Tuesday, September 11, 2007

If you give Cheryl Cox a campaign donation, will she try to get your project built?

Is Riverwalk Chula Vista's Sunroad?

Here is a partial article, found on the San Diego Reader's website, that contains a frank discussion of what is going on in Chula Vista. All over San Diego county, it seems, the same people keep turning up as campaign donors, then as developers asking for permission to build (think McMillan). And another group of people keeps turning up as lobbyists, then as public officials (think Cox).

Published on August 23, 2007
By Susan Luzaro

On any given day, it's difficult to tell who works for the residents of Chula Vista and who works for private industry. A proposed residential development by CV 42 Investments, LLC, represented by Bill Ostrem, who is also the president of EastLake Development Company, lays bare the diseased underbelly of the problem.

The development, approximately 550 homes in the lower Sweetwater Valley, has been christened Riverwalk, but a more appropriate name would be Freewaywalk, because the project's 61 acres of low-lying land are bounded by I-805 and SR54...

Leilani Hines, senior community development specialist, was made the City's project manager. E-mails among City staff are often as revealing in tone as in content. A June 12, 2006 e-mail from advance planning manager Ed Batchelder advises, "Keep watch over how and in what forums to avoid the perception of up-front 'agreements' as to addressing/mitigating issues prior to the process being fully engaged, and analysis being done." And a June 16 e-mail from acting director of community development Ann Hix reads: "After talking to Bill, I got the same impression...he is happy with you and Mary, just unhappy that we don't have the team formed and haven't moved forward with the EIR yet." Is it the City's job to keep Bill happy?

...Hines crosses the line again for Ostrem's project in trying to obtain additional property for the entrance to Riverwalk. On December 22, 2006, she e-mails the Chula Vista police team member and asks, "Is it possible to see about any police activity for a property located at XXX N Second Avenue? We are looking at this property for inclusion in the Riverwalk project. Someone on our field visit made a comment about activity at this house. I know we have code enforcement issues but as to criminal/police???" While the Redevelopment Agency is supposed to provide assistance to developers, should it be on the lookout for properties to seize or condemn?

...Ostrem is no stranger to general plan amendments. As vice president of J.G. Boswell Company and president of Yokohl Ranch Company, Ostrem is also seeking a general plan amendment in Tulare County, California. Yokohl Ranch will be a massive planned community covering 36,000 acres of ranch land in the Sierra Nevada foothills. EastLake, by comparison, is chump change with only 3200 acres. The vice president of the Yokohl Ranch Company is none other than Chula Vista's own Alex Al-Agha. Al-Agha served as a city engineer and deputy director of engineering for the City of Chula Vista from 2003 until August 2006.

According to an article in Big Builder Online, the Yokohl Ranch project will be taking bids from builders. Ostrem says, "...we've talked to a few of them -- Centex, Lennar, and McMillin, to date -- either because we have crossed paths, or because they have made a call.... We've worked with Ken Baumgartner for years [president of Corky McMillin Companies] and last time I saw Ken he told me that he wanted me to meet his people in the region." How will this huge potential contract affect Lisa Johnson of the Redevelopment Advisory Committee and Chris Lewis of the Chula Vista Redevelopment Corporation, both of whom work for Corky McMillin Companies? Yet another conflict of interest appears possible.

The last stop for the Riverwalk project is the Chula Vista City Council and Mayor Cheryl Cox. Mayor Cox is familiar with this contested piece of land. In 1994, her husband, county supervisor Greg Cox, who was a lobbyist at the time, brought to the City and northwest Chula Vista a proposal to build the Family Fun Center project on the land. Later, residents recall Cheryl Cox, as lobbyist, touting the virtues of the Family Fun Center, replete with water bumper boats, go-karts, miniature golf courses, and a lighted parking lot for 280 vehicles.

Ostrem donated the maximum allowable amount to Cheryl Cox's 2006 mayoral campaign, and the Reader reported that right before the election, on October 13, 2006, Yokohl Ranch gave $4000 to the GOP's Lincoln Club. Four days later, the club paid $7245 for a poll in support of Cheryl Cox for mayor. Perhaps coincidence, perhaps a show of confidence, Ostrem e-mailed community development specialist Hines on November 8, 2006, the day after the election, to advise her that he was applying for the general plan amendment. "Subject: Deposits on the way." In the e-mail he stated: "I meant to tell you that the application with check should be to you today."

Prior to Mayor Cox's election, a U-T editorial posed a question that time will answer: "Certainly, former council members have left office and become paid lobbyists, or 'governmental relations representatives.' But, to go from lobbyist to mayor?"

But there are bigger questions. Can Chula Vista wean itself from its unhealthy dependence on developer dollars? Can projects be made with residents rather than developers in mind? And on any given day, who is working for the citizens of Chula Vista?


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