by Bill Ruh,
CVAR Director of Government Affairs
New local projects and new businesses in Azusa, as well as better financial management in city hall, are helping the city’s economy improve nearly 10 years after the start of the Great Recession. The better financial outlook could lead to lenders taking notice—S&P recently raised Azusa’s credit rating from BBB+ to A+. According to the S&P report, Azusa’s financial policies boosted the city’s general fund reserve levels. They’d been negative for four straight years through the city’s 2014 fiscal year.
The city was also aggressive with its redevelopment agency at that time, acquiring several pieces of land throughout the city, which left them turned upside down when the agencies were dissolved by the state in 2012. Eventually the city was able to dispose of some of those properties and pay itself back, resulting in an extra $2.5 million in cash. The city has met its target each time and plans to increase the target soon. As the economy began to recover, and with their new financial management policies, the city was able to start reversing the damage in 2014 and increase their reserves to just under $7 million, as well as begin to fund a hefty bill they know is coming starting in 2019. The report also noted the year-to-year increase in all three of the city’s revenue streams—property taxes, sales taxes and franchise taxes—over the last three years in helping build its strong budget. The Rosedale master community, which was also affected by the economic downturn, is near completion after several stalls. The project should improve the city’s economic base with sales of its luxury homes. When completed, the Rosedale community will include 1,250 homes and 200 acres of open space. The city also created a Budget Sustainability and Operational Efficiency Committee earlier this year, with representatives from various city departments tasked to look into the city’s general fund operations and see where they can make reductions or find efficiencies. The goal is to reduce costs by about 3 percent.
Following a state mandate aimed at increasing voter turnout, elected officials are moving forward with a plan that will cut their terms by four months and shift the date of a general municipal election to November in even-numbered years. Claremont stand-alone elections are currently held in March of odd-numbered years, but at its Oct. 24 meeting, officials introduced an ordinance that would make the change official with the November 2018 election. This means the terms held by Councilmembers Joe Lyons, Opanyi Nasiali and Sam Pedroza would end November 2018, rather than March 2019. The same would happen with the terms held by Mayor Larry Schroeder and Councilmember Corey Calaycay. Those terms will now end November 2020 as opposed to March 2021. Although several of the council members have expressed frustration over giving up control of their election, they say they’ve opted for what they feel was the best option for voters and potential candidates. The council is making the changes to meet SB415, a California law which requires the city to move its election date to coincide with a statewide election date, and consolidate its election with that conducted by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. City leaders were told the intent would be to improve voter turnout, since the last four city elections drew, in some cases, 40 percent less than a statewide election. At its Oct. 10 meeting, City Clerk Shelley Desautels informed the council of the state law and gave officials three options, which included shortening their terms by four months. Ultimately, the council gave staff direction to proceed with moving the elections to November of even number years. The council is expected to give final review of the ordinance at its next council meeting. Once it is adopted by the council, it will go to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for approval. A notice will be sent to all Claremont voters.
CHINO HILLS/DIAMOND BAR
Chino Hills and Diamond Bar have filed separate but similar lawsuits against the City of Industry, hoping to halt that city’s bid to build a massive solar farm inside their boundaries, arguing the move is a covert, money-making scheme that benefits the buyer but robs them of millions in tax dollars. Although a county oversight board has signed off on the City of Industry’s $41.7 million purchase of 2,450 acres known as Tres Hermanos ranch (far less than the state Department of Finance’s accepted appraised value of between $82 million-$122 million) the board was kept in the dark about the solar arrays the industrial city wants to install, covering at least 900 acres and expected to produce $4 million in annual revenues for the City of Industry, the lawsuits allege.
The entire swath of land lies within the two cities: 700 acres in eastern Diamond Bar surrounding Grand Avenue and 1,750 acres in Chino Hills, bordering San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange counties. Still used for cattle grazing, the land was owned by Industry’s redevelopment agency since November 1978, now known as the Successor Agency. A 2011 law ended redevelopment, setting in motion the sale of all agency assets, with this property the largest put up for sale in the state. State law requires local oversight boards to maximize the value to best serve the state and cities, schools and special districts, which are to share in the proceeds. Chino Hills and Diamond Bar’s lawsuits primarily contest the approval of the sale, though city officials also contend the project would violate environmental and city planning laws. The two cities, which filed virtually identical lawsuits, say a sudden and drastic price reduction—approved by the Oversight Board on a 4-3 vote in August after the City of Industry attached a covenant allowing for public use, open space or preservation—amounts to a gift to City of Industry of nearly $60 million and a loss of millions in sales proceeds to the affected cities. The lawsuit quotes Industry City Manager Paul Philips, who said publicly in August the savings would be put into the solar project, which Chino Hills argues would benefit Industry to the detriment of the other taxing entities. The City of Industry has spent $14 million on a team of consultants working on planning the solar farm, including about $4 million to several law firms.
