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Chula Vista Project Raises Ethics Questions for Council Members

Chula Vista City Council members Pamela Bensoussan and Rudy Ramirez accepted campaign donations from developer Integral Communities. Last week they voted for a zoning change that favors the company's proposed project.
Chula Vista City Council members Pamela Bensoussan and Rudy Ramirez accepted campaign donations from developer Integral Communities. Last week they voted for a zoning change that favors the company's proposed project.

Residents who live near a proposed development called Lake Pointe in the eastern part of Chula Vista were stunned that the city council voted last week to change the general plan to accommodate a 284 condo/apartment development on a scenic highway close to Otay Lakes. Angered by the decision, many east-side residents are regrouping for more opposition.

On September 25, the council voted 4-1 to change the city’s general plan; council member Patricia Aguilar cast the dissenting vote. Because of significant community opposition, council members asked the developer, Integral Communities, to bring the project back in a few weeks.

The 12.2 acres formerly zoned commercial are now zoned for mixed use; the plan Integral brought to the council in September contained 11.6 acres residential and .6 commercial.

People who live in the lake area oppose the project for a number of reasons: residential parking in the area already overflows onto the streets, schools are overenrolled, and they say the project is too high-density.

Some of the residents who are battling the development — or at least seeking modifications — met on October 1 to strategize. Their first commitment was to double their numbers. They also planned to meet with the city attorney and the developer.

Jason Rissman holds a plan of the proposed development at the October 1 meeting of residents.

Jason Rissman, who is president of the Sonora Ridge Homeowners’ Association, has been battling the plan since last year. His association, which represents 174 homes, voted to oppose the project, and he and his group collected over 100 signatures from surrounding developments.

Rissman says the area affords a beautiful view of the lake and mountains. “Why does there have to be so much density? Why does the project have to have three stories?”

During an October 2 interview, Rissman echoed a dominant theme from the meeting the night before. “The mayor addressed people inappropriately and unprofessionally. She used to be a school teacher, and she spoke to project opponents as if they were children.”

Cox said to the 50-plus residents at the September meeting, “Would you rather we’d have suggested a mobile-home park or a big-box store? A Walmart or a Costco?”

Opponents were also shocked to learn that the developers, Integral Communities, gave campaign contributions to council members Rudy Ramirez and Pamela Bensoussan. Incumbent Bensoussan is in a November runoff against Larry Breitfelder.

Campaign donation records show Integral Communities’ principals and their wives gave Bensoussan $1900 during the primary election. (Contribution filings for the general election will be available today. Any pertinent contributions will be added to the story.)

City attorney Glen Googins said in an October 2 interview that council members can recuse themselves whenever there is a potential conflict. The most common reason for recusal is when a council member lives close to a project. In regard to the Lake Pointe project, Googins said, “There have been allegations, and I am looking into them.”


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Chula Vista City Council members Pamela Bensoussan and Rudy Ramirez accepted campaign donations from developer Integral Communities. Last week they voted for a zoning change that favors the company's proposed project.
Chula Vista City Council members Pamela Bensoussan and Rudy Ramirez accepted campaign donations from developer Integral Communities. Last week they voted for a zoning change that favors the company's proposed project.

Residents who live near a proposed development called Lake Pointe in the eastern part of Chula Vista were stunned that the city council voted last week to change the general plan to accommodate a 284 condo/apartment development on a scenic highway close to Otay Lakes. Angered by the decision, many east-side residents are regrouping for more opposition.

On September 25, the council voted 4-1 to change the city’s general plan; council member Patricia Aguilar cast the dissenting vote. Because of significant community opposition, council members asked the developer, Integral Communities, to bring the project back in a few weeks.

The 12.2 acres formerly zoned commercial are now zoned for mixed use; the plan Integral brought to the council in September contained 11.6 acres residential and .6 commercial.

People who live in the lake area oppose the project for a number of reasons: residential parking in the area already overflows onto the streets, schools are overenrolled, and they say the project is too high-density.

