Plans on hold for R.C. land mired in scandal
Wendy Leung, Staff Writer
Created: 07/02/2011 07:07:16 AM PDT

Two years ago, wheels were in motion to develop a prime piece of Rancho Cucamonga real estate. City and San Bernardino County leaders were getting ready to select a developer to turn 1,200 acres of former flood control property into a planned community of suburban homes, parks and sports fields.

The project was eventually shelved when controversy began to brew over the county Assessor’s Office and former Councilman Rex Gutierrez’s role in that scandal.

Today, Gutierrez is in prison, a supervisor faces criminal charges and a big question mark looms over 1,200 acres of coveted land.

With the real estate market in flux and political corruption lingering, nobody seems to be in a hurry to act on the stalled project.
1,200 acres of undeveloped land located north of Los Osos High School is seen from a vantage point atop a flood control dam in Rancho Cucamonga. Most of the land is in unincorporated areas, but is likely the city will annex it once it’s developed. (File Photo)

“I haven’t heard of any discussions about the 1,200 acres project, nor do I care one way or another whether the county moves one way or another,” said Mayor Dennis Michael. “I’m not interested in any discussions. As far as I’m concerned, it can be open space during this downturn in the economy.”

Supervisor Janice Rutherford, who was not on the Board of Supervisors in 2009 when the county took preliminary steps to develop the land, has asked county Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux to outline options for a county policy on the land.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about that land and the future for it,” Rutherford said. “But in my mind, there’s no rush for anything. The downtrend of the market gives us a chance to be very thoughtful of what we do.”

Rutherford said the report is not a high priority but she would like to have a policy in place by the end of the year.

County spokesman David Wert said there is no timeline for the report. Wert said staff members are conducting a number of studies on several pieces of property and among them is the 1,200 acres.

Situated north of Los Osos High School and bounded by Milliken Avenue and the Day Creek Channel, the 1,200 acres of foothills land is the last piece of open space in a city with build-out on the horizon.

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. It is assumed that once it is developed, the city will annex the property.

Currently, Hanson Aggregates operates a rock quarry at the core of the property. The company has an agreement with the county to cease operation in 2013.

As early as 2005, the land was used as a bargaining chip in settlement talks between county leaders and Colonies Partners. The dispute – now subject of a criminal case against Colonies developer Jeff Burum, former Supervisor Paul Biane and two others – was over flood control easements in the Upland development.

County supervisors eventually reached a $102 million settlement with Colonies Partners. The 1,200 acres was not part of the deal.

In 2008, city and county officials opened up a request for qualification process, essentially seeking interested developers for the project.

The city and county had reached an agreement that would allow the City Council to select two developers from a pool of applicants and for the county to make the final pick. At the time, among the developers interested was Rancho Alliance, a group that consisted of Burum and the Lewises, the prominent family of developers with roots in the Inland Valley.

But a month before the city was expected to make its recommendations, accusations that Gutierrez played a role in the Assessor’s Office scandal surfaced, leading to a civil lawsuit against him. Because the county was suing Gutierrez, Biane shelved the project.

Gutierrez was later convicted of criminal charges regarding his misconduct at the Assessor’s Office. He is currently serving a sentence of two years and eight months.

With Gutierrez out of office and a new 2nd District supervisor in place, it may seem like time to revive plans for the 1,200 acres. But a depressed housing market and lingering political baggage have stalled action.

The county has yet to purchase the land from its Flood Control District, which it needs to do prior to selling the land to a developer. Even if county leaders were ready to buy, the entitlement process could take at least five years.

Randall Lewis of the Lewis Group of Companies said county leaders could treat the land as several pieces of property, with the land closest to neighboring homes allocated to single-family residences on large lots and the flatter portions of the land saved for a medium-density development.

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