John Berry

The Redlands Mall eyesore may never go away if the City Council approves an open-ended construction agreement heading its way.

The monster project calls for 700 apartments and four-story buildings shoehorned into downtown. The 15-year agreement contains more than 35 attachments. However, and incredibly, the attachment addressing the construction itself contains no benchmarks compelling Village Partners to build anything.

Ever build a house? If you had, you might recall signing a contract requiring the developer accomplish concrete actions by fixed dates. It also requires you to pay exact sums by specified times.

No such restrictive language exists in the “Redlands Mall Redevelopment Into State Street Village Development Agreement.” The 38-page attachment M is a public record on the city’s website.

Understanding contract details is critical now because the legally binding agreement is on the fast track to the Redlands City Council. Special interests are rushing the project through the approval process before November, when voters will decide an initiative restricting downtown development to three stories.

The contract language raises several concerns:

• On page 9, under the “Term” heading, the agreement is specified to last 15 years. Because the agreement contains no timelines, the developer could sit on the project through 2037. There are no references to fines or penalties if the project goes belly up.

• On page 20, under “Development and Impact Fees,” those costs are frozen as of June 30, 2022. That’s important because inflation is now at a four-decade high. If the developer waits a decade, then the impact fees charged in 2022 won’t cover the impact fees required in 2032. So who will be on the hook for those increased fees? The developer? Unlikely. Most likely, taxpayers would be forced to subsidize the increased fees. Further, frozen impact fees create a selling point for developers because they can market property featuring discounted impact fees.

• On page 12, under “Changes and Amendments,” the city manager or designee can approve “minor” changes without council approval. There is language addressing potential changes, but all changes should go through the City Council so the public can have its say because “minor” changes to a city manager could be viewed as “major” alternations to the public.

We’re heading into a severe recession. And we live in California, where real estate booms and busts are more common than the US Census. Considering the contract lasts 15 years, a downcycle economy is going to challenge developers to uphold obligations much less stay afloat. If the developer goes bankrupt and seeks refuge in Chapter 11 –as they sometimes do – then we’re stuck with an eyesore mall and an expensive legal battle.

I get it why people are in a hurry to replace the Redlands Mall. It’s ugly. It’s smells like urine. It’s littered with cigarette butts. And it reminds us of a stupid decision the city made decades ago.

I wince when I park there so my family can eat on nearby State Street. But like the rest of Redlands, I have no choice considering the traffic already clogging downtown.

The contract on the table is not the right one for Redlands. City officials should scrap and rewrite the document, so the developer is required to build actual things by specific dates.

City Council members are operating in bad faith because of their determination to hurry such a massive project through the approval process. Their headlong rush to beat voters to the polls in November could mean that the vacant Redlands Mall may be around for decades.

John Berry, Redlands