And They Say Money Doesn't Influence Decisions; Time to Acknowledge Gorilla in The Room

January 10, 2014 | During last night's special meeting of the Elk Grove Planning Commission, the proceedings, in a subtle way, ...

January 10, 2014 |

During last night's special meeting of the Elk Grove Planning Commission, the proceedings, in a subtle way, demonstrated how money influences, some might say buy, the votes of our elected officials.

While tonight's meeting was held to discuss the city's housing element, the subject of Gil Moore's proposed gas station and fast food development worked its way into the conversation, thanks to Elk Grove citizen and city council/planning commission regular Lynn Wheat. Although Moore's project originally soured many Elk Grove residents because of the highway sign ordinance change he sought and got, the project is also requiring a rezone from high density housing to commercial.

The five-acre parcel is currently zoned for high-density residential but will almost certainly be rezoned to commercial when the request is heard by the Elk Grove City Council on January 22. All during the sign ordinance proceedings, council members all gushed how they loved the project, which includes a McDonald's, AM/PM gas station and the sale of hard liquor, even though the rezone, much less the design elements of the project, had been heard or approved. 

So it was somewhat ironic that as part of the housing element report, the city is seeking to rezone several parcels, some of which are now zoned commercial, to high-density residential. Yet Moore's parcel has been zoned for high-density residential for several years and is going against the tide.

That irony was not lost on Winn Communities that has a parcel on East Stockton Blvd. that is currently zoned for shopping center commercial. The city wants to rezone that parcel to high-density housing saying that location is better suited for housing citing flooding issues.

Not surprisingly, Winn opposes the rezone saying with the improving economy, the parcel will be a viable highway-fronted commercial development. In a letter to the city, Winn representative George Carpenter also notes the city has not completed drainage improvements for Lower Laguna Creek despite having all the environmental permits to do so.

So why is it that the city has bent over backwards not for only Moore's highway sign ordinance change, but for its upcoming rezone request? Why is it taking a non-controversial parcel that was designated for an often controversial zoning, and change it to commercial?

Furthermore, why is it changing the Winn parcel, that has been zoned for commercial for sometime, to high-density housing? 

As for Moore's parcel, we can't help but tie the tens-of-thousands of dollars he coughed up for all current council members, save placeholder Council Member Bob Trigg, and how that influenced the sign ordinance change and the almost certain rezone approval. 

Council members will point out that Moore's corner lot is more suitable to a commercial use. Perhaps.

Of course that begs the question - why were these parcels originally zoned that way? Could some other developer's money been the influencing factor when they received their current zoning designation?  

Undoubtedly council members, and politicians in general, will do a Chuck Colson and walk over their grandmothers on behalf of their benefactors swearing the thousands-of-dollars they receive from Moore, or any other contributor for that matter, in no way affect's their votes.

In the case of Moore, do you really think he would have gotten his sign ordinance change and impending rezone had he not coughed up the cash? 

Actually we would have more respect for our elected officials if they acknowledge the gorilla in the room and admit, yes, they can be bought. If the money doesn't influence their vote, why do the contributors keep giving?    


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Doc Bricker said...

The shell game of swapping high density zoning for something else to satisfy short term market needs has enraged the Stonelakes residents. They are being told they will be the beneficiaries of some new low income housing because the city has run out of high density zoning elsewhere (thanks to past rezones to satisfy the single family home builders, aka, generous political contributors). The chickens have come home to roost.

But fear not, we will still get more than our fair share of rooftops and McDonalds. Just a few minor bumps in the road is all--those pesky irate citizens!

Capt. Benjamin L. Willard said...

We have heard all of this before - from the constant rezones to developers calling in their chits. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see the campaign finance statements from Ms. Chaires and Mr. Ly to see what union, developer or business interest have them in their pockets.

Anonymous said...

Seemed rather interesting that this meeting was held and voted on before the DEIR deadline of January 30th. As of last evening they had not had one letter presented and am assuming they expect none in the next three weeks. It was casually mentioned by a couple of commissioners, but didn't seem to get any traction.

Eliot Ness said...

Let me get this straight, the Winn property, and for that matter, the Tsakopoulos property, have been zoned commercial since the approval the General Plan, and rightfully so, because both properties have direct access to the freeway.

Likewise the Moore property, long before he purchased it, was zoned for high density residential, workforce housing. Again approved and adopted by the Elk Grove City Council. Gil Moore comes along, fully knowing how the land was zoned, buys it anyway, with the master plan to have his property rezoned. But first, he needs the city’s entire sign ordinance changed. No problem, dump lots of money in the council’s campaign accounts, and for good measure, at the same time Moore is doling out his first $10,000 to a council member; give the same amount to fund an offspring’s charity event. Bingo, that same council member champions Moore’s cause after his first very appearance at public comment and gets consensus for the sign ordinance change to be agendized; sending the entire fiasco into motion.

