Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Developer Walks From Medical Building


Last updated 12/29/2016 at 2:02pm

Sponsor Group questioned about disappearance of project.

The Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group held their regular monthly meeting on Nov. 5.

After an approval of the agenda, Public Comments took the stage for the rest of the meeting when the Publisher of the Borrego Sun, Patrick Meehan, asked the Sponsor Group about the medical building that was supposed to be constructed in town. “We heard it wasn’t going to happen anymore and there wasn’t much else said. I’m wondering what exactly has happened or the reason for it not happening.”

At that point, Chair, Rich Caldwell said, “That is your public comment.”

Meehan asked, “Can I ask a question to get an answer or not?” Caldwell told him ‘public comment’ is not a question and answer period. “It’s for people to come in and unburden themselves of things, make observations. You could make an observation in the form of a question.”

Meehan said, “I could make an observation that it would be good for the public to know what actually did happen because it was on the agenda.” Caldwell said, “It was on the agenda in September but not in October. What I can tell you about October is, maybe a week or so in advance, the applicant pulled the project from the agenda and that’s why we didn’t consider it. There were some public comments but the only information we have is hearsay from around the community.”

Meehan then asked if the Sponsor Group has a responsibility to find out what’s going on or not. Caldwell said, “No. It’s not our scope.” Mr. Meehan then retorted with, “As a community, there’s a lot going on in this town that the town doesn’t know about, and a lot of people know things and are not saying anything. One wants to try being more transparent and let people know. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Caldwell agreed with the idea. Board member, Rebecca Falk said, “There’s a few things I feel the need to discuss. One is, I’d like to propose that we as a group start reading through the Borrego Springs Community Plan. A lot of times when the Community Plan comes up, I think people just have to take it on faith if they’re not informed, and I think there is wording that’s interpreted differently and it was an issue somehow in this last project that came before us. That’s just one part of my comment. I’m in a little bit of shock about the last two meetings. It all seemed to happen very quickly and when I thought about it later, it kind of worried me.”

Falk noted that Gwenn Marie and Rich Caldwell are married and both capable of drafting the letter which was signed by the Borrego Village Association. This letter supposedly is responsible for the developer quitting the project in Borrego Springs. “The appearance,” Falk said, “was as if there was something cozy going on, even if it wasn’t. It’s just that it’s a small town and everybody knows everybody, and it bothered me.”

Board member David Farley told Rebecca Falk, “Caldwell did excuse himself from being able to vote on that.” Falk agreed, “He did. But that doesn’t address what I’m saying. It just sort of adds to it in a way.”

Meehan then said, “This is what I’m saying about the whole point of being transparent. Falk brought up that she didn’t understand what went on at the meeting.” Caldwell said, “I don’t understand. The whole thing came and went so quickly.”

Meehan said, “But that looks strange to everybody. There have been so many deals that have gone on here. One minute you see something, and then you don’t.”

Caldwell said, “Our job is very narrow. We’re an advisory group to the Director of Planning and Development Services. Other organs of County government will occasionally come to us for public input. We’re also responsible for having a say in the Community Plan. In fact, Sam Webb, Judy Haldeman, myself, Dennis Nourse and a few other people from the community are largely responsible for the drafting of the contents of the Community Plan, which was adopted by the Sponsor Group. But in terms of deals and who is behind things ... That’s not our scope. Our scope is strictly to weigh in on the merits of projects that relate to the Community Plan as related to zoning, and to provide an opportunity for citizens to have public input. It’s pretty limited. Beyond that, we’re not an enforcement or investigative group. The Sponsor Group formed a committee to start evaluating the project and the project was pulled before the group really even got going on the evaluation. We don’t have any control over that. So all the machinations and things that you’re referring to, may in fact be happening, but it’s not something we’re concerned with.”