Included in the Chino Hills lawsuit are opposition letters from two other taxing agencies which have not testified during recent public meetings involving Tres Hermanos: The Chino Valley Fire District and San Bernardino County. Jeff Ballinger, general counsel for the Chino Valley Fire District, called the covenant a ruse, agreeing with Chino Hills and Diamond Bar that the law already requires any municipality that buys land to use it for public uses. Ballinger said the vaguely worded deed restriction approved by the Oversight Board would allow Industry to proceed with its proposed solar project. Likewise, Dean Smith, interim chief executive officer of San Bernardino County, objected to the sale in a letter to the Department of Finance, the state agency reviewing the sale with the power to approve or disapprove the transaction. According to the Chino Hills lawsuit, Smith asked the state to void the sale because the Oversight Board did not follow state law requiring the maximum value from a sale. In addition, the lawsuits say the city has failed to abide by its own plan for selling off redevelopment assets, did not provide a development plan with a schedule or anticipated job creation for the solar farm use, and may have brought on more obligations by adding a restrictive covenant. The two cities are suing the City of Industry, its Successor Agency and the Oversight Board. Chino Hills’ lawsuit alleges the Oversight Board violated its fiduciary responsibilities under state law when it approved the sale at an “unreasonable price.” The suit says the Board should have marketed the property to the highest bidder. GH America, a land developer, had offered $108 million for the land, but the offer was not accepted. The cities argue the Oversight Board, a group of county and local officials representing the taxing agencies, could not legally change the price from $100 million to $41.7 million during its Aug. 24 vote as the discount had not been previously approved by the successor agency, or Industry, and the public was never notified that a lower price was an option. The two agencies, both run by the Industry City Council, later ratified approval of the lower price.
Reversing course, El Monte may not allow medical marijuana cultivation and distribution businesses to operate in the city after all. The City Council decided not to give final approval to a proposed marijuana ordinance, which would prohibit all recreational marijuana businesses but would have allowed cultivation, distribution and research on medical marijuana. Instead, the item was tabled so that the city could conduct further community outreach on the matter. As proposed, the ordinance would permanently ban cannabis retailers, dispensaries, micro-businesses and delivery services related to both recreational and medical marijuana. The businesses the ordinance would allow would only be able to operate in specific areas. Specifically, research labs would be allowed in the Flair Park area of the city. Manufacturers and distributors would be allowed in the city’s northwest industrial area and in the East Valley Entryway area. But residents, including many local elementary school board and staff members, pleaded with the City Council on Tuesday to take its time to consider possible negative impacts, such as a possible increase in crime and the contradiction of having drug production in the city while schools teach kids to “say no to drugs.” Two weeks ago, the City Council voted 3-2 to give preliminary approval to the ordinance, with City Council members J. Gomez and Norma Macias voting against. While she voted to approve the ordinance two weeks ago, City Councilwoman Victoria Martinez said she was open to continuing the conversation with residents and that her mind is not made up on the matter.
The city council chose a final draft map that will divide the city into separate districts for each city council member before its future elections. After being threatened with a lawsuit by a Malibu-based lawyer claiming the city’s at-large elections disenfranchise minority voters, the city council began the switch to by-district voting to avoid further litigation and costs in July. Under district voting, residents will only be able to vote for one of the candidates running in their district boundaries, instead of for all five council seats. The map likely to be approved features districts that all stretch from north to south across the city. Council members said they hoped the layout would help promote city unity, something they believed a map that divided the city into northern and southern halves could not accomplish. Once the districts map is adopted, the first by-district election will take place in March 2019, when three council member’s terms will expire: Boyer, Councilman Mendell Thompson and Councilwoman Judy Nelson. The remaining two seats will be up for by-district election in March 2021, as terms for Davis and Councilman Michael Allawos expire. The city will work with the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters to begin doing outreach to residents in each district about when their election will be held.
