10:00 PM PDT on Monday, April 11, 2011
No good deed goes unpunished. That’s the moral of the fix San Bernardino County finds itself in for helping build a flood control project on an Upland developer’s land.
I’m talking about the tangle of lawsuits revolving around Colonies Partners.
The county paid Colonies $102 million in 2006 to settle the developer’s lawsuit over the flood control basin.
The county is suing Upland, Caltrans and the San Bernardino Associated Governments to recoup the money, because the basin was built for them, not for the county.
The county Flood Control District, county officials revealed on Friday, only got involved to help the three agencies, which needed the storm drain to keep the new 210 freeway, built below grade, from flooding. The design channeled the storm water onto Colonies’ land.
The developer bought the 434 acres in 1997 for $16 million — a bargain; in a moment, you’ll see why.
The land had been a checkerboard of gravel quarries and floodways for decades. But after the county built a flood control channel in the 1970s, suddenly homes could be built on it.
When Caltrans started building the long-planned 210 freeway, the tract became even more valuable.
Colonies quickly recouped its $16 million investment, and then some. Caltrans paid $18 million for the freeway right-of-way across it.
A former quarry on the tract was approved by Upland as public open space: recreation and hiking trails when it was dry, flood control when it rained.
The storm drain under the freeway sends runoff into the recreation area/flood-control basin.
The Flood Control District agreed to manage construction for free, assuring all concerned that it had easements on the land allowing it to use the basin.
Colonies sued the county for “taking” its land, first for $23 million, then $77 million, then $300 million — using a per-acre price as if the land were zoned for houses, not for flood control and recreation, inflating the price tag.
The legal equation changed on March 28 when Bill Postmus, who was the Board of Supervisors chairman when the settlement was signed, admitted the deal was tainted by bribery.
SANBAG immediately demanded the county drop the lawsuit and get the settlement voided as a product of corruption.
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