Falk then expounded on her ‘weird feelings’ about the project’s sudden disappearance. “I have to say, I don’t know what was going on in that developer’s mind. He might have had reasons for doing what he did that had nothing to do with the letter, but never-the-less, given that they reacted to that letter from Gwenn Marie and the Village Association ... I don’t know what to do with that. It just felt peculiar. You know, you’re (Rich) a central figure, and Gwenn’s a central figure, and you guys worked on the Community Plan together and then that becomes such an instrumental thing. It makes me feel uncomfortable somehow.”

Farley then asked Falk, “Was there somebody, whether it was verbal or written, citing that letter as the reason they pulled out, or is that something that was thrown out to see if it sticks?”

At that point, Judy Haldeman felt it was only fair to answer this question with “Yes. That was 99 percent of it.” Farley then said, “I’ve read that letter and it didn’t seem out of the ordinary. They had a few questions. They didn’t say, ‘No. We don’t want you here.’ Was it too much for the Borrego Health people to absorb, or what was the problem with this?”

Haldeman said, “It was the developer himself. All I can say is he said he’d done proposals in communities before where there was a very vocal group. There was never a comment of support for this project, such as, ‘We think it’s a good fit for Borrego Springs but we have some concerns.’ It was just eight pages of concerns with no overview that supported it. He said he’s been tied up in lawsuits for years from people that do these things in communities and he didn’t want to do that. It costs too much money.”

The Board agreed to begin looking over the Community Plan as a group and then Meehan made an additional comment. “Is there any point in putting discussing that building on the agenda – because I think there’s much more to it than even Judy knows.”

Caldwell said, “Again, in terms of what happened somewhere else outside this room that didn’t involve our scope is not our job. The project is not up for consideration.”

Meehan argued, “I think Judy has made a serious point saying maybe the developer has run away because of what has been said.”

Rich said, “We don’t know. We don’t have anything to do with it.” Sam Webb agreed, “We’re not policy setters. We’re a forum where somebody has a project and they come in and discuss the project and ask for our input; if we have any questions related to it, and this type of thing. If we do, typically what happens is they come back the next meeting and address the issues that came up and eventually it’s approved and goes to the County.”

He then stressed the Sponsor Group’s lack of real power by giving an example with the original Solar farm in Borrego. “They came in and we unanimously disapproved the Solar farm because of its location. It went to the County Board of Supervisors and they unanimously approved it over our disapproval. So that tells you how much power we have in this community.” He then said it would be inappropriate for the Sponsor Group to be promoting projects, for example, by contacting this developer and saying we really want him here and to come back. “I think it would be perfectly appropriate for some other entity in town – the Chamber of Commerce or the newspaper – to contact the developer.”

Meehan asked if the developer dealt directly with the Borrego Village Association and several members said ‘yes.’ Falk then referred to the minutes from the October meeting when Bob McKee said an ‘Opposition report’ from the Borrego Village Association possibly instigated the cancelation of the Borrego Medical Health office building project. “Where did he get that information?”

Falk asked. “Did he talk to someone at the Borrego Community Health Foundation?” Caldwell recalled that McKee had prefaced his comments with saying he’d just come from a meeting with Bruce Hebets. Falk continued, “The whole thing is kind of shocking and has moved very quickly and nobody that I know knows everything that would be lovely to know if one were the master or mistress of the universe.” Caldwell then encouraged the Fourth Estate to, “get busy on this.”

The discussion came to a close with Falk telling Meehan she understood his frustration but, “sometimes the rigors of the Brown Act means we can’t talk about anything.” Webb concurred, “We’re not supposed to discuss any of these projects before us without being in session with an agenda.” Caldwell admitted, “Sometimes it’s a little challenging and feels like a straight-jacket. It’s an informal community and we try to do things informally.” Caldwell also informed the committee that he would not be standing for re-election as president at the January meeting, where nomination and election of officers will take place.

The Borrego Sun has attempted to speak with the developer but so far, has not been able to reach him.

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