Members of the La Verne City Council recently approved an ordinance banning all commercial marijuana activities in the city along with setting regulations for the personal cultivation of pot. Council members gave unanimous final approval to the ordinance, which was part of the Oct. 16 consent agenda, without discussion. The council gave preliminary approval to the ordinance Sept. 5, and the matter was expected to return to the council Sept. 18 for final approval but was pulled off the agenda. Revisions were made to the proposed ordinance in order to include references to the state’s Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in late June, the staff report reads. The revised proposal was presented to the City Council for preliminary approval Oct. 2. The ordinance repealed the portion of La Verne’s existing municipal code containing regulations pertaining to medical marijuana and replaced it with new language covering all types of marijuana activity. Under the ordinance, all commercial cannabis activities and uses associated with medical marijuana and “adult use cannabis” are banned in the city, according to the ordinance. Medical marijuana dispensaries have been banned in the city since January 2016. City residents will be allowed to grow a maximum of six marijuana plants for personal use “within a fully enclosed and secure structure at a residence, subject to reasonable regulations of the city,” according to the ordinance. Those who wish to grow marijuana must obtain a permit from the city’s Community Development Department and pay any fees required by the City Council, the ordinance reads. Across California, cities and counties are in the process of approving and setting local regulations in place before Jan. 1, 2018, which is when the state will begin to oversee recreational marijuana operations. The state’s role includes oversight of the cultivation, testing and distribution of nonmedical marijuana and the manufacturing of nonmedical marijuana products. California voters went to the polls Nov. 8, 2016, and approved Proposition 64, also known as the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Under Proposition 64, it became legal the day after the election for those 21 and older to use marijuana and to cultivate a maximum of six marijuana plants per residence. Local governments can set rules for the regulation of recreational marijuana establishments within their cities but they must move quickly and have them in place before Jan. 1
A Pomona-area partnership announced it has submitted a bid for Amazon’s second headquarters that would center around the Fairplex and Cal Poly Pomona campuses. The partnership of Fairplex, Cal State Polytechnic University at Pomona, Los Angeles County and the city of Pomona submitted the bid–which it is calling PolyPlex–just three days before the bid deadline announced by Amazon. Headquartered in Seattle, Amazon announced this summer that it was seeking 100 acres in North America in which it would invest $5 billion to build an 8-million-square-foot second headquarters facility. The second headquarters could employ up to 50,000 people. Amazon has said it will make its final site selection announcement sometime next year. The PolyPlex proposal offers vacant land and existing buildings that can be “repurposed” at Fairplex, the home of the Los Angeles County Fair, and more land a mile to the west near an Innovation Center next to the Cal Poly Pomona campus.
Fearing the number of homes that could be built and who would develop them, residents here sounded off on city efforts to annex more than 4,000 acres. The plan, known as the North Eastern Sphere Annexation Project, would add 4,115 acres of unincorporated property to the city. Portions of this rocky hillside terrain falls within Rancho Cucamonga city limits, but most of it is unincorporated land within the city’s sphere of influence. A meeting at the Los Osos Library marked the first of a series of community gatherings aimed to help detail and clarify the annexation process and developing land use and development standards for portions of the area. Without annexation, it will remain under San Bernardino County control, which means the city can’t create a specific plan for 1,200 acres of former flood control property. It also prevents the city from collecting property taxes for those using city services such as police and fire, or city parks. According to city planners, establishing development standards and design guidelines, the proposed specific plan would allow future developers to convert the land into walkable neighborhoods, parks, an elementary school and the restoration of natural streams. Within the 1,200 acres identified for development, about 400 acres of that will be dedicated to conservation. The open space will be located at the center and wrap around a central portion of development and extend to the northeast. The process is still in its early phase. Rancho Cucamonga has brought in Sargent Town Planning to lead the urban design and planned development of the 1,200 acres. In response to concerns about housing density, officials said it would be nothing like Empire Lakes, which was intended to be a high density project because it was in an urban area. The effort is intended to be suburban, so that it fits surrounding neighborhoods—the housing density surrounding the 1,200 acres will mirror the same density as existing residential communities. The average density for this project area could be about one to two dwellings per acre.
For years, West Covina officials and residents have envisioned a vibrant downtown along a stretch of Glendora Avenue where residents and visitors could walk, eat and gather for concerts, farmers markets and other community events. Now, some say a $12 million project to transform the avenue between West Covina Parkway and Garvey Avenue into a “ramblas” style street, with widened sidewalks and open green space, is the final chance to see that vision come to fruition and make the city a destination in Los Angeles County. After several hours of public comment and discussion, the council voted 3-2 to approve the final design concept for the Glendora Avenue Revitalization Project, and authorize city staff to initiate the process of securing bonds to finance its construction. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Spence and Councilman Lloyd Johnson voted “no” on both motions. City officials plan to finance the project with bonds that will be paid by transportation sales tax revenues derived from Measure R and Measure M, two half-cent countywide sales taxes approved by voters in 2008 and 2016. The project aims to create an interconnected, pedestrian-friendly and lively gathering place with widened sidewalks, landscaped medians and a great lawn area for community events, summer concerts and performing arts. Construction could begin as early as next spring.