Pipe Dreams

Turning a San Bernardino neighborhood into a lake? Building Branson West in Moreno Valley and RogersDale in Temecula (or Murrieta)? Here are 5 projects that never made it past the drawing board.

Published: June 11, 2016
Updated: June 12, 2016 – 8:52 a.m.

They were grand plans.

Plans that, if you believed the cheerleaders, would have created a sparkling water-themed paradise in a dangerous city, transformed a recession-battered bedroom community into Branson West, brought world-class sporting events to relatively boring Riverside and revived the dying Salton Sea with salty ocean water piped in from 160 miles away.

Inland Southern California has had its share of what some would call pipe dreams – massive, costly and incredibly ambitious development projects that just never got off the ground.

One would have created upscale housing along pristine waters flowing through the streets, er, canals of San Bernardino. Another would have duplicated the yee-haw spirit of Branson, Mo., in the Inland Empire. And another – and this one is not yet a “no, never/not ever” dream – would put a state-of-the-art sports arena on the campus of UC Riverside.

Today, we look at a few notable projects that cropped up in recent years around Inland Southern California, and the tales of how they went from dream to drawing board to campaign to, well, back to dream again.


Among the most grand was Lakes and Streams, advanced around the turn of the century.

The idea was born of a desire to drain high groundwater in San Bernardino. And the need was real.

Former Mayor Pat Morris said underground levels were so high at times that water was pumped out of the basements of the downtown courthouse and post office.

There also was concern the high groundwater would multiply damage in a major earthquake – particularly in the vicinity of the towering 10-215 interchange – because of a phenomenon called liquefaction.

Attorney Patrick Milligan, former president of the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, came up with a plan: Pump water out and place it in a new reservoir north of downtown. And clean up a run-down neighborhood in the process.

It would have required leveling 16-block neighborhood, leading to fierce opposition.

One who opposed it was DeAnna Adams, whose Victory Chapel wedding venue stood in the path.

“The whole project was a failure from the very beginning because it was not done honestly,” Adams said. “And they smoke-screened it into a beautiful lake with boats.”

Ultimately, money – or the lack of it – sank the $200 million project.

Morris recalled that hopes were pinned on an influential politician to secure federal dollars. Former Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, was a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee at the time.

“Well, earmarks became a curse word in Washington and that all disappeared,” Morris said.

Councilman Jim Mulvihill, then-professor of urban planning at Cal State San Bernardino, said it was doomed from the get-go.

“It was a pipe dream,” he said.

And now there is no need for it. Courtesy of the drought, groundwater levels have receded.

Milligan maintains at some point high groundwater will return. Mulvihill disagrees. In any event, don’t expect an urban-renewal-and-reservoir project to reappear anytime soon.

Water district General Manager Doug Headrick said there are no plans to revive it.

And part of the property purchased for the project – well short of the amount needed – is being used for something else. Headrick said a 2.8-acre neighborhood park will open by year’s end.

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