From the Redlands Daily Facts:

A ballot initiative that would limit heights of buildings in the area around the upcoming rail line could be before Redlands voters this year after supporters wheeled thousands of signed petitions into the City Clerk’s Office on Monday, June 7.

About two dozen supporters, most wearing yellow “no high rises” T-shirts, gathered in front of City Hall as the four boxes of signatures, representing 10 months of effort, rolled in on a dolly.

While there are no current plans for high rises in Redlands, which the National Fire Protection Association says are more than 75 feet in height — or about seven stories tall — the sentiment among initiative supporters was clear.

“If it weren’t for (city officials’) hubris and their callousness we wouldn’t be here,” John Berry, one of the lead organizers of the petition gathering, told supporters gathered at City Hall. “To them, we would just be another Orange County condo canyon city.”

Those gathered expressed frustration the city is moving forward with a plan for development along the train tracks, despite voters last year rejecting Measure G, which was a proposed rollback of restrictions in those areas.

Since then, an April 2020 draft of the Transit Villages Specific Plan calls for allowing buildings an average of four stories and 65 feet tall nearest the newly completed train stations. Public hearings on that draft plan are tentatively set for spring 2022.

Despite Measure G’s failure, city officials have said, developers proposing projects can still utilize the exemptions that are in 1997’s voter-approved Measure U, which imposed several restrictions on development.

On May 18, four-fifths of the City Council voted that a project with an average height of four stories planned for the Redlands Mall site qualified for one of those exemptions.

While waiting outside the City Clerk’s Office, Bill Cunningham, former mayor and the man behind both Measure U and the new initiative, said the new proposal would close a loophole in Measure U.

The loophole “really eviscerates the general plan, and development standards of the city,” Cunningham said. “It gives a willing council (license) to make all kinds of concessions, as many city councils do, and we just can’t have that, at least I don’t think the people of Redlands are willing to have that.”

Cunningham provided the honorary final petition signature for the new campaign on Monday morning.

A summary prepared by the Redlands city attorney noted the proposed measure would change several sections of the general plan, including:

  • Limiting building heights near downtown and university rail stations to three stories.
  • Limiting building heights near possible future Alabama and California street rail stations, and near the New York Street station, to four stories.
  • Requiring one parking space for every bedroom in proposed residential developments

Hotels, however, would be allowed at any height the City Council chooses, under the proposed measure.

Three weeks ago, Berry said, he didn’t think volunteers could gather more than 7,000 signatures, but by June 1 they had, and they “surged” across the finish line. Supporters say they have 7,715 signatures. City Clerk Jeanne Donaldson will likely verify that number on Tuesday, Berry said.

With signatures of 10% of registered voters, the measure could be before voters in the city’s next general election, set for November 2022. With 15%, or 6,407 signatures, the measure could go before voters in a special election. Supporters had until Feb. 8 to gather signatures but won a lawsuit to get an extension to June 8 due to the pandemic.

If all the signatures are valid, they would represent 18% of registered voters in Redlands.

The San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters has 30 days to verify signatures, then the city clerk will report to the City Council.

Officials could accept the petition in lieu of an election, Berry said.

A special election could cost about $500,000.

If the council decides to have a special election, it could be as early as mid-November or early December.

“The battle is not over,” Berry said. “It’s just moving to a new phase.”