Yucaipa Wine Country Specific Plan
History – Conception of Yucaipa as a Viticulture Community
November 2018 the Yucaipa Wine Alliance filed a federal AVA petition to designate the Yucaipa Valley as a federally recognized wine region. The petition is approved by the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and Yucaipa plans to launch a niche market for locally produced wine and hopes to become another destination for wine lovers. Yucaipa Valley Wine Country Specific Plan (WCSP) is the acronym Yucaipa is using to designate this Wine Development Plan. The committee to develop this plan is called the AVA Committee. They plan to provide the framework for future viticulture and community development on approximately 1,094 acres on the North Bench. Some on the City Council imagine this viticulture wine making industry as a way to protect the rural atmosphere of Yucaipa.
Why haven’t you heard about this plan?
When this project began, the city set up a booth at one of the street fairs, to see if there was support within the community for such a project. The City posted the idea on their Facebook website and ran a column in the local newspaper, the News Mirror. Evidently, there was some support among the community. No question such as, “Is it worth high-density housing to create such a program?” was asked. I believe that is the core question. What exactly is it worth to develop a viticulture industry?
Problems of the proposed Plan
While viticulture is indeed rural, this plan converts open space to agriculture. This land is currently zoned RL-1, one home per acre. The city wants to create what they call “a special overlay”. This would allow the City Council to, in effect, re-zone the North Bench without a public hearing. It would allow the development of viticulture at the cost of high-density housing. The city has produced a number of pretty brochures showing acres and acres of vineyards, winemaking, tasting rooms, small inns and expansive trail systems to be enjoyed by residents and visitors. What a pretty imagine. Nowhere do those brochures show the acres and acres of high- density housing hiding right behind the decorative vines.
The AVA committee has spent two and a half years drawing up standards for this project. It began with a 50/50 split. The community was told if you have ‘100 acres, 50% will go to vines, and you will put 100 homes on the other 50%. That had possibilities. Most of the community could get behind this idea. There wouldn’t be acres and acres of suburban tract homes. The open space we currently enjoy would be converted to agriculture and all that that brings with it. But we would still have a trail system to enjoy and wild life would have thoroughfares to get around. There would still be enough property for homeowners to enjoy the rural lifestyle so important to those that live on the North Bench. People would still be able to have animals if they chose and be able to grow their own food. That is not how things stayed.
The AVA committee
The AVA committee supposed goal was to have a broad coalition of community members and stakeholders assess key issues and opportunities and to create the best path forward. Once formed the plan was to move forward in a spirit of consensus, but ultimately only 70% agreement would be needed to advance. All committee members were political appointments within the framework of the following standards.
- 2 City Council members
- 2 Planning Commission members
- 1 Representative from the Trails and Open Space Committee
- 1 Representative from the Economic Development Advisory Committee
- 1 Representative from the Yucaipa Valley Wine Alliance
- 1 North Bench property owner (15 minimum acres of land area)
- 3 Members of the public at large
It all made sense at the beginning ... but!
The City Council, planning commission, and economic members became supporters. The Wine Alliance member was there to help guide wine developments. The North Bench property owner was to guide on issues important to those on the North Bench. Instead of a 15 acre property owner, a developer who had invested in North Bench property was substituted in his stead. The 3 members “at large” became members affiliated with the Wine Alliance. Who was representing the citizens with reservations? Was it only the Open Trails member? Where was the balance?
There was really no way for this committee to keep Yucaipa’s community needs front and center. The community simply had no voice here. Instead it seems the council allowed its own needs and ideas, as well as those with special interests, to dominate the planning on this committee. People with a financial interest were given voting rights! This has led to an unfortunate result. There was one other consideration. The State of CA has directed CA cities to allocate land for additional housing, so that the needs for an ever-increasing population in California can be met, all while adhering to the current local General Plans and their Zoning Element. Both the municipal code of Yucaipa and the General Plan are being violated by the proposed Wine Country Specific Plan, which should per se disqualify the Wine Country Specific Plan from being pursued. Instead the committee uses the State’s mandate against the North Bench. “If we don’t build here we will have to build somewhere else”.
