Blog Notes: Party Favors in the Tejon Mountain Village Development Agreement

 Party Favors in the Tejon Mountain Village Development Agreement

Blog notes by Patric Hedlund [1:15 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009]

There are a few big party favors hidden among the 30,000 or so pages of data whisked through the Tejon Mountain Village pipeline. I wasn’t able to analyze and report about countless issues of interest in advance of the vote.

The spirit of the California Environmental Quality Act honors public review as a critical part of good public planning. The Kern County Planning Department has repeatedly swept three-inch high stacks of addenda pages under the noses of the public and the press just before a hearing, serving to reinforce the sense of futility some feel in trying to read the data, much less analyze and report it carefully.

The forces propelling Tejon Mountain Village to its predetermined unanimous "aye" vote delivered it to that destination Monday, Oct. 5. It may be the best project—or the best orchestrated project—ever brought before Kern County’s Board, as the supervisors said.

The discomfort that lingers around this unanimous vote is the result of the hasty and inadequate public review process. Anyone who complains about the Washington, D.C. practice of slamming legislation through to a vote without the legislators or the public having a chance to read the bill, knows that discomfort. That is what happened here. Staff said, "trust me." The supes did. The public still has questions.

But I digress.

The 30-Year Development Agreement
"The applicant has requested to enter into a Development Agreement…."  We found this in one of several seven-pound stacks of two-sided pages and charts in 5-point type. This one was named "Addendum to the Staff Report" like many others. The Mountain Enterprise received this package late Friday, Oct. 2, the last working day before the 9 a.m. Monday, Oct. 5 hearing with the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

It appears that the applicant, Tejon Mountain Village, LLC, wanted to morph Kern County’s standard 10-year development agreement into a 30-year term. What could this mean? Would this freeze time and science in 2009? Is it a guarantee to investors that buildings or systems constructed in 2038 need not incorporate safety advances of the preceding 29 years? Does it mean that TMV will not be required to adhere to advanced energy-efficiency standards or the regulatory framework deemed necessary for public safety in 2038?

The 30-year development window also means that the threat of litigation against the developers has less clout. With only 10 years to secure permits, the developer would be straining at the bit to put together financing and permits. In that situation, the ticking clock can make litigation too costly to fight. Tejon Ranchcorp has strung out their own litigation to try to keep the California condor from its historic habitat for twelve years now. Time flies in legal limbos. Did the developer ask the county for a bulletproof vest against the public’s legal challenges, enhancing their bargaining position in the settlement room ?

The staff’s addenda speak of a desire to secure long-term financing and to decrease the risk to bond holders. "Decreasing the risk to bond holders" might easily be a definition of "all of the above."

It appears Tejon secured its 20-year extension with little to no opportunity for public review of the consequences. Here are the glass beads bartered for that extension. Is this a great opportunity? Or is it smoke and mirrors? Your comments are invited (use the ‘Tell Us’ tab above)

Party Favors

$500,000 for an expanded Frazier Mountain Park Community Center

1) TMV will provide $500,000 to partially fund the county’s construction costs for a new Frazier Park Community Center or to expand the existing community center to accommodate indoor recreation, preforming arts, senior citizen classes, community meetings, after-school and summer youth programs. The funding shall be provided by a fee of $1,000 that TMV will require of each of the first 500 residential units sold by the project. All funds will be held in a dedicated, interest-bearing account managed by the Tejon Mountain Village Homeowners Association (HOA) or other entity, as designated by TMV, until such time as the County fully funds and initiates the construction of the new community center or the expansion of the existing community center.

In the event that during the term of this agreement a new Frazier Park Community Center is not constructed, or the existing community center is not expanded, the parties may mutually agree to reallocate the funds toward the construction of other community center, park or recreational facilities located within the Mountain Communities.

An interesting notion. And a political minefield ahead for the supervisor who chooses to try to initiate upgrades to the community building at this time. No mention is made of the first TMV commercial projects paying into the kitty. Most believe there will be a rush to build some commercial facilities long, long before 500, or even 50, residential units are sold. It would be good to be proved wrong. I welcome it. Will Supervisor Watson take this on as the project to serve as hi

$25,000 to Fire Safe Council
2) Mount Pinos Communities Fire Safe Council: On or before the issuance of the first building permit by the county, TMV shall pay $25,000 to the Mount Pinos Communities Fire Safe Council to assist property owners in the Mountain Communities with wildfire plan preparation and community education.

This is far more realistic, in that it comes to the organization "on or before the first building permit." That would apply to both commercial and residential. But the amount for public education is pretty small if you think of the gigantic increase in fire risk represented by the development of this area. Already, this year, public money has been spent in the millions to fight fires on Tejon lands, including several grass fires requiring intense air support near Tejon Industrial Complex, a fire inside the ranch, another caused by high tension electrical lines.

More people + more traffic = more fire risk=more tax money spent on subsidizing fire fighting efforts. Tejon has helped to upgrade the Lebec Station #56 and has built and equipped the Mettler Station #55, which is a substantial investment, but given the above, a modest and appropriate one. It is likely that the increased traffic due to Tejon developments will be related of many more traffic accidents on the Grapevine and fires that will threaten homes throughout the Mountain Communiites, including TMV.

Community Fund
3) Each residential parcel shall be required by TMV to pay $7 per year for a community fund that will support tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations serving children, seniors and low-income residents and implementing energy efficiency programs within the Mountain Communities. The annual payment will commence at the time that the first residential building permit is issued for each parcel. These payments will be held in a dedicated, interest-bearing account for disbursement by the HOA or other entity, as designated by TMV, to qualified recipients.

Again, very interesting. But this is the developer spending "Other People’s Money (OPM)" that is lumped into residential fees, not linked in any way to commercial  facilties / the hotel / resort / spa businesses income. Therefore it is a token that will not amount to more than $1,400 a year for quite a few years (200 homes; I may be terribly wrong, but I doubt TMV will be flooded with applicants to purchase land and build homes here for quite awhile)

Firefighting Paramedic Services
4) To summarize, TMV wants to hook a sidecar to Pine Mountain Club’s Harley. They, too, will assess each residential owner $70 a year, with money collected going directly to the county. Payment amount will be adjusted annually and any increases to Pine Mountain residents will also adjust the rate collected in Tejon Mountain Village.

Community Lake Trail
5) On or before the completion of the Village Commercial Center…the project shall construct and dedicate a multi-use trail available to the public along the western boundary of Castac Lake.

Sheriff Employee
6) Six months after the first building permit is issued by the county, the project shall pay an amount determined by the County Administrative Office that is sufficient to fund a Kern County Sheriff’s Department deputy positon for a period of 1.5 years. [This is in addition to the funding of a sheriff’s deputy noted in the EIR.] If property tax revenues from the project fully compensate for the cost of the sheriff’s deputy position within the 1.5 year period, the amount of any unused payments made…shall be refunded to TMV.

Good move. Already, fairly bizarre Tejon Industrial Complex and Travel Plaza-related sheriff”s calls are more frequently appearing as blips on the law enforcement radar screen. Increasing the density of population and traffic in this region increases the  it-washed-in-from-the- Grapevine"" crime coupled with the challenges the Grapevine normally presents with prolonged traffic backups in all kinds of weather, accidents, hazmat spills associated with development.

This is part of the October 09, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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