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Developers battle for prime land in Calexico

May 11, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — While he is not under contract yet with Calexico, Brian Mooney has found himself in the middle of a controversy between some Calexico landowners and the city.

Mooney, of San Diego-based Mooney and Associates, is proposing to establish a master plan for all proposed projects in and around the city.

Those projects include the Bravo Partners/Rodiles development project in the northwest area of town, the proposed Calexico International Center planned for south of Heber and housing developments north of the Rancho Frontera subdivision.

The plan will include a comprehensive environmental impact review that will be subject to public comment.

Enter Tom DuBose.

The Bravo Partners/Rodiles development is for an RV park, industrial park and housing.

The partners hired an El Centro-based development consultant, DuBose, to plan the project three years ago.

The partners lined up a buyer for a portion of the land, who was planning an industrial park, and paid DuBose to plan the development.

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The plan he used to guide his work is called the service area plan.

The plan was adopted by the City Council on May 18, 1999, and signed by then-Mayor Gilbert Grijalva.

The resolution stated: "The Calexico City Council hereby accepts the updated service area plan as the guiding study and report for provision of public utilities and services to development projects within the Calexico sphere of influence."

Using that plan, DuBose commissioned traffic studies and planned for sewer, water and other essential services.

The city Planning Commission on April 9 told DuBose, the partners and their lawyer the project needs an environmental impact review before construction can begin.

Mooney and the Planning Commission said the development would be included in the planned comprehensive EIR Mooney would develop that could be started as early as next year.

Just one problem.

The proposed developer of the industrial park with whom DuBose is working said he would pull out of the development if the project wasn't started by July 2.

DuBose and the partners appealed the commission's ruling to the City Council.

Last week the City Council, in a show of support for the Planning Commission, according to councilmen, voted 4-0 to reject that appeal.

The EIR will cost DuBose's employers nearly $100,000 and take almost a year.

Because of the city's action, DuBose said Thursday, "My hunch is (the developer) is gone."

This puts the entire project, including the housing, in jeopardy, he said.

According to the partners' attorney, Jerry Michael Suppa of San Diego: "This is the equivalent of the City Council kicking (the partners) while they are down."

Mooney said Wednesday he hears "this sort of thing" all the time.

He said the city cannot work on a developer's timeline. It has to make sure any project, not just DuBose's, is environmentally sound before development begins.

Mooney, a Cape Cod native who finished college at San Diego State University, said the service plan DuBose used to lay out the development wasn't reviewed by the public.

"My approach is to invite citizens to come to a local facility and hear what the city has historically planned and what developers have planned for the areas," Mooney said.

He said the forums will be conducted in English and Spanish.

DuBose said that is exactly what he wanted to do.

He said Thursday he is confident the project would have been approved by the public, meet all environmental concerns and be approved by annexation into Calexico by the county's Local Agency Formation Commission.

If the city had allowed the development plan to be publicly reviewed, which it didn't, DuBose's employers would not have had to pay for the EIR and would be able to meet the electronic firm's deadline.

Mooney specifically mentioned the service area plan that DuBose used to plan the development.

"That's an engineers' plan. The citizens of Calexico need to be sure the plan for the city serves their interest."

DuBose, with papers, folders and thick documents strewn all over his conference table, spoke slowly.

"It's not my fault the plan is an ‘engineers' plan.'"

He said he just worked with what the city provided and now the city is changing the rules.

Ricardo Hinojosa disagrees.

Hinojosa, the city's planning director, said an EIR is not some special restriction being put on DuBose and his employees. He said the project needs a review because of the impact it will have on the area.

The Planning Commission and the City Council agree.

"Basically, the service area plan was just for us to have a guide. It wasn't anything to guarantee anything for anyone," Grijalva said this morning.

The council voted to hire Mooney for $200,000 to make sure the city is planned, with input from the citizens of Calexico, for years to come. That contract has not been drawn up yet because there are concerns the city has not looked at enough options, according to a city source.

Mooney said more than 8,000 residential units are planned for the area surrounding Calexico, according to preliminary estimates.

The way Mooney said he would compensate for the boom is two-tiered.

1. His firm would look at how the city is paying for essential services and make sure the developers and future home-buyers pay for them. Those services include sewer, water, police, fire and parks.

2. His firm will look at creating quality-of-life standards for the city. "This is a chance for the public to influence the level of traffic on their roads or the number of schools and parks they want."

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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