Traffic is another concern for residents who live in the area of the proposed development. The surface streets in Chula Vista west of 805 are already overwhelmed. In trying to assess the possible problem, apparently city staff stepped out of line early this year and got rebuked by Ostrem: "...the traffic study is our contract and staff should not be contacting the consultant without talking to us first."
Meanwhile, Dan Hom was out spinning the Riverwalk project to businesses and residents, but what Riverwalk really needed was an infomercial. Joe Little was a member of the Chula Vista Growth Management Oversight Commission until April 5, 2007, when he went to work for Channel 10. Only five days later, Little produced a story on Riverwalk. The star of the piece was Chula Vista's acting director of community development, Ann Hix. Anyone watching this news story would have thought that the project was a done deal and a great boon to the city of Chula Vista. Hix waxed eloquent about the park and the revenues Riverwalk would bring to the city. This was perfect for Dan Hom, because in less than a month he would be able to quote the TV show in a set of talking points he would use to chum the waters.
The first official stop for Ostrem's project is Chula Vista's Redevelopment Advisory Committee (RAC), where projects are reviewed twice. The first review was May 3, 2007. According to the Chula Vista Redevelopment website, the main purpose of the advisory committee is to be "the primary vehicle for public participation in the redevelopment process." Three of the committee members are also on the Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce board of directors: Richard D'Ascoli, Lisa Johnson, and Lisa Cohen. On May 2, 2007, the day before the advisory committee's meeting, Lisa Cohen e-mailed D'Ascoli and Johnson this message: "Please find the attached talking points for tomorrow's RAC meeting. Our Board of Directors supported this wonderful project at our April 27 meeting.... Warm regards, Lisa Cohen." D'Ascoli and Johnson had already taken a position on Ostrem's project. The talking points were prepared by Focuscom. Designed to quell community concern, the talking points read like 101 for developer dummies: "Q: What will be the average cost of a home in this neighborhood, I have heard that this is an affordable 'low income' project?" and "Q: Where will access for the project be, we are concerned with traffic impacts?" And from Joe Little's Channel 10 story: "As quoted by a recent news report, the redevelopment area of the project will generate approximately 60 million dollars in tax increment to the city."
Cohen's e-mail was also sent to other people who will be in a position to vote on the project down the line: Chula Vista Redevelopment Corporation member Chris Lewis, Planning Commissioner Scott Vinson, and councilmembers John McCann and Jerry Rindone. Councilmember Rindone also sits on the chamber of commerce board of directors.
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?