San Juan Bautista city council members held a special meeting Aug. 30 to discuss concerns over the Rancho Vista development maps after city manager Roger Grimsley was reported to have allowed the developer, Meritage Homes, to grade and do underground work without final map approval.
Grimsley resigned during a closed session with city council members.
Approved in 2015, the 28-acre housing project is being developed in seven phases. The first four have been approved and completed and a tentative vesting map of the entire project has been approved. However, phases 5, 6, and 7 have not had a final map approved.
Residents of neighboring housing communities voiced to council members their concerns and confusion over the mismatched maps, leading the council to add the item to the special meeting agenda.
“I appreciate the fact that somebody came forward proactively and told us about this so we were able to act on it very quickly,” said Mayor Chris Martorana.
During public comment, San Juan resident Leanna Brothers, who’s residence is adjacent to Phase 7, said, “My husband and I are strongly opposed to two additional houses being built on that lot. I would like to return to the four homes with the green belt as planned.”
Resident Jim Pisano said he was not anti-development but wanted to make sure they didn’t “cram houses like they did in Hollister,” adding that he was also against the additional lots.
“I was one of the few that spoke about the project and that we pleaded to you guys that we try to have a green belt behind our house,” said resident Doug Brothers, adding that now there was going to be four homes starting into his backyard. “I knew the development was going to happen but you asked us for public comment, you asked us to talk about the project, and what you’d like to see in the project. I paid almost $10,000 for a green belt, more than all the other neighbors in the neighborhood, and I think it’s important to respect that. Not that it’s a big deal, but it was nice to have the view of the mountains.”
Homeowner Harold Gomes, who had his attorney present, said he wasn’t anti-development but felt that things should be done properly and said the city wasn’t looking out for the community’s best interest. “We feel like we’re being walked all over,” he said.
“I want it to be guaranteed that at least something will happen over there in Phase 7 because as my attorney was saying, ‘they put the carriage ahead of the horses.’ There was no public review, it didn’t go to the (planning) commission, it didn’t go back to city council. It shouldn’t have been done without that public review,” Gomes said.
Later in the meeting, Meritage Homes project manager Jess Salmon addressed the confusion with the additional homes saying the number of homes had not been altered but were instead reconfigured according to the city’s direction.
Alicia Guerra, attorney for Meritage Homes, was also present at the meeting.
“Meritage is complying with the law and had continued to proceed in accordance with your rules and to change your rules now, there really is no basis to do so,” Guerra said. “More importantly, there seems to be this impression that my client has gone on and started grading without any authorization. Well, that’s not the case. Actually a final map has been approved, recorded, there’s a subdivision improvement agreement, bonds have been secured for all that work that has occurred.”
She later added, “No final map looks like the tentative map. That’s why a tentative map is called a tentative map because it’s based on conceptual plans and designs, and what you’re trying to implement. When the council makes the findings of substantial conformance, it has to base that determination after the city engineer had reviewed it to establish that it complies with your rules, your standards.”
The contract governs the relationship between the city and the developer and sets up conditions for final map approval. In those conditions, the final map doesn’t go to any public forum for public review and is automatically approved as long as it is determined that the map is substantially conforming to the tentative map.
Martorana continued the discussion, saying, “There are certainly going to be some changes that are not necessarily going to go for public hearing and there are certainly appropriate changes that an engineer will make calls on having to do with grading and stuff like that. The issue that came to light at least for me, the change that added a couple flag lots behind four lots in section number 7… that I think in our view certainly does not meet the standard for automatic approval.”
Vice Mayor Jim West added, “As far as this council is concerned, the tentative map that we approved in April 2015, we still agree with. Everybody agrees with it, the planning commission agrees with it, the city council agrees with that. We’re concerned with moving lots into the green belt area was not, that was a significant change.”
City council members directed the developer to submit an application for final map review by the city manager.
Grimsley resigns ahead of his scheduled retirement
City council members accepted the resignation of city manager Roger Grimsley during closed session. Grimsley, who came out of retirement in March 2012 to serve as interim city manager, also served as the city engineer.
In March 2017, council members started the hiring process for Grimsley’s replacement, forming an ad goc committee made up of Martorana and Councilman John Freeman.
In a phone call with BenitoLink on Aug. 31, Gomes said he believes Grimsley was forced to retire.
“I believe there were a number of indiscretions by Roger Grimsley, not just with the subdivision of Rancho Vista, but with the Copperleaf development … that led to his resignation,” he said. “He has superceded his power.”
Community Development Director Matt Orbach has been appointed to the city manager position while the ad hoc committee continues their search for a permanent replacement.