Some of the residents who are battling the development — or at least seeking modifications — met on October 1 to strategize. Their first commitment was to double their numbers. They also planned to meet with the city attorney and the developer.

Jason Rissman holds a plan of the proposed development at the October 1 meeting of residents.

Jason Rissman, who is president of the Sonora Ridge Homeowners’ Association, has been battling the plan since last year. His association, which represents 174 homes, voted to oppose the project, and he and his group collected over 100 signatures from surrounding developments.

Rissman says the area affords a beautiful view of the lake and mountains. “Why does there have to be so much density? Why does the project have to have three stories?”

During an October 2 interview, Rissman echoed a dominant theme from the meeting the night before. “The mayor addressed people inappropriately and unprofessionally. She used to be a school teacher, and she spoke to project opponents as if they were children.”

Cox said to the 50-plus residents at the September meeting, “Would you rather we’d have suggested a mobile-home park or a big-box store? A Walmart or a Costco?”

Opponents were also shocked to learn that the developers, Integral Communities, gave campaign contributions to council members Rudy Ramirez and Pamela Bensoussan. Incumbent Bensoussan is in a November runoff against Larry Breitfelder.

Campaign donation records show Integral Communities’ principals and their wives gave Bensoussan $1900 during the primary election. (Contribution filings for the general election will be available today. Any pertinent contributions will be added to the story.)

City attorney Glen Googins said in an October 2 interview that council members can recuse themselves whenever there is a potential conflict. The most common reason for recusal is when a council member lives close to a project. In regard to the Lake Pointe project, Googins said, “There have been allegations, and I am looking into them.”


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Comments
15

I am in total agreement with Susan Luzzaro's assessment that Mayor Cox treats public speakers like children. She even has two designated chairs in the front row and directs people to that spot so the community comments will be completed as quickly as possible. As far as accepting campaign contributions followed by a vote on a project before the council, whether legal or not it is certainly unethical. It is OK to accept money but not to live or own property near the project? How much money must be involved before a recusal from voting is proper? At the very least the citizens have a right to know in a public statement read from the dais. Many other decision making bodies have an ex parte communication requirement and I feel it is time for Chula Vista to draft one also.

Oct. 3, 2012

I would like to know how the city's planning commissioners voted on this?

Oct. 3, 2012

In 1988, 78% of the acreage in Chula Vista developable land was "Residential" (as opposed to "commercial" or "industrial"). By 2004, 82% of the land was devoted to "Residentail." Today, 2012, 84% is devoted to "Residential." By contrast, 76% of the acreage in San Diego is devoted to "Residential." What that means is, we have far too much Residential, and not enough Commercial or Industrial. That shows up in our low tax base. Chula Vista is third from the bottom in San Diego County in sales tax received per person. The Council's decision just puts us deeper in a hole. The next time Mayor Cox asks residents to shop in Chula Vista, tell her to quit making dumb decisions like Lake Pointe.

As Forrest Gump wisely said, "stupid is as stupid does."

Oct. 3, 2012

Dealing with Chula Vista on this proyect has been a political eye-opener for many of us. A lot of good questions have been raised about connections. Personally, I plan on keeping my eye on the city from now on.

Oct. 4, 2012

Is this really what city leaders want by re-zoning Eastlake’s final parcel of land? Our City leaders appear to have a blind eye on the Eastlake master community with over three thousand residents directly affected in this local area.

Not just one, but all Eastlake residents are the stakeholders - stakeholders who have supported this community through difficult times and have a collective average investment of over $1.5 billion. It seems that this zoning change put $80 million into the hands of the non-resident property owner/developer who has helped fund council member’s elections. It raises concerns of a possible conflict of interest within city leaders.

Really? … Just to support and increase ONE NON-RESIDENT PROPERTY OWNER/DEVELOPER? If this owner gave monies to elected officials, why were the officials still able to discuss and vote for this zoning change? Shouldn’t elected officials avoid any potential unethical behavior?

Really? … One property owner has this much influence on our elected officials? Come on city leaders. It ain’t right!

