Special election approved for Lake Elsinore’s Alberhill Villages Initiative

In a specially called meeting Lake Elsinore City Council has approved a special election to be held May 2, regarding the Alberhill Villages Initiative.

With no discussion, council approved the motion to put the sometimes controversial initiative before voters for a decision.

The resolution calls for the city attorney to prepare an impartial analysis and rebuttal arguments regarding the Alberhill Villages Initiative, as well as issues a request to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to render support to the city for the special election.

The estimated cost for the election will be somewhere in the range of $73,000-$83,00 according to documentation provided to council.

“Please be mindful that this is an estimate and can change due to the number of registered voters and actual costs from the various vendors who provide us with election services,” a letter issued by the Riverside Registrar of voters said.

If voters approve the plan, promoted by developers Castle & Cooke of Westlake Village and their attorney, it will open the door to the construction of 8,024 homes and up to 27,000 more Lake Elsinore residents at its buildout 30 years from now.

The Alberhill Villages Specific Plan was initially approved by the planning commission and amended last year.

The development plan, almost 20 years in the works, calls for 8,024 homes, condos or apartments to be built on 1,375 acres. It anticipates 3.8 million square feet of commercial space,163 acres of open space, 63 acres for a college or university, a 46-acre sports park, 37 acres of community parks and 14 acres for 35 small private “pocket” parks.

Castle & Cooke objected to the city’s specific plan conditions adopted in early 2016. The conditions imposed on the developer by the city would be the cost of building a 45.9-acre sports park and ongoing upkeep and care estimated at $27 million. It conditioned the developer to share the expenses of police, fire and paramedic services with the city as the project grew. The developer would also need to provide more open space and trails that would take away 300 planned homes in the project as estimated by the developer and require a traffic impact analysis.

Tom Hiltachk, the attorney for Castle & Cooke, argued that the conditions imposed by the planning commission on the council-approved version of the project were “simply unfeasible and unbuildable.”

From that, the developer set out to form a community outreach group to let them know of the financial and social benefits the community would lose if the project fell through. The Chamber of Commerce and former councilmembers suggested if the project didn’t go through the city might lose 550 new jobs and $3 million a year in yearly revenues.

The outreach group solicited 5,000 signatures for the initiative petition, approved by the County Registrar of Voters, enough to get it on a ballot.

During a special meeting held Jan. 23, the city was faced with the decision to either approve the specific plan as approved by the planning commission with its conditions and face its possible elimination by the developer or place it on the ballot with the deletion of the conditions and have the voters decide on the Village Plan. Council opted to put the issue before voters.

If the plan is approved, it could cost the city “between $187.5 million to $242.9 million over a twenty-year period, according to a report on the proposed Initiative” submitted to the city council Jan. 12.

The report does mention a scenario provides the aggregate deficit to the city of Lake Elsinore over the first 20 years is “only” $33.8 million. “This particular scenario provides the ability for the city to work with residents in an effort to insure municipal service costs are in balance with revenues from residents of Alberhill Villages.”

The report closed with a caution to the city and its residents that the “passage of the Alberhill Villages Initiative would severely and irreparably impact the ability for the city of Lake Elsinore to provide even the most basic of public safety (police and fire) services to the community as a whole.”

Staff Writer Tony Ault contributed to this report.

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