The future of the Carousel Mall redevelopment hangs in the balance as the City of San Bernardino is accused of violating the Surplus Land Act (SLA) by the State’s Housing and Community Development Division (HCD).
Tensions between city council members have escalated, with Councilmember Kimberly Calvin and Councilmember Theodore Sanchez engaging in heated exchanges during a recent council meeting.
CEO of Renaissance Downtowns USA and ICO, Donald Monti, passionately addressed the Council during the meeting, stating that he has been trying to present to the Council for two years. Monti expressed frustration, saying, “I’ve been doing this for 40 years and have never been treated in this manner.” He reaffirmed his commitment to the City, the community, and the development project, which has already been 12 years in the making. Monti pleaded with the Council to be more collaborative and transparent and not to restart the overall process, as solutions can be worked out.
Councilwoman Kimberly Calvin voiced her disappointment and frustration with the lack of transparency and communication between the City, the ad hoc committee, and Monti. “I feel that the ad hoc committee was locked out of negotiations and mediations for 18 months,” she said. Calvin emphasized the need for the City to be accountable and transparent to move forward with the redevelopment project.
Councilmember Theodore Sanchez, however, claimed that the Council was aware of the negotiations with Monti, stating, “This was televised when this council pursued negotiations and ENA with our chosen developer at the same time that we were doing the surplus land act.” The contentious exchange between Calvin and Sanchez highlighted the ongoing miscommunication and disagreement within the Council.
When Sanchez concluded by saying that he just wanted to “set the record straight,” Calvin countered Sanchez’s statements by saying that the record had not been set straight. His allegations exemplify why a note taker/recorder is needed in closed-session council meetings.
Calvin reflected, saying, “I do not believe in layering things in continuing to move on where we do not address what we have done or allowed to happen, whether it was an omission or a mistake. We in the City of San Bernardino seem to be able to create errors that last for decades, which is not what I signed up for. I did not walk as many steps and ask the people of this community to support my campaign to get to this dais and then fail them for being unable to be accountable for what the City has done.”
Dr. Treasure Ortiz, a CSUSB professor and community leader, expressed her disappointment with the City’s handling of the project, stating, “It’s very upsetting that we are here talking about the SLA in open session because the city failed to write yes and failed to tell the truth to the state of California about the availability of possible affordable housing in downtown San Bernardino.”
Ortiz continued by exposing BB&K, the City’s attorneys, stating, “BB&K is failing this City as a city attorney. They are lying and not telling you the truth. And that puts us at risk of liability. We have an opportunity here, stop villainizing the community and start doing the right thing by us every day that you are elected to serve us.”
Ryan Stanly, local historian and creative director of the Enterprise Building, urged the City to extend the agreement with RD-ICO and see it through, stating, “They are master developers. Let them succeed. After reading 70 years of downtown redevelopment books, I notice that the City has had a lot of ideas, pretty pictures, and great concepts but not many plans to make it happen. The last major development is being demolished; it had 30 fires last year. For perspective, we need to ask how we can work together.”
The HCD has rescinded its previous approval of the disposition of the Carousel Mall property and has given the City 60 days to cure or correct all violations. The alleged violations of the SLA are as follows:
- The City should have provided 90 days of good faith negotiations to entities who submitted notices of interest.
- The City negotiated with and selected a developer before issuing a Notice of Availability of Surplus Land.
- The City failed to give priority to affordable housing.
- The City failed to provide a complete description of the negotiations.
Failure to address these violations could result in the City paying penalties equaling 30 percent of the final sale price, which would have to be paid to a housing trust fund.
The Carousel Mall, originally known as the Central City Mall, opened in 1972 in the heart of downtown San Bernardino. At the time, it was a bustling shopping center with three major anchor stores and over 100 smaller retail outlets. However, the mall struggled as consumer trends shifted and economic conditions worsened. By the early 2000s, most of the mall’s tenants had vacated the premises, leaving the once-vibrant shopping center a shell of its former self.
The City now faces a critical juncture in redeveloping the Carousel Mall, as it must address the alleged SLA violation.
According to a press release issued by the City in August 2022, the Council took two high-profile actions to advance the redevelopment of the 43-acre Carousel Mall site. On August 3, the Council approved adding national real estate developer Lincoln Property Company (LPC West) to the development team, partnering with RD-ICO. On July 20, the Council approved seeking bids for the demolition and clearing the Mall property.
At the time, the amended exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) with RD-ICO established LPC West as the new project lead and allowed for continued negotiations on a development agreement, including the property sale, financial terms, and additional project details.
But, fast forward to April 2023, Monti shared with the Council, “Our ENA is pretty clear. It says that if there is a hiccup in the SLA process, our agreement should be TOLLED (put on hold) until the issue is resolved. The first time we heard of this was in December 2022, and how did we hear of it? We learned of it through the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to discover why Lincoln really left. We think we know some of the reasons. It took 90 days for us as master developers to garner information that should have been given to us in 9 days. We saw back-and-forth correspondence between the city attorney and a group called Power Shift that represented the coalition. We should have been aware of this from the beginning, and we were not.”
Ultimately, the Council received and filed an update regarding a Notice of Violation from the HCD on April 5, 2023.