Overcrowded schools and streets are already big problems in our beautiful community. How can city leaders ignore all of the residents who have children in over-packed schools? Apparently city council members have easily decided to make our schools even more over-crowded and dilute our children’s education.

City Leaders… What is really happening here?

Oct. 4, 2012

concerned eastlake residents: Well said! I am so sorry that our local decision makers have thrown you under the bus. I see no justification for this project other than keeping Chula Vista a great place for developers, not residents. Don't give up just yet, however, the election is right around the corner and it should be clear who deserves your vote!

Oct. 4, 2012

All good points. Also, aren't we supposed to be short on water? Doesn't sound like very good planning. "Stupid is as stupid does."

Oct. 4, 2012

All the more reason to be very concerned as it seems "city leaders" travel from city council to school board positions to ?...and it doesn't seem like anyone ever listens to the public.

Oct. 4, 2012

As a resident of Lost Creek, one of the adjacent subdivisions to this project, this project concerns me greatly. In our community, many of us already have to deal with a similar condo complex that was constructed with a severe lack of parking, just as this new one is proposed to allow parking for 1.2 cars per unit. All the overflow parking from this existing complex has spilled out into the surrounding streets, clogging them and making exiting our driveways difficult. To exasperate this situation, most of the traffic from Otay Lakes Road cuts through our neighborhood as a short cut and the non-residents have no regard for residential speed limits. With the streets lined with cars, this poses a safety risk for our children. Another concern I have is Mello-Roos. All the homes in the Eastlake area pay varying amounts for the extra fire, police and other community services required for our area. Mello-Roos pay for street maintenance, lighting, parks and all other such services. With a rental complex, who ends up paying for these services? Will it be passed on to the current residents? I believe if the developer had to pay $400 a month per unit in Mello-Roos as I do, this would not be an issue. They would look for another location to build. Heads up Chula Vista, I'm going to bat on this one and I'm bringing backup.

Oct. 4, 2012

It is widely believed that Mayor Cheryl Cox has her sights on becoming the next Superintendent of Sweetwater Union High School District, when she terms out in 2 years. It will be the best paying job she ever had.

Cheryl's main concern is Cheryl, not the community.

Oct. 4, 2012

Many Chula Vista residents got involved, attended meetings and spent a lot of time and energy giving their input on the city's General Plan. Finally, after much discussion, debate, and compromise, Chula Vista had an idea of where they were going regarding future development. Then a developer comes along, wins over some council members, and PRESTO, the General Plan changes. So much for taxpayer input. To add salt to the wound, the mayor insults the same public that was solicited to get involved, and treats them like misdirected children. Is there any way this can be stopped? By the way mayor Cox treats the public, she'd fit right in with the Sweetwater School Board.

Oct. 5, 2012

Woodchuck,

Thank you for your comments. I'm curious what you mean by ex-parte communication, what other decision-making bodies have this requirement?

I do want to clarify that the article does not contain my assessment of Mayor Cox, rather a quotation from Mr. Rissman.

Susan

Oct. 5, 2012

The only decent politician in CV is Mayor Cox. All the others have records of ethically questionable behavior either concerning taking money or playing party politics to the detriment of the residents.

Oct. 5, 2012

We have yet to hear what Cheryl Cox thinks about the antics of the Sweetwater UHSD board of trustees. If she goes along with that bunch, she would indeed be a politician, but "good"? That would depend upon your definition. Good, as in responds to public input, insight and concerns, or good, as in slippery enough to do what she wants and let the public go hang.

Oct. 5, 2012

What really gets me is that two Sundays ago there was an article in the U-T regarding plans for an extensive rehab "campus" for all the returning vets with injuries of all types who would benefit from having all of their medical and rehab needs in one location.

That would have been a perfect fit for this area. I hope it is not too late--why Chula Vista can't get involved early on with some of these really good ideas is beyond me.

And now there is the "nudie bar" mess that needs attending to.

Honestly, is it possible to get some people who are capable of thinking something through to completion--i.e. good ideas, practical implementation, sensible, reasonable conclusions and outcomes?

Oct. 9, 2012

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