Mission Viejo about to bail out a developer who spent years pleading for a zone change?

Appearing on tonight’s Mission Viejo City Council Agenda is Closed Session Item which deals with a request for the city to purchase around 10 acres of land. After at least three years of discussion and debate before our Planning Commission and City Council the council did what was asked. They changed the zoning which permitted half of a parcel to be used for a new Target store leaving approximately 10 acres for 154 housing units that would including 22 affordable homes.

The big question for me is why is this parcel of land back on our Agenda? Steadfast Companies lobbied long and hard to get this concession. Yes, the housing industry in CA has taken a massive hit. While our government speaks of bailing out homeowners whose properties are going into foreclosure should our city purchase this property which I previously was told is actually owned by Target?

Regardless of the reason for placing this on the Agenda, and for full transparency from our council, tonight’s Closed Session vote must be reported out. If the council majority takes any action such as giving instruction to staff, including our city attorney’s, than I demand that the Closed Session vote be made public as part of the record for those of us who plan to vote in November. Whether it’s a raising of hands or a voice vote, any prevailing action requires a majority of the five elected members. We deserve to know how they voted rather than glossing it over without naming names.
I will send copies of this post to our council, city manager, city clerk and city attorney. Larry Gilbert

Following is a post from the Mission Viejo Dispatch which goes into more detail.

City Considers Bailing Out Developers; Will Discuss Purchase Of Land For Up To 300 High-Density & Low Income Apartments

February 4, 2008 by MissionViejoDispatch.com

    It appears the City is hatching a controversial idea in secrecy.  On Friday an agenda change was quietly and belatedly made to the City Council’s closed session meeting for tonight, Monday, Feb. 4.  The discussion could lead to the bail-out of up to three developers desiring to have the City take over their low income housing obligations.

    The closed session will specifically revisit the previously approved Steadfast project for 10.5 acres at Los Alisos and Jeronimo, next to the new Target store.   Steadfast’s plan for approximately 160 detached single family homes, including about 24 affordable units, was approved a couple years ago after explosive public hearings.  It appears neither Target nor Steadfast is now interested in retaining the land or rights to the project.

    The Council will consider an option to bail-out Target and Steadfast with a taxpayer purchase of the parcel, primarily through the city’s redevelopment agency.  The City could then conceivably consolidate the projected low income housing units from three future developments at the Target location.  As part of such a plan, a profitable arrangement might be created for a developer of multi-family apartment complexes to build up to 300 apartments on the site, including all of the city’s 154 low income units under state guidelines.

     The agenda item lists the following partcipants and parties:  

Dennis Wilberg, City Manager/Redevelopment Agency Exec. Director
Charles Wilson, Director of Community Development
James Williams, Economic Advisor
Celeste Brady, Redevelopment Legal Counsel
William Curley, III, Esq., City Attorney 
Ralph Deppisch, The Steadfast Companies
Brad Syverson, Vice President, Target Corporation

    Cities are responsible for creating zoning to make it possible for private developers to propose and build low income housing.  Mission Viejo is in full compliance with those state laws, so no additional action is required by the City.  In fact, the City has approved separate low income projects in North Mission Viejo for two developers, Steadfast and UDR.  A third developer has a responsibility to build some low income units on a parcel in South Mission Viejo next to Mission Viejo Country Club.

    Councilwoman Gail Reavis seems unlikely to go along with a change for the Target site, based on her statements in earlier debates on the Steadfast and UDR projects.  John Paul Ledesma is generally a strong advocate of limited government and free markets.  Residents will undoubtedly count on him to oppose the bail-out plan.  But that could still leave three votes for a bail-out in some form, including a possible City takeover.

    A Council majority could give directions on Monday to Staff to investigate funding sources and open negotiations for the land purchase.  If so, the Dispatch hopes the Council will openly report each councilmember’s vote immediately following the closed meeting. 
Larry Gilbert’s final thoughts. What is the role of city government anyway? I thought it was to provide public safety, maintain our public works and transportation. Should we now become landowners other than that which is used for our public buildings? Is Mission Viejo now about to enter the world of real estate speculator/developers?

Steadfast is a known builder who wants to unload their share of the parcel. What knowledge and qualifications does the city have which proves that we are smarter than someone who is established in the business?

About Larry Gilbert