Commentary

Residents of Orange were treated to an unexpected four-page broadsheet of “community news” delivered June 20 and sponsored by The Trails at Santiago Creek developers. This type of “public relations” is typical just before controversial public hearings. 

The reporting is not so much “news” as the sales pitch Milan Capital and consultant Frank Elfend have been peddling around town for the last year. The front page touts a list of benefits the community will be privy to, if, and only if, the builder gets city approvals to rezone the property for housing.

What the developer is saying might sound good, but the devil is in the details.  It’s what’s not being said that tells the story.

The developer promises: “120 acres of greenway, open space and parks, including the 50-acre Ridgeline property for recreational purposes.”  

But doesn’t say:  Much of that 120 acres can’t be built on anyway, and is already designated open space. The “greenway” is protected by the Santiago Creek Greenbelt Plan, adopted by the city 30 years ago. The “open space” and “parks” are land that no county, city or private agency has agreed to take on. Someone has to manage it, and the developer has yet to identify who that will be.

The developer promises:  “$4.1 million for funding of Santiago Creek greenway.”

But doesn‘t say:  Whether or not that includes restoration of the creek. Santiago Creek has been neglected and misused for decades, much of the abuse at the hands of Milan Capital. No one knows how much it will cost to restore it and clean up the mess to the satisfaction of the Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife and county flood control. 

The developer promises: “$1 million for local trail improvements.”

But doesn’t say:  Housing tract development agreements with the City of Orange always include set-asides for parks or, failing that, in-lieu park fees. Milan will have to spend that much on “recreational opportunities” regardless. 

The developer promises:  “$1 million for funding of traffic flow improvements.”

But doesn’t say: Developers are always expected to fund traffic improvements when their projects present a major impact (as this one does) on the capacity and congestion of existing roadways.

The developer promises: To “permanently eliminate the sand and gravel operation.”

But doesn’t say: That activity is currently taking place without permits and may well be illegal. The community is demanding that the city do its job and provide legally required oversight. State law says that “conditional use” (what’s there now) cannot be permanent.  

The developer promises: “maximum cap of 128 new homes with no development north of Santiago Creek.”

But doesn’t say:  The r-1-8 zoning Milan is seeking will allow for 240 homes. Milan may claim that 128 is the maximum, but if it fails to develop the property for any reason, the next developer that comes along will have a 240-home twinkle in its eye.  

Note: The property north of the creek is already zoned for houses. Milan can build there now, and the community supports that.

The developer promises:  “$2 million for offsite equestrian and recreational uses.”

But doesn’t say:  Not until after the development is built; it’s a carrot on a very long stick.  

The developer promises: “Ridgeline may reopen for public use.”

But doesn’t say:  The key word is “may.”  Since Milan lost its battle to build on that property and the Supreme Court ruled it was zoned for recreation, it’s an albatross around the developer’s neck.  Milan will not likely see a return on that investment, so it plans to “dedicate” it to the city. No matter who ends up owning it – the city, another agency, a business entity, a concessionaire -- chances are, it will eventually reopen anyway.

July 2019