November 2019

Guest Commentary:

Investor promises speak louder than citizens’ words

By Sharon Mulé

A reccurring theme surrounding the Orange City Council is its deaf ear toward its constituents on issues ranging from Airbnbs to pesticides in our parks, despite a majority outcry of opposition.

Milan's Sully-Miller project was just approved, despite 54 city residents speaking out against it in the public hearing, and only 11 supporting it. 

Even though some council members meet with constituents and respond to emails, residents believe they are being patronized. It is frustrating to think that decisions have been formulated long before a public hearing, as outcomes have been consistently predictable from the onset. 

When one examines the rationale for denial of the 2014 project for the Sully-Miller site, and then the recent approval for another development on the same site, with the same unresolved and disqualifying issues, it raises many unsettling questions.

What made the difference this time? The removal of two planning commissioners, planners by profession, did not go unnoticed. Why did council members completely discount evidence (contrary to developer promises) presented by people most impacted by the project? 

And why would some council members feel empowered to berate the public for opposing their flawed justifications to approve the proposal? Are the well-known, close ties Milan’s lobbyist has with this city council and others connected to the project approval a coincidence? 

Perhaps it is a good thing this city has been forced by the courts to go to district-based elections. The council’s disconnect is apparently costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. This may be the only avenue that creates a new city council with a more divergent point of view -- one that listens to the people it represents. The homogenous outlook of our developer-driven council has been detrimental to the city for far too long. 

Fortunately, discretionary actions taken by the city council can be reversed by the referendum process. The council’s approval of Milan’s project, the Trails at Santiago Creek, is deserving of a referendum for good reasons:

•    It tramples on our property rights and dismantles long-approved and adopted plans that protect neighborhoods.

•    It dishonors the Santiago Creek Greenbelt Plan and reduces designated open space.

•    It increases evacuation risk during fire or flood emergencies, and worsens traffic in an already impacted area.

•    It will place tract housing on a site that is fraught with known, suspected and undetermined dangers -- methane gas, toxins, liquefaction and dam inundation.

•    It “offers” open space with no plans or identified agency to pay for restoration and management.

The city council has granted the applicant a rezone, with feeble assurances and deferred answers to the concerns of Orange citizens. Outsiders are not qualified to promise their project presents no additional traffic impacts or risks during evacuation, or that there is no real threat from dam inundation. History and our personal experiences are a reality, not the myth. 

During the 2017 Canyon 2 Fire, East Orange residents were unable to exit their streets and sat in traffic for two hours trying to escape to the 55 Freeway. 

In 1969, the upstream dams overflowed and inundated the Sully-Miller site. It is likely that flood control would mandate channelizing the natural creek to protect homes on the property. These are scenarios that cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. 

How can we trust the city to properly implement mitigations when it has done nothing to inspect or control what appears to be an unlawful concrete crushing operation at the Sully-Miller site?

When our leaders fail us, we have no choice but to correct the wrong. Orange citizens have stepped up on many occasions. It is time to do it again. Please sign the petition, and do not let the developer’s hired guns stop you from the democratic process, or confuse you with misinformation. They should not be permitted to cash in on a bad investment in exchange for the loss of our safety and property rights.

Sharon Mulé is a concerned City of Orange resident.