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With Measure G, Redlands Joins The Debate Over Housing And Transit-Oriented Development

Benjamin Purper

The first zero-emission train line in North America is coming to Redlands, and it’s created a debate over high-density housing and transit-oriented development in the small Inland Empire city.

Measure G, on the March ballot in Redlands, would exempt the three “transit villages” in the city – one at Esri, one downtown, and one at the University of Redlands – from the city’s slow-growth Measures U and N and Proposition R.

Those measures, passed in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, limited height and density of residential buildings in an effort to preserve Redlands’ small-town feel.

“So it seems to me Redlands voters have made it pretty clear that they don't want their city growing quickly, as so many cities in the Inland Empire have done over the past couple of decades," says longtime Inland Empire journalist Cassie MacDuff.

"But now the city's asking them to exempt this area which really runs through the heart of the city all the way from Alabama Street out to Judson along this rail line which is going to be up and running in a couple of years.”

Measure G would remove the 400 homes a year restriction from the old slow-growth measures.

“It would allow more homes to be built per acre, something like 18 units per acre. Which now - just for scale - single-family homes you see are about 4 per acre. And the council with a 4/5ths vote would be able to increase that to 27 units per acre. It would also eliminate that two-story height limit without actually telling the voters what the council considers the uppermost limit of what they would approve, and it also would drop the requirement for a socio-economic study, that was the requirement that was put in place in 1997,” MacDuff says. 

Mayor Paul Foster has said that while Measure G doesn’t put a height limitation for buildings in place, the City Council plans to impose a four-story limit on buildings within the transit villages.

“The council has flexibility on what to approve," Foster says. "It will allow us to approve 3-story 4- stories, it could be 4-stories and a tower that just goes above 4 stories. 4 stories is 51 feet. It's about the height of the tower on Studio Movie Grill. But you're always going to have little types of decorative features that need to go a little higher so you need some flexibility in that.”

The Yes on G campaign

Proponents of Measure G argue it would help transform the areas around the train stations into livable, walkable communities. They say it would help combat climate change by getting people out of their cars.

Edward Ferrari moved to Redlands from the United Kingdom in 2014.

“You know there's only a few cites that I've lived in my life where you can ride your bike everyday and people are really courteous you know and considerate. And there's a real biking culture here too," Ferrari says.

Jim Spee, a professor of business at the University of Redlands, has lived in Redlands since 1989. He says he plans to vote yes on Measure G and then attend subsequent hearings to make sure the city implements it responsibly.

Credit Benjamin Purper / KVCR
A "Yes on G" sign sits in front of a bank in downtown Redlands.

“So that's my response to people - if you're worried about that, don't give up your activism, I'm really happy that you're excited about this issue. We're disagreeing on how we get to that destination, but I don't want you to feel like, if it passes, the city doesn't care about your opinion. It's going to be asked for in a different way. And I hope respected. I don't think we're going to talk about a ten-story average here,” Spee says.

There’s also the issue of climate change, according to Tracy Wise, co-director of Redlands for Progressive Change.

“When you look at the question of climate change, which is upon us and is going to affect us here in Redlands exponentially, what we're seeing now in terms of the fires and the storms and things, is just the beginning of what I believe is coming in the future based on what science is telling us. So we have to take some measures now to prevent sprawl, to look for ways to cut back on driving, to cut back on all the greenhouse gases that we are producing,” Wise says.

The No on G campaign

But critics of Measure G, like Gregory Brittain, doubt that people will abandon their cars, and worry about the traffic associated with more people and buildings.

“They think people are going to give up their cars - they're not," Brittain says. "So they'll be parking someplace. More people living downtown's going to mean more traffic downtown. It's going to change the character of the city, it's going to make that area into more resembling Rancho Cucamonga or Anaheim, not Redlands.” 

Credit Benjamin Purper / KVCR
A "No on G" signs sits in a front of a house in Redlands.

Redlands resident Lane Schneider says Measure G would undo the standards Redlands voters have already put into place.

“The measure will eliminate all of the standards that were voted in by Redlands voters in years past, and the reason those standards were put in was because people wanted to keep Redlands a town - or a city if you want to call it - with small town character and if we take out some of those things, such as height limitations, density limitations, then we've lost that. That there's not a small town if you have, you know, six story buildings, five story buildings,” Schneider says.

Robb McDermott, another Redlands resident, says growth is good, but growth must be managed.

“The issue at hand with Measure G is the long-range effects on congestion, daily life, what it's going to do to the infrastructure, none of which is prepared for and none of it is allowed for in Measure G,” McDermott says.

The mall question

Another sticking point in the Measure G debate is over the Redlands Mall.

Cassie MacDuff says it’s one of the main rationales behind Measure G.

“The main rationale seems to be that the only way to get the downtown Redlands Mall, which has been empty for quite a number of years, the way only to get a developer interested in rebuilding or redoing it is by lifting the limits on the density of housing and the height limit in particular," MacDuff says. 

Mayor Paul Foster says that’s true.

“This measure will also allow us to redevelop and build on the Redlands Mall site," Foster says. "Contrary to what you'll hear from the opposition, those sites can't be built under the current voter initiative. They'll tell you they can with a 4/5th vote or what have you. But those measures are written in such a way as they constrain the builder from going up without a certain number of findings they are called. And those findings are such a high bar that to quote our planning director, ‘No one could meet them.’”

But critics are skeptical. Robb McDermott points out that the mall isn’t specifically mentioned in Measure G.

