Yorba Linda Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Rikel’s MORR conference speech on Measure B

United, we can fight eminent domain abuses

As posted previously we had 2 dozen property rights speakers at our recent MORR conference on Eminent Domain and Redevelopment Abuses.  Yorba Linda Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Rikel, one of our guest speakers, approved of my posting her presentation that contains the background of their successful voter approval of Measure B in 2006 and “Measure BB in November of 2008, ending the ability to use eminent domain for economic development in Yorba Linda.”

Her presentation follows:

Yorba Linda…the Land of Gracious Initiatives & Referendums
(How a small group of people cleaned up City Hall)

“The people’s right to change what does not work is one of the greatest principles of our system of government.”

Richard Nixon
“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight.  It’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead
I believe that many of us don’t know what our ultimate boundaries are until one day when we have finally had enough.  That is exactly what happened to a small group of people, in Yorba Linda…and to me.  None of us had previous political experience or aspirations.

Our journey began as follows:

In 1990, the Yorba Linda City Council, or RDA, expanded the redevelopment area from eastern Yorba Linda- SAVI Ranch- to our Town Center-in the west. Under this expansion, the Agency had the authority of eminent domain for economic development for 12 years.  It was never used as a threat-tool until Mr. Urban Planner joined the City Council in 2000 with his Town Center Vision.  So, in the Fall of 2001 the Council passed it’s first Resolution of Necessity to steal automotive repair shops for economic development in our downtown.

The eminent domain authority of the RDA expired in 2002.  So, in January of 2004, in order to keep his Town Center Vision alive, Mr. Urban Planner convinced his Council colleagues to allow its return for 8 years, calling it a “tool in the tool-belt” of the City Council.

In January 2005 an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with a developer was reached and “mixed use” zoning was being developed to build a high density Town Center, using the threat of eminent domain and redevelopment bonding.  The Council moved forward with a plan that was opposed by many while a large percentage of residents knew nothing about it.  And, there was one more big thing….

Enter Suzette Kelo and the Supreme Court.  In 2005, Yorba Linda residents and the entire country knew that the words eminent domain meant “to steal.”

In February 2005, the Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Redevelopment ..YLRRR.. was formed with the assistance of MORR and people like Chris Norby, Bruce Whitaker and Chris Sutton.  Yorba Linda is deeply indebted to your service.

Remember this.  If you can’t stop redevelopment agencies through referendum, you can stop their city councils through the referendum and initiative process of the zoning required to complete the redevelopment.  And, that’s what YLRRR did.  This political action group successfully accomplished a zoning referendum and the passage of the “Right to Vote” Initiative or Measure B.  Measure B requires that any major zoning change that exceeds housing densities in our current zoning and/or General Plan must be approved by a majority vote.

Along the way, we faced many obstacles including misuses of power by a self-serving City Council who felt they knew what was best for residents, whether we liked it or not!  The Council moved forward to combat YLRRR’s successful initiative efforts and these are just a few of the obstacles we faced:

The Council fast-tracked a flawed Environmental Impact Report in an attempt to pass their zoning ordinances before a Special or General election on Measure B, the Right to Vote Initiative.

The City Manager, and perhaps a Councilperson, strong-armed the City Clerk to file a lawsuit against proponents claiming the text of Measure B was insufficient and needed to include the text of the General Plan.  Can you imagine circulating a petition with the entire General Plan?  Well, the Orange County Superior Court judge who heard the case thought it was pretty ridiculous, too.