The Serrano Project, the Wine Country Specific Plan’s trial run, was a proposed 52 acres development East of Yucaipa Ridge Road and Ivy.
The property in question is zoned as RL1, with 34 one-acre lots on the buildable portion. Per proposed plan, 51 homes were to be built on about 12 acres. A very small section of steep and uneven terrain, directly on top of the San Andreas Fault, was to be leased to a nearby vineyard for grapes (North Cork Winery). These homes were to be built on terraced pads side by side, with each lot measuring less than ¼ acre, four times as dense as the General Plan allows.
To begin with, the number of issues with the original property were many:
- The terrain is steep and uneven
- There are many natural drainage channels and natural erosion
- Because of its steepness, part of the property falls under Yucaipa’s “Hillside Ordinance”, which requires that on a certain percentage, nothing can be built.
- The property borders San Bernardino National Forest.
- The property is in the highest fire hazard zone as declared by CalFire
- Last but not least the mighty San Andreas main fault runs directly beneath the property
Public Resistance against the Wine Country Specific Plan
When this proposal came before the planning commission, a standing room only meeting lasting until 11:30p, it was denied. When it was appealed to the full council, again in a standing room only meeting, again until 11:30p, we had a repeated 2-2 vote. The final 3-1 denial sent it back to the planning commission. This was not easy decision. The development proposal is not dead, however, the developer indicated that the project is coming back with “modifications” in the coming year.
Details of the Wine Country Special Plan
The area that is affected by the Wine Country Specific Plan is huge. The land covers over 1000 acres. It is bound by Martel to the east, Oak Glen to the south, Fremont to the west and Jefferson to the north. There are 547 acres scheduled for residential homes and 546 of non-residential acres. 57% are on ¼ acres or smaller (629 homes) and 43% are ½ acre (462 homes). These homes are planned to be 3,313 sq. feet and sell for around $900K each. As it stands, the plan calls for 1091 homes to be built on 1093 acres. This, however, doesn’t count the micro-vineyards they plan to include. It always swings the developer’s way. The plans include an unrestricted number of 2½ acre “vineyards” with no planned reduction in corresponding residential lots.
The plans include an unrestricted number of 2½ acre “vineyards” with no planned reduction in corresponding residential lots. The rest of the WCSP plans deal with specific guidelines for how the houses will look, how many feet they can hang over their side fencing, what color is allowed, how tall the houses should be etc. These standards deal with things like HOA restrictions and fees. Does this sound like something that the North Bench culturally supports? HOA restrictions, really? Shall we give away our open space? In the Casa Blanca development, the only open space is found on the trail, the trail running from one end of the development to the other. You can walk by all the hidden homes, while you admire the decorative vines winding throughout the HOA’s supported sidewalks. The committee is also giving the developers an additional ‘gift’. Instead of factoring in the cost of road development (infrastructure) to this project, they plan on passing that road development cost on to the purchasers of these homes; in the form of a 30 year bond fee. “These are expensive homes, the buyers can afford it”.
Likely Consequences and Outcomes
None of these “vineyards” are large enough to grow enough of their own grapes for their own wine production. A viable vineyard is 20 acres, so all of them will have to buy their grapes to produce actual wine. And, when they go bankrupt, if they should, there is nothing to stop them from selling their property and allowing their vines to be bulldozed to put in more homes. This could be resolved with an agriculture land use covenant but this committee is only recommending one be included instead of making it an irrevocable condition of purchase. Vines might be pretty to look at but they can’t compare to the money you can make from homes. Soon the North Bench will look like Ranch Cucamonga. Rancho Cucamonga once had a functioning Winery. When houses became more valuable, the vineyards soon were converted into housing tracts. What chance does Yucaipa stand against greed?
Discussion and some Possible Solutions
Coming soon... this is being currently worked on
Documents specific to the Yucaipa Wine Country Specific Plan
- Committee Packet, Oct. 27. 2022 Special Meeting (11MB)
- Committee Packet, Sep. 20. 2022 Meeting (19MB)
- AVA Committee Presentation, Jul. 14. 2020
- AVA Committee Phase 1, Aug. 25. 2020
- The size of the planned overlay (As specified in the Wine Country Specific Plan) compared to the entire North Bench