By Rene De La Cruz
Hesperia - During a boisterous and historic public meeting, a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall watched as the City Council voted to approve the massive Tapestry Project on Tuesday night.
Despite a tidal wave of opposition from residents over the last year and during the public hearing Tuesday, the Council voted to certify the Environmental Impact Report, adopt the Tapestry Specific Plan and approve several tract maps.
The Council voted 5-0 on the three items, with Councilman Eric Schmidt voting no only on the EIR certification, citing traffic mitigation concerns.
“We are pleased with the vote this evening and it’s actually the beginning of a long process before we can start to develop the property,” Terra Verde Group Director of Development John Ohanian told the Daily Press moments after the meeting. “The project became better through this lengthy process that we’ve gone through.”
Ohanian said as people understand the “long nature” of what could be a 30-year build-out, they will come to realize that the Tapestry Project affords the city the ability to do infrastructure improvements that “they would not get with piecemeal tract developments.”
As the Council discussed the benefits of the project before voting, nearly a dozen citizens walked out. One resident threatened to recall the entire Council and called them “traitors.”
The Council’s approval paves the way for the Texas-based Terra Verde Group to build its master-planned community of 16,196 units in southeast Hesperia. When completed, the development is expected to increase Hesperia’s population by 50,000 to 80,000.
The vote for the project did not come without some heated comments from the majority of the 20 speakers. One resident who interrupted the meeting several times was removed by a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy.
Public opposition focused on warnings that the project would increase crime, pollution and traffic. One resident called the Terra Verde Group “money gods” and “death gods” for planning to construct a community in the shadow of Cedar Dam, which could break during a major earthquake and potentially place residents on the Summit Valley floor in danger.
Another resident asked if the Council would promise not to subsidize future Tapestry water costs by charging current Hesperia residents.
Many residents said there is not enough water to sustain the additional residents. Others said the beauty and nature of Summit Valley will be destroyed.
The consensus of the Councilmen was that Terre Verde had done its part to amend several components of the project, including lowering the number of units from over 19,300 to 16,196.
Mayor Bill Holland said Terra Verde had gone above and beyond in trying to appease the Ad Hoc Committee, Planning Commission and the community by its willingness to make changes.
Mark Pfister, a general contractor who said he had worked in the industry for 50 years, told the Council the EIR has many issues that have been “glossed over” and “shoved in the back” of the report that took him eight hours to read. Pfister, who lives on Highway 173, said the major issues are high density, traffic and environmental concerns.
A handful of residents asked the Council to approve the project, saying it would bring jobs, revenue and road improvements.
Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of the Baldy Mesa chapter of the Building Industry Association, shared the benefits of the project, including a potential $670 million in revenue for Hesperia over the next 20 years. Rodriguez said construction of the project would also generate $162 million in employee wages.
Tuesday night’s meeting was a continuation of the public hearing that began on Jan. 16 at the Hesperia High School cafeteria. That six-hour long meeting was continued to Jan. 19 and finally to Tuesday to ensure that residents had adequate notice to attend the special meeting, according to the city of Hesperia.
However, some residents questioned whether Tuesday’s meeting was even legal, as they believed the city had not properly provided advance notice of the agenda, as required by California’s open meeting law.
The Council allowed 16 residents who were unable to comment before the Jan. 16 meeting was halted to speak, as well as those who did not respond when called during that meeting. “New” speakers were also allowed before the vote.