On the same day the Council did its first reading of the zoning ordinance in December 2005, a clandestine meeting took place with the Building Industry Association, prospective Town Center developers, the City Manager and a representative from our City Attorney’s office of Best, Best & Krieger.  We learned later that the purpose of the meeting was to explore ways to thwart Measure B efforts.  When our group obtained a copy of the meeting agenda from a Public Records Act request, the City Manager’s notes were redacted and we were told they were a matter of attorney/client privilege.   Of course, conversations with third parties, like the BIA, are simply not privileged, because the presence of a “third-party, non-client” destroys the confidentiality element.  Apparently, the City Manager forgot that she works for the residents of Yorba Linda.  By the way, the City Manager and the Assistant City Manager have since departed.
During the signature gathering process for the Zoning Referendum in January 2006, residents encountered hired “goons” who were confrontational, abusive, aggressive and had personal information.  The Council looked the other way when residents came forward and complained during a meeting. In addition, the Council’s strategy forced us to produce two full color petition books that required a registered voter’s signature in both.  And, despite the harassment from these out-of-town thugs; over $100,000 in expenditures by the prospective Town Center developer; wind, rain and cold weather while juggling two, large signature books; we obtained over 9700 signatures in just 2 ½ weeks over Christmas and New Years.  That was over 20% of Yorba Linda’s registered voters.  Do you think the Council got the message?

So, in February of 2006 the Council magically rescinded the zoning ordinances they passed in December.  In addition, we were able to get the Council to adopt a 33399(g) Exemption for every single property in the downtown redevelopment zone.  That was the end of eminent domain in downtown Yorba Linda and the end of some political careers.

The Building Industry Association spent $174,000 in their campaign to stop Measure B, with misleading information, photographs and endorsements.  We spent a mere $15,000.  In a true David vs. Goliath story, Yorba Linda voters adopted Measure B by just 294 votes in June of 2006.
* Voters approved Measure BB in November of 2008, ending the ability to use eminent domain for economic development in Yorba Linda.

In 2008, I ran with two other candidates and signed “The Contract with Yorba Linda” stating exactly where we stood on all major issues.  Two of us won.. the third lost by one vote.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your vote doesn’t count!

I would expect Measure B to be challenged in court and suspect that future battles loom as Yorba Linda faces more and more pressure from the State to fulfill the never ending RHNA numbers.  As in many cities, the low cost numbers are the most difficult to achieve.

Here’s a twist on the RHNA / Affordable Housing saga you might find interesting.  In January of this year, three “affordable” Habitat for Humanity Homes were completed at a cost to the taxpayers of around $757,000.  The RDA donated all the land to Habitat, which was valued at $650,000, and gave them a grant of $107,000.  They also loaned Habitat $800,000 at no interest to be repaid upon the sale of each home.  At present, only one home has been purchased with two sitting unsold and vacant.  This is truly a case of “We built it and they didn’t come!”  It would appear that the marketplace is driving the “non-sale” of these homes, because a similar sized non-Habitat home in Yorba Linda is basically priced the same.  And, a buyer doesn’t have to deal with the affordable housing covenants.  Our tax dollars have subsidized a project that is seriously upside down.     In today’s economic climate I can think of more important projects to fund than State-mandated, affordable housing that doesn’t sell.  

What does the future hold for Yorba Linda?  We expect to be challenged in court and we know that it will be David vs. Goliath fight again where developers or the State will challenge Measure B and attempt to override the will of the people.  Yorba Linda has done a lot to stand firm and will need to continue to do so.  Many of us feel that Yorba Linda is worth fighting for.  However, I believe that much of this is about our State and our Country and is truly a case of the Tail Wagging the Dog.  What is the purpose of local government, if the State and the Feds are going to micromanage and cookie-cut a “one-size fits all”, land use from many miles away?

Again, a Small Group must begin somewhere if we want to stop Big Government, which is becoming more Socialist each day.  It is intent upon altering our rights, guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.  That is where true entitlement lies.  I believe that we should give people the tools and incentives to succeed.  I do not believe that we should take money and property from some and give it to others for personal gain, while redistributing land and money.

Yorba Linda is proud to have paved the way for other “Right to Vote” Initiatives as a model to control government “land-use abuse” in their cities.  Voters in the tiny community of Sierra Madre approved Measure V in April of 2007 in response to a runaway redevelopment plan in their downtown.  And, in a special election on June 8, voters in Mission Viejo will have their opportunity to fight “land-use abuse” with Measure D – The Mission Viejo Right to Vote Amendment.  Thank you Chris Sutton.

Where is your line in the sand?  Are you willing to stand up for what made this State and Country great? 

I leave you with this final thought…
“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”Thomas Jefferson

About Larry Gilbert