By Brian Hews
Last week, Hews Media Group-Community News exclusively reported that Cerritos College had executed a five-year rental agreement with Norm Reeves Honda Cerritos that would pay the district $35,500 per month, $426,000 annually, for use of the Manassero strawberry fields located at 166th and Studebaker.
Construction began last week and residents were irate; Cerritos City officials indicated they were unaware of the construction at the time.
Community Development Director Torrey Contreras told HMG-CN that the construction began without the city manager’s knowledge or consent. Contreras and City Manager Art Gallucci only found out after being notified by residents and then went to inspect the site. “We did not know anything about it, ” Contreras said.
The City immediately issued a stop work notice after learning that Cerritos College was creating parking for faculty and students and for the storage of automobiles for the Cerritos Auto Square.
The City argued wrongful use of the property by the College using California Government Code Section 53094 which states, “The governing board of the school district may not take action when the proposed use of the property by the school district is for non-classroom facilities, including, but not limited to, warehouses, administrative buildings, and automotive storage and repair buildings. ”
Contreras said, “Any use of that area that goes beyond the day-to-day operations of the College that is for non-educational purposes, such as supporting the Auto Square for monetary profit, would fall under the city’s jurisdiction to regulate, they need to file a temporary use permit which needs to be approved by the City Council.”
Sensing pushback, the College scheduled a town-hall type meeting on Aug. 23 to answer residents concerns.
It was during the meeting that a bombshell was dropped by College President Dr. Jose Fierro.
On one of the presentations slides Fierro indicated he met with Gallucci and Contreras on May 9 and “outlined the plan without issue.”
Cerritos had sent personnel to watch the presentation and officials were not pleased after with Fierro’s presentation.
When asked for comment, HMG-CN was sent a long response from the College outlining the meeting from Miya Walker, Director, College Relations, Public Affairs & Governmental Relations.
The email read, “The district is pleased that the city has acknowledged that the May 9 meeting occurred to discuss the initial plans for the use of the lot on 166th Street and Studebaker Road.”
The letter described the May 9 meeting; present was Gallucci, Contreras, Felipe Lopez, and Dr. Jose Fierro.
“The college informed city that the dealership contacted college about renting the lot for parking and Gallucci replied that he referred them to the college.”
“Gallucci proceeded to tell the college to be careful because the community may get upset.”
The letter stated that they told Gallucci it would be a “storage lot” and if that would be ok; Gallucci responded yes according to the College.
The letter then outlined several proposals from the City other than the car lot for consideration.
“Gallucci proposed that the city had some housing development money and would be willing to provide redevelopment funding for the college to build another senior facility or Alzheimer’s unit.”
“Gallucci said the city was planning to build a parking structure to house vehicles, Gallucci said he would like to build a hotel on an empty lot near the freeway in Cerritos.”
In regards to one consideration other than the car lot, “Fierro told Gallucci the college is not interested in senior housing because the college was not considering a long-term commitment for the land at this time.”
Fierro then refuted a very integral part of the agreement, “at no time during this meeting or the meeting before did the city say that the college needed a temporary use permit.”
“The college also had meetings and phone calls with the City of Cerritos on Wednesday, August 2, Monday, August 7, Monday, August 14, Wednesday, August 16, and Monday, August 21. The college was not notified of a requirement for a temporary use permit until a letter was received on August 11 via email.”
Fierro then indicated he spoke with a dealership representative who confirmed that the city referred the dealership.
The information about Fierro’s presentation was relayed to Cerritos officials, who issued a scathing statement blasting Fierro.
“Dr. Fierro’s presentation contained several inaccurate statements intended to deflect public opposition from the College to the City of Cerritos by suggesting that the City was aware of the College’s plans to convert the former strawberry patch to an automobile storage facility.”
“Further, Dr. Fierro’s presentation insinuated that the City was complicit with the proposed automobile storage facility use and related improvements that have already occurred on the former strawberry field without prior City knowledge and/or approval.”
The City proceeded to refute much of Fierro’s statements in the presentation.
The College hand-delivered a flyer to residents in the vicinity of the campus to invite them to the community forum stating that the College was working with the City of Cerritos to finalize an agreement with Norm Reeves.
