also because they didn’t give this pivotal issue any consideration whatsoever.
THE DANGERS OF SECTION 8 HOUSING
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has abandoned their long standing practice of building housing projects for low income residents. Today HUD’s policy is to provide vouchers to recipients, which this group can use to rent whichever property is available as long as it fits the voucher’s budget, regardless of location.
In reality, this makes lower priced, entry level homes (cheapest housing on the market) the most vulnerable to Sec 8. rental use. In the case of Rancho San Gorgonio, lower priced entry level homes appear to make up the vast majority of the project, and therefore make the entire development particularly vulnerable to being subject to Section 8 use.
The developer will assure everyone that they will only sell to owner-users, therewith avoiding the creation of rental property. But in reality there is no legal way to stop an owner from renting his or her home. This is what widely happened in Beaumont, particularly in the developments south of the I-10 FWY as well, to a lesser degree, in the Sundance development. Due to a low, entry level price point, most rentals will be affordable to Section 8 tenants.
Experience has shown that some of the potential negative effects of Sec. 8 use include the following:
- anywhere from 8 to 12 people occupying one home, because tenants sometimes supplement their income by renting out rooms
- multiple cars parked up front, people coming and going 24/7
- commercial style car repairs conducted in the (19 ft?) driveways and on the street
- inoperative vehicles and garages full of trash
- and, worst of all, even drug dealing, night and day, out of the safety of the home may occur
To be fair, not every Sec. 8 user will cause these types of concerns. But one needs to realize that Sec. 8 users are individuals who have no investment in the neighborhood they live in – and herein lies the problem.
Needless to say, fines due to violations of CC&R regulations will have no effect on tenants, as the landlord will have to pay.
There is no recourse against tenants by the Home Owners Association (HOA). Besides, HOA enforcement actions will often take many months of warnings and (sometimes unpaid) fines.
If the landlord eventually decides to abandon his secure Sec. 8 income, and proceeds to evict the tenant, violations will likely have been ongoing for a year or longer.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Sec. 8 use can do to the Rancho San Gorgonio neighborhood and to Banning as a whole. Besides affecting the quality of life, such use is bound to affect property values negatively, not only within the development, but also in the City as a whole.
So how can Sec. 8 use be avoided? Building homes which have a higher value than typical low cost, entry level homes may do the trick. Such homes are typically situated on larger than postage stamp size lots. But as stated above, in order to maximize profits, developers usually try to pack as many homes into a development as they possibly can, because that’s where the money is.
It is for this reason that the public should always keep in mind that, by their very nature, the developer’s interests and those of the community are hardly ever identical.
Despite the above concerns, the Planning Commission did not even spent one second discussing the possible impact of Sec. 8 use in the Rancho San Gorgonio development. This was never considered.
APPROVED REGIONAL PROBATION DEPARMENT CENTER AND JAIL EXPANSION LIKELY TO CREATE INCREASED SECTION 8 DEMAND FOR BANNING
As previously reported, last year an unwise City Council majority decided that the highest and best use for downtown Banning is a regional County Probation Department Center, intended to serve an area as far away as Blythe.
Notoriously corrupt Mayor Art Welch spearheaded the insane plan, supported by the “usual suspects”, well known sellouts George Moyer and Debbie Franklin. “Something is better than nothing” was Moyer’s moronic motto.
No matter how hard he tried, councilmember Ed Miller could not talk sense into the trio. Vehemently opposed, he voted against the Probation Center proposal, but ended up being overridden by Welch, Moyer and Franklin. The measure passed 3:1, with Councilman Peterson having to recuse himself because he owns property close by.
That “something” that supposedly “is better than nothing” may come to full fruition with the addition of a – for the most part – highly dense, low value housing development, in form of the Rancho San Gorgonio Project.
The coming influx of felons will not be without consequences for Banning. Criminals on probation will need to visit the new Probation Department Center on a regular basis. Many of them may find it convenient to live close by with their families, particularly when they have government assistance to do so. In addition, relatives of individuals incarcerated in Banning will want to live close by as well. What better way to achieve this goal than to move to Banning – into Section 8 rentals?
While the council bears no responsibility for the County’s recent jail expansion efforts in Banning, the resulting impact will be identical to that of the Probation Center : both will act as a catalyst for very substantial Section 8 housing demand.
The only way for the City of Banning to protect itself from this inevitable trend is to only approve higher valued home developments, located on parcels larger than 10,000 square feet. Banning needs to price itself out of the Section 8 (low) price range altogether. If Banning fails to do so, it may soon be known as “Section 8 City”.
