After some discussion, the Calimesa City Council voted Monday night to follow state limitations on campaign contributions in local elections.

Council had to make a decision on campaign contributions because Assembly Bill 571, which was approved by the governor in late 2019, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

AB 571 amends the 1974 Political Reform Act and establishes default campaign contribution limits of $4,700 for cities and counties that have not set their own limits.  

At the Nov. 16 meeting, council had the option of not setting a limit for Calimesa and defaulting to the state’s limit or setting a limit for Calimesa, which could be lower or higher than the state’s limit.

Councilman Larry Smith was the lone vote against adopting the state’s default campaign contribution of $4,700. Smith proposed setting a Calimesa limit of $15,000 that would be so high it would never be enforced.

“Campaign donors are going to give money and they are going to find ways to give money, whether they give it as individuals or they give through political action committees or through independent expenditures,” Smith said. “They’ll find ways to give their money.”

Smith went on to say the state contends that if councilmembers or local electives receive large sums of money from an individual, then they will be beholden to them. The state approved AB 571 to limit that influence.

“I look at it the other way. The large donor now has an opportunity to hide his donation via a PAC,” Smith said. “Ever since this has been discussed, we have seen political action committees grow by leaps and bounds and grow like mushrooms all over the landscape.”

Setting campaign contribution limits for Calimesa would be an opportunity for some local control, Smith pointed out. He admitted, though, a high amount could lead to corruption too.

Ultimately, the other four councilmembers voted to set no limit in Calimesa and default to the state limit, largely because if they set a limit, then the city would have to enforce or police that limit and it could become expensive.

“I don’t agree with what the state does or anything like that, but in this situation, I would say leave it as is,” Mayor Bill Davis said.

“I don’t see making it an issue in our city. I don’t see that it has been a problem in the past,” said Mayor Pro Tem Linda Molina in agreement.

“I would like to see it as leave it as item No. 1,” said Councilman Ed Clark, referring to the order of options on the agenda. “Do nothing and keep the state default restrictions in place.”

“I would be inclined to agree with Ed that No. 1 is probably the most reasonable,” Councilman Jeff Cervantez said.

City Attorney Amy Greyson, who presented the item, explained an ordinance would need to be adopted if the city was setting its own limits.

“What is it going to cost me for an ordinance?” Davis asked Greyson.

“I believe our office has drafted some of these, so it quickens my time,” she said.

“What would it cost me for policing it?” Davis asked next.

“That could be expensive. That is what I was going to suggest you consider,” she said, adding that violating an ordinance can involve prosecution. “There’s a cost to that.”

The state limit is adjusted each year by the Fair Political Practices Commission, which was meeting later in the week to consider raising the limit to $4,900.

Big warehouses confirmed

Despite a last-ditch plea from a resident, four councilmembers voted in favor of the second reading of the ordinance that will allow the Oak Valley Town Center development to construct warehouses up to 707,000 square feet in size, well above the city’s limit of 250,000 square feet. Only Councilman Ed Clark voted against the changes.

The 4-1 vote was the same as after the first reading and discussion of the ordinance at the previous council meeting.

Oak Valley Town Center is a 244-acre development of primarily commercial and business park uses, located along the west side of Interstate 10, between approximately Singleton Road and Cherry Valley Boulevard, and is part of the Summerwind Ranch Specific Plan. It also features about 12 acres of open space and has a conceptual plan with a destination lake and space for a new city hall.

Resident Marlene Davis, who spoke out many times when large warehouses were before the Calimesa City Council in 2015 and 2016, tried to appeal to members again. She pointed out there are three senior mobile home parks within a couple of miles radius of the planned warehouses.

“If you approve more warehouses, they are going to have to figure out how to navigate between the trucks,” Davis said. “The warehouses are not a problem … It’s the trucks. You cannot do anything about the trucks. They are dangerous with seniors driving and trying to navigate between them.”

She asked council to consider a continuance to discuss the matter with citizens.

“I know we need developers, but we don’t have to do everything they want. They do this for money, obviously, and there is nothing wrong with that. But they need to be reined in a little,” she said.

Councilman Clark then asked for the item to be pulled from the consent calendar for a separate vote because he wanted to go on the record as being opposed to the ordinance, but was in favor of the other consent items.

“You know my position on this, I oppose this,” Clark said.

Mayor Davis tried to explain why he voted in favor of the larger warehouses and the Oak Valley Town Center development.

“I used to sit in the backrow of city council (meetings) … in the ’90s, with (developer) John Ohanian. They are one of the reasons we became a city. His company had purchased 6,000 acres across the freeway … They have slowly, but surely, sold parts of it off. It has been a long time coming,” Davis said.

Construction on the Oak Valley Town Center is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2021.

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