By James Folmer
Editor Highland Community News
July 11, 2018

Harmony Specific Plan

San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez has issued two rulings on the proposed Harmony master-planned community in east Highland.

The Center for Biological Diversity sent out a press release last week calling the rulings “an important victory against sprawl.”

Pat Loy of Lewis Homes, potential developer of the 3,600-home project, called them a “mixed bag” as he was reading the decisions on Thursday, July 5.

Highland City Attorney Craig Steele issued a statement saying it will take several weeks to analyze the rulings and to consider the city’s potential responses.

Asked if the center’s press release accurately summarized the rulings, Steele wrote, “We have only begun to analyze them. It is apparent that while Judge Alvarez ruled in favor of the petitioners on some issues, he also denied their petitions on other grounds.”

In the petition for a writ of mandate (a court order to a government) brought by the Sierra Club, the Crafton Hills Open Space Conservancy, the Tri-City Conservation District and Friends of Riverside Hills, the judge issued a 99-page ruling. Alvarez denied eight proposed writs and granted six.

He issued a 14-page ruling in a petition brought by the Greenspot Residents Association and the San Bernardino Audubon Society addressing many of same issues. It refers to the longer ruling for those who want more details.

If voters reject the Harmony project on Nov. 6, the cases will likely become moot.

The Highland City Council approved the Harmony master-planned community in August 2016 to build 3,632 homes on 1,657 acres east of Greenspot Road after it turns south at the Old Iron Bridge in the next 12 to 15 years.

The next month, the Greenspot Residents Association launched its campaign to stop it.

Judge Alvarez has scheduled a hearing at 8:30 a.m. Monday, July 23, in Department 23 in the San Bernardino courthouse to discuss the rulings.

Fish Hatchery Bridge

In both rulings, Judge Alvarez declares that the city must consider “the whole of the project.”

He cites instances in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) and the Revised Environmental Impact Report (RDIER) that acknowledge the need for a bridge across Mill Creek at Newport Avenue or Fish Hatchery Road in Mentone to reach Highway 38.

The judge cites the city’s community development director as saying the “contemplated route was selected because it was the shortest route across Mill Creek.” And he quotes the public works director as saying the lack of the bridge would be a problem “from a safety and traffic circulation perspective” because there are only two other points of entry.

But the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) concludes such a bridge “is not required or proposed as part of the Harmony Specific Plan from any perspective.”

The applicants — Lewis Homes and Orange County — say the bridge would cost $30 million to $40 million and could kill the project. In a meeting in May, they told the Highland Community News that their traffic analysis showed 80 percent of vehicle trips would traverse Greenspot Road, which would be vastly improved.

Judge Alvarez noted that construction of the bridge could wipe out Riversidean Alluvial Fan Sage Scrub, critical habitat for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat and the Santa Ana sucker fish.

A smaller project?

The judge also sided with critics of the city’s rejection of Alternative 4, which would reduce the number of homes to 1,400.

The city argued that it would eliminate high-density housing and reduce medium-density housing by two-thirds, converting it to open space. Townhomes and other paired housing units envisioned by the builders and city would be eliminated.

The applicants agreed with the city that “maximizing the potential revenue generation from this asset for regional infrastructure investment is a fiducial obligation of the county,” and Alternative 4 would not meet that goal. It would reduce the project’s footprint by one-third, reducing the revenue needed for regional transportation infrastructure.

The city also argued that reducing the size of the project would not have a significant impact on air quality or traffic.

Judge Alvarez disagreed with the city’s contention that Alternative 4 was unfeasible.

To read expanded article, click here.