Cerritos rebutted the flyer stating, “The City of Cerritos has no part in an agreement between Cerritos College and Norm Reeves Honda. Said 2-party agreement has already been executed and was approved by the Cerritos College Board of Trustees on July 19, 2017, without the City’s knowledge. As of the date of this memorandum, the City has yet to receive a copy of said agreement nor is the City aware of its specific terms.”
In regards to the May 9 meeting, Fierro stated that “the College outlined its plan to the City without issue.”
Cerritos once again rebutted Fierro’s assertion stating, “City staff did meet with Dr. Fierro and Vice President Felipe Lopez on May 9, 2017. However, during said meeting, several possible development scenarios were discussed for the strawberry field, including: an Alzheimer’s facility, student housing, workforce housing, housing for US military veterans, and a hotel. City staff informed the College representatives that, regardless of the proposed use, the College would need to obtain prior City land use approval.”
“Additionally, City staff informed the College representatives to proceed with caution and that they would need to inform the residents of the surrounding neighborhood of any proposed development, citing the previous attempt by the College to develop a golf facility at the subject site, which was strongly opposed by neighboring residents and ultimately not developed.”
And in a complete rebuke of the College’s statement, the City stated, “The College representatives did not disclose to City staff of the proposed automobile storage facility and that the College was planning to enter into a five-year lease agreement with Norm Reeves Honda for dealership parking.”
“At no point during the meeting did City staff imply approval for or consent to the dealership parking project.”
Another point of contention was the fact that Dr. Fierro stated that the City issued a stop work notice on August 1, 2017, which was removed on August 2 based on the outcome of a meeting between College representatives and City staff.
The City once again denied that statement from Fierro.
“After it initially came to City staff’s attention by way of resident complaints that construction activities were occurring at the subject site, City staff contacted College representatives and were informed that Cerritos College had entered into a five-year lease agreement with Norm Reeves Honda to store vehicle inventory on the subject site.”
The agreement paid the College $35,500 per month, $426,000 annually.
“City staff informed the College representatives that the College couldn’t install an automobile storage facility without prior City approval. Subsequently on August 1, 2017, the City issued a stop work notice in order to communicate the severity of the situation and to bring about a meeting between the City and the College.”
The two entities then arranged a meeting on Aug. 2.
“On August 2, College representatives met with City staff to discuss the details of the planned project. College representatives stated that the primary purpose of the project and the subject site was for overflow student and staff parking in connection with planned resurfacing of other parking lots on campus, which was reiterated in the College’s subsequent letter to the City dated August 10.”
The letter went on, “College representatives further added they understood that the potential use of the subject site for automobile dealership parking was predicated on City approval at a later date.”
This was in reference to the non-educational use of the lot, under Government Code, the City has jurisdiction and must approve any project that is non-educational in nature.
The College told the City that they were using the lot for student parking, thereby exempting the lot from City approval.
“Based on the College representatives’ claims that the site was being developed for overflow student and staff parking, over which the City does not have jurisdiction under State law, the City in good faith lifted its stop work order.”
Lastly, the City disputed Fierro’s statement that the City had approved parts of the project.
“During Dr. Fierro’s presentation, he repeatedly stated that “the City has approved” several features of the planned parking lot. For example, he stated that the City has approved the installation of trumpet vines and green mesh to screen the parking lot and that the City has approved a plan for light fixtures with low illumination levels.”
The City disputed yet again stating, “The City has not approved any plans whatsoever as the item is scheduled for City Council consideration at its meeting of September 18, 2017.”
A letter dated August 11, 2017 from Gallucci to Fierro supports that statement.
“City staff sent College representatives a letter with comments on preliminary plans that were submitted by the College on August 10. The letter clearly states that the contents are a list of comments. The first comment is that the proposed use of the subject site for automobile storage requires a temporary use permit (TUP) subject to City Council approval.”
Cerritos College submitted an application for a TUP on August 15. City Council consideration of the proposed TUP is scheduled for the City Council meeting of September 18.
The City is expecting a packed Council chamber that night.
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