But yet again, the issues of the Probation Department and County Jail expansion negatively affecting this development, and the City of Banning as a whole, were never discussed by the Planning Commission.
“CONDITIONS OF APPROVAL” RAISE CONCERNS
The EIR spells out over 300 “Conditions of Approval”. Specifically, the following conditions raise great concern :
GARAGE SETBACK : Condition # 10 specifies that the minimum setback for garages from the sidewalk is only 19 ft. When parking in your driveway, even a good driver will need to leave a minimum of a foot between the front of the vehicle and the garage door, which leaves just 18 ft for driveway parking. A full size 4-door pickup is about 20 ft. Therefore, full size pickups and SUVs will protrude into the sidewalk, creating great hazards for children and adults alike. The recommendation of a garage setback of just 19 ft raises serious questions about competence on part of the Planning Director.
WATER TANK : Condition # 293 addresses the requirement for a water tank, though details remain nebulous. Capacity, design and location will be subject to a future study, with the execution largely at the sole discretion of the Planning Department. No assurances are given to the public.
WATER TREATMENT PLANT : Condition # 87 addresses the need for a Water Treatment Plant. It has been determined that the plant will be off site, outside of the development. All specifics are subject to a future study and again, the execution of the plant is largely at the sole discretion of the Planning Department, providing no certainty to the public.
RECYCLED WATER : Condition # 307 discusses “Recycled Water”. This requirement merely obligates the developer to build a recycled water line to the property boundaries and participate in the cost for Banning on a “fair share” basis at some future time.
All of the above concerns were brought before the Commission by a concerned citizen – to no avail. Not a single Commissioner found it necessary to discuss any of them!
CONSULTANT : CITY HAS FULL DISCRETION TO REDUCE DENSITY BY ABOUT 50% – TO 1,800 DWELLINGS
In her presentation before the Planning Commission, Environment Consultant JoAnn C. Hadfield of “PlaceWorks” pointed out that California law (CEQA) requires the commission to consider the following three alternatives to the project. Please listen carefully to this important part of the consultant’s presentation :
In the audio clip Hadfield explains that the following options are available for consideration :
- “No Project Development Alternative” on the site
- “No Project/Existing General Plan Alternative”, reducing the development to 1,865 dwellings
- “Reduced Density Alternative”, reducing the proposed number of dwellings by 20% , equaling a 677 dwelling reduction
As you may have guessed by now, the Planning Commission failed to consider any of these three alternatives. Even though a reduction in the number of homes was clearly presented as a legally available option to the Commission, not a single commissioner felt it was necessary to discuss such an alternative.
Throughout the entire session, one could not help but sense a distinct rush to approval on part of all Commissioners.
With their rush to approval, the Planning Commission failed miserably in doing their job. Not only did they allow the developer’s representative to dodge the key question about the project’s average lot size, but they also failed to discuss alternatives to the project and completely neglected to assess the dangers of Section 8 use.
In total, just 3 hours were spent by the Commission on the pivotal Rancho San Gorgonio Development, a project that will change Banning forever, as it will add 30% in population – or 9,000 residents – to the City. The Commission approved the project 5:0, making only minor changes, none of which addressed the core issues of density or the creation of property values for Banning. Could it be more obvious that Banning’s entire Planning Commission is incompetent to the core?
It is now time for the City council to prevent a potential disaster from unfolding for the City of Banning. The way to do so is to reject this EIR and demand a reduction in density of the project, be it by reducing it by 20% (677 homes) , or by going back to 1,865 homes originally allowed under the General Plan, with the goal of creating higher quality of life and therewith higher property values for the entire community. This approach will not only minimize Section 8 use due to reduced affordability, but also create a greater degree of desirability of the City as a whole.
But with the corrupt figureheads like Art Welch, Debbie Franklin and George Moyer and at the helm, what are the chances of this ever happening? Slim to zero. The developer can rest assured that the decision to approve his project “as is” has likely already been made behind the scenes. After all, all 3 of them have accepted campaign contributions from associates of this developer (story here). Once again, Ed Miller’s and Don Peterson’s opposition won’t be able to save the day.
As a final note, if you are a Sun Lakes resident and still consider voting for Mayor Art Welch in the upcoming election, be aware that you will forever have forfeited your right to complain about the inevitable decay that the City of Banning will soon encounter.
It couldn’t be more clear: Welch’s failed policies are bound to create poverty and crime, as more lowlifes, drug dealers and felons are going to find their way to Banning. Is this really what we need?
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