“The concept here is we need to get this so that a developer can come in and help fix the Redlands Mall. Well, the Redlands Mall and the boundaries aren't even in Measure G. You can read it top to bottom, which I have - there's no mention of the Mall at all. And for these folks to actually go out and say, this is an all or nothing issue, we're only going to get one bite at the apple, I find that simply not to be believable,” McDermott says. 

Credit City of Redlands
A map of the transit villages throughout Redlands.

Will it get people out of their cars?

Seva Rodnyansky is a professor of urban and environmental policy at Occidental College. He says that transit-oriented development, like what Measure G is proposing to do around the transit villages, does get people out of their cars to some extent.

“I would say that households living near, or in transit-oriented developments, generally speaking, drive quite a bit less at each income swath, you know, anywhere from 10-15 miles less per day, overall, averaged out based on travel survey data per day and that'll translate to a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions that they're just not producing," Rodnyansky says.

"They also often walk more, and/or use other forms of alternative transportation such as biking, skateboarding, scooters, e-bikes, etc. So it's not just perhaps lower emissions from driving and it's also a more active lifestyle.”

Rodnyansky says transit-oriented development may not get people to get rid of their cars entirely, but it does have some effect.

“In an area like Redlands and San Bernardino which is relatively auto-reliant, they might not get rid of all their cars, perhaps they'll go down from a two-car household to a one-car household. Or from a three-car household to a two-car household. Right, we've seen some evidence of that.”

Genevieve Giuliano, a professor of urban planning at the University of Southern California, is a little more skeptical. She says the evidence that transit-oriented development gets people out of their cars is mixed.

“And the reason it's mixed is that a transit-oriented development in Washington, D.C. is something very different from a transit-oriented development in Redlands," Giuliano says.

"Or in Long Beach, right - they're all different. In some places, what happens is that we are replacing lower-cost housing with somewhat higher-cost housing, we're attracting people who are of a higher income level who are more likely to be car drivers, so they are less likely to take transit. They may like the idea of living near transit without ever taking it. So it really depends on the attractiveness of the transit system itself. How well can you get around on that transit system, that's what's really important.”

Credit Benjamin Purper / KVCR
The Santa Fe Rail Depot at sunset.

Housing and the state

Another concern among both proponents and detractors of the measure is the state’s ambitious housing goals and what they could mean for Redlands.

We have a governor and a legislature where it's primary focus is on dealing with housing and homelessness.  That's their primary agenda right now,” says Mayor Foster.

Foster points to Senate Bill 330 as an example of what he says is the state overriding local control over housing.

“SB330 does a lot of bad things, in my opinion, that could hurt Redlands. But one of the big things it did, it already eliminated one of the voter initiatives that we have approved in redlands and that's that we've had a 400 residential unit cap in any given year that can be built in Redlands. SB330 elimated that cap and with the stroke of a pen, the governor eliminated that local control," Foster says.

"And the point of sharing this is that there's going to be more of those types of actions as the governor moves things forwards and the legislature does towards creating more affordable housing and housing inventory in the state to reach that 2-3 million shortage that we have in the state of California.”

City Councilmember Toni Momberger agrees.

“The bottom line is, Redlands and every other city in California is going to get more people in it. Period. And this is a really important point for people who say vote against Measure G cause we're already too crowded. Vote against Measure G because we have too much traffic already. I think we are already too crowded, I think we have too much traffic, I too am afraid of these things," Momberger says.

"But it's not a matter of, do we want more people in Redlands. We've lost that authority, that is not an option for us. So if we have to have another thousand units, 2 thousand 3 thousand 4 thousand units, whatever gets allocated to us, the question is going to be, where do we want to put them. And that's what measure G is about.”

Transit-oriented development in other cities

Redlands isn’t alone in this debate, either. Jennifer Tilton, a professor of Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of Redlands, says this debate is also playing out in the city of Claremont.

“I think the debate in Claremont is certainly similar to the debate in Redlands. There's some of the same anxieties about some people not wanting the community to change too much, worrying about it becoming too dense, worrying about developments that might be too high. And worrying about traffic. Some of the very same reasons are happening in Claremont," Tilton says.

"It's not concretized around a measure like Measure G because we didn't have those slow-growth measures that were standing in the way of development, and so they're really playing out in the process of the debates around exactly what kind of development is going to happen in south Claremont, and what that will look like and how dense it will be.”

Genevieve Giuliano says Culver City is another example of this.

“There's so much demand right now to live near the Expo line in Culver City, and then be able to commute in, that prices are skyrocketing and anything that can be built is being built, and it's really changing the nature of the city and the environment of the city," Giuliano says.

Could the bill come back?

When asked if the measure could come back later in a different form if Measure G doesn't pass, Mayor Foster gave a definitive no.

"That's a very easy answer for me," Foster says. "I made a promise to the community when I was asked that same, a similar question which was If it doesn't pass will you find a way to work around it?  And the answer is no. To that as well. Because my job is to honor the will of the people. That's part of my job. Now I may disagree with the decision and if anything, I'll feel sad for the community because I know what's coming. I mean, I know what's going to happen from the state. My colleagues know it. That's why we're working so hard to try to get Measure G passed.”

Foster says there will be no local measure on housing at all in November.

“My job is to support the decision of the people of Redlands and that's exactly what I will do. So are my colleagues. So we won't be bringing any measure on housing back in November," Foster says. 

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