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Calexico council OKs plans, overturns EIR ruling

September 05, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — In a unanimous decision, the City Council here overturned a ruling by the city Planning Commission and approved the plans of landowners looking to build homes, an industrial park and an RV park on farmland near Cole and Bowker roads.

The landowners will be allowed to proceed with their project without having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for an environmental review and delaying construction of the project for the 14 months such a review would take.

In a ripple effect of the council's decision, the landowners should be able to sell 60 acres of their more than 300 acres to a San Diego and Tijuana-based electronics company for millions of dollars.

The sale of the triangle-shaped wedge of land north of Cole Road had been held up in escrow during the months after the Planning Commission's decision.

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Earlier in the year, the Planning Commission ruled the project — called the Bravo/Rodiles development project — needed an environmental review to determine if it would cause any negative impacts to the city.

The landowners appealed that decision. Their representatives told the council if the city didn't act quickly to approve the project the electronics company, Steren Electronics, would walk away from the project.

The representatives also told the council the project wouldn't cause any negative impacts because there were plans in place to deal with any issues that might come up.

In a unanimous decision, the council initially backed the Planning Commission's decision requiring the review.

The landowners then sued the city and the councilmen themselves.

The agenda for Tuesday's City Council meeting had a closed-session item regarding that lawsuit but the council did not address the lawsuit after its vote in favor of the landowners.

In the more than two hours of debate that led up to that vote, the background of the case was restated and the timeline of events re-established.

San Diego attorney Jerry Suppa argued for the landowners that the city had an obligation to approve the project, "for fairness, for fair play and for the good of the community."

"Vote so that our document can be submitted for public review; so that (the California Department of Transportation) can give this document their consideration," Suppa said.

The idea of "public review" for the project was mentioned by both Suppa and earlier in the hearing by city staffers who argued the project needed an environmental review.

The crux of the evening's debate centered on just how long the project should be up for public review.

City staffers argued a 14-month environmental review would allow for more public participation.

Representatives of the landowners advocated a 20-day public review period.

San Diego-based development consultant Brian Mooney was contracted by the city shortly after the Bravo/Rodiles project went before the Planning Commission.

He told the council after looking over the documents submitted by the landowners' development consultant, El Centro's Tom DuBose, there were more reasons to require an environmental review than mentioned by the Planning Commission.

Mooney told the council the project needed a review because of fiscal concerns, such as how the city would pay for essential services such as fire and police protection.

Mooney said that state officials would require an environmental review because of the possible presence of burrowing owls on the farmland.

DuBose told the council that the basis of Mooney's argument was flawed.

DuBose said an environmental review wouldn't touch on fiscal issues — a point Mooney conceded — and said burrowing owls had never been brought up in previous discussions.

DuBose told the council if it approved the project the property taxes collected from the new homes and industrial park would be funneled into the city's general fund and not the city Redevelopment Agency.

Following the testimony of DuBose, Suppa and Mooney, landowners near the proposed site of the Bravo/Rodiles project and a representative for Steren Electronics asked the council to allow the landowners to develop the land without an environmental review.

No member of the public addressed the council recommending an environmental review.

City Councilman Javier Alatorre said he wanted to be fair to everyone before he voted.

He asked city staffers if any other projects were allowed to proceed through channels without an environmental review.

City Planning Director Ricardo Hinojosa told Alatorre that projects of this size have all been required to complete environmental reviews. He said there were some landowners in the audience who were interested in the council's decision.

Following Alatorre, Councilman Gilbert Grijalva said he was concerned about Cole Road.

He wanted assurances from city staff and the landowners that improvements to the road would be paid for by the landowners as a condition of approval.

City Public Works Director Mariano Martinez and representatives of the landowners assured the council they would pay for the improvements.

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