Fast forward to the present and because we are running out of land for mandatory high density housing, the plan is to now make Winn Properties pay the price and rezone their property even though they are against it.

So what does Winn have to do? Dump thousands of dollars into the councils’ campaign accounts and give an offspring a job? Because in Elk Grove it appears you have to “pay to play,” so that this proposed change goes away. Sound familiar?

Too bad the FBI couldn't do a sting down here in Elk Grove ala Tom Calderon. It would be so easy to bag a council member or two. But unfortunately the FBI doesn't bother with small potato politicians; our sleazy politicians are only big players in their own minds.

And as usual, it is the residents who pay the biggest price of all!

Lynn said...

Eliot Ness; well written and well explained! The unfortunate part of all of this; the politicians begin their games at the local level and are not caught on the poor behavior until they move on up and of course leave behind the residents of Elk Grove stuck with two choices; move or put up with the structural mess and poorer quality of life that has been a result of leaders decisions in response to developers needs and greed. For developers; who gives most to campaigns receives the most favorable outcome. The decline of our city and the fallout from leaders decisions doesn't of course happen all at once; the decline of communities is a slow process which causes one to become immune to the smaller irritations; ie; a little trash on the road, pothole here or there, a few thefts here or there, an occasional circling of the helicopters, maybe a shooting....IN the meantime to cover for their decisions they hide behind "who do we blame game"; first five years of our "local" control the land use decisions were the fault of the county. The second five years it was the economy; now really who is responsible for the housing job imbalance: the council who rezoned and amended the general plan; Over in the Franklin area the city blames the school district for the traffic problems...really it is all the school districts fault? School district was not changing the city general council supported the developer needs and not resident needs. Now with the housing element and the impact directly to neighborhoods I am ever hopeful the residents who attended will become more involved with the big picture. BTW Elk Grove Grasp wanted to present information on the Sphere of Influence application to the homeowners groups over in West Elk Grove and we were only permitted to speak to Stonelakes; not any of the Laguna Groups because we were informed by the HOA management it was considered a political issue not directly related to homeowners. Sprawling outward, allowing developers to build more homes does not help property values. More than 50% of the South East Policy Area is homes...Really would the city do it any differently in 8,000 acres. The 8,000 acres would not of fixed the housing element. Remember it is based on population growth projections..our city was growing the fastest so naturally it falls that our city would be responsible for a larger portion of affordable. Slow the growth down.....The Sphere of Influence will rear its head again in a year....Elk Grove Residents stay informed!

Judge Wapner said...

Some developers are all too familiar with the city double-cross. On closed session at last council meeting was a litigation case. After researching the case file on the Superior Court website, it appears that Reynen & Bardis is suing the city for 11 million dollars + legal expenses for reimbursement of oversized infrastructure improvements the city refuses to pay. We know R & B have been long time political contributors to each councilmember, so imagine this--if the judge says the city is right, then were R & B hoping to grease the palms in return for an 11 million dollar payoff? If R & B is judged to be correct, then we had another case of developer double-cross.

As the Mayor is so fond of saying--"Elk Grove is open for business"

Anonymous said...

Lynn said: "not any of the Laguna Groups because we were informed by the HOA management it was considered a political issue not directly related to homeowners."

That's pretty amazing....were the homeowners aware of this decision by their HOA? Anything pertaining to the city of EG affects every homeowner of this city and that means each one of them. LMBO...Must have been some developers on the mgmt. team!

Ron Calderon said...

Judge Wapner, that is a very interesting point. I can't say for sure or in what amount, but intuition tells us Winn has most certainly given money to current council members. Now they are being thrown under the etran for Moore. Money in politics is like water - it will find the path of least resistance. Good job on the shake downs fellas! I think you are proving you can join us!

Fay Wray said...

So, the Planning Commission rezones Gil Moore's property, mitigating traffic impacts caused by Moore's project on the back of the Tsakopoulus property. And now the Planning Commission mitigates the loss of the high density housing from the Moore rezone on the back of the Winn property.

Perhaps the only way to take down this particular "gorilla" is by the residents and developers, i.e. Tsakopoulus and Winn, joining forces. Legal action anyone?

Anonymous said...

Another example of how Elk Grove is headed to becoming another valley ghetto town like Stockton, Modesto, Turlock and Fresno.

Bring on the junk food, liquor stores and low income housing.

Might as well change Elk Grove's area code to 209.

So now the City will have to find another neighborhood to put the low income housing in due to the rezoning of the project that the council "gushes over".

The golden rule applies in Elk Grove.

He who has the gold makes the rule.

Anonymous said...

Moo said the Cow Elks of Elk Grove

Anonymous said...

Re Cow Elks: is this about being milked or serviced (agriculturally speaking, of course)?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone can answer this question for me...

Why was this item before the Planning Commission prior to the 45-day public review period for the Draft EIR that does not end until January 30, 2014?

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