hold your horses – San Bernardino Sun

San Bernardino leaders took two steps forward Wednesday night regarding Carousel Mall, agreeing to seek demolition of the long-dead mall and to hire 24/7 security to stop a rash of break-ins in the meantime.

But when a major developer’s interest was revealed, they took a step sideways.

Before the meeting I drove around Carousel Mall. Closed since 2017, the mall is a curious, sad sight.

You can drive right into the parking lots, just as when the mall was functioning, except that they’re almost entirely empty. A half-dozen cars were scattered across oceans of asphalt. Had shoppers, despite helpful signage, forgotten where they parked five years ago?

The bright blue Carousel Mall logo stands out against the white facade. Other than that, the exterior is blank. Built in 1972, the mall once had Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney and Harris’ as anchors, plus a full complement of other shops.

The most poignant thing is the mall signs that once beckoned motorists to enter the property.

“Carousel Mall,” the pylon signs proclaim. “Many stores to serve you.” At the base of one pylon, a panel is torn open and the wiring removed.

That’s San Bernardino, 2022.

Before you start crying, let’s get to the City Council meeting. It was the usual melange of passion, humor and perplexity.

Councilman Ben Reynoso said his mother, visiting from Mississippi, was in the audience. Minutes later, during public comment, a critic told Reynoso, “Since your mother is here tonight, I will save what I have to say to you for two weeks.”

He should have gone ahead. Then Mama Reynoso could have slugged him.

When plans for a gated community came up, one speaker who lives in the neighborhood had nothing good to say. “This is a future slum,” the man insisted. “I don’t want it. Get lost!”

Carousel Mall was among the first items on the agenda. But the council hopscotched around — not literally, although that would’ve been fun to watch — to start with items 1, 6, 7, 8, 11, then 9 and 12. After a break, the council skipped ahead to item 29 to let two billable-hour consultants go home.

Mayor John Valdivia was about to move on to the consent calendar, items 13 to 35, before he was reminded that items 2 to 5 still had to be dealt with.

So, nearly three hours into the meeting, we finally got to Carousel Mall.

Valdivia had been asking the council for weeks to act on demolition and got nowhere. But the logjam broke on Wednesday.

City Manager Rob Field recommended that the city “accelerate” the demolition, pay for it from city funds and get reimbursed by the would-be buyer — more on them in a moment — due to health and safety issues from the derelict property.

“We’re going to have to find it in the city budget. We don’t see we have any options,” Field said.

Council members didn’t question the demolition, only the 24/7 security contract at $40,000 per month. But the final vote was 6-1. Even the one holdout, Reynoso, told me he favored demolition but voted no because he didn’t like the security contract.

What changed? “The fires,” Reynoso told me. “Simply put.”

A three-alarm fire in May inside the mall was the catalyst. So was the losing effort to keep people from breaking in, which city staff said was a drain on time and resources.

Demolition firms will have an Aug. 18 deadline to submit their qualifications. A contract might be awarded in October.

(Trivia note: It was called a “design-build” contract, which is a funny way to describe knocking something down and hauling it away in pieces.)

“Wow,” Valdivia said when the votes were cast. “Thank you, council. I’ll buy you ice cream after. We got something done.”

Another item involving Carousel Mall got a less positive reception.

San Bernardino has been negotiating with a developer partnership, Renaissance Downtown USA and ICO, on buying the 43 acres since March 2021. The pair have now added a big-bucks partner: Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co.

With $30 billion in assets, the international real-estate firm has developed Southern California projects in Playa Vista, Tustin, Pasadena, Culver City and Anaheim. Field hailed Lincoln’s interest as a coup for the city.

Most council members seemed unimpressed.

They balked at opening negotiations because no one from Lincoln was at the meeting. (The senior person on the project was said to have tested positive for COVID that morning.) And they questioned the arrangement between Renaissance/ICO and Lincoln.

Councilman Damon Alexander said he didn’t like extending the negotiations over, potentially, another year. He also objected to a city official’s low-key delivery.

Griped Alexander: “I don’t hear any urgency in your voice.”

Look, the poor guy was presenting a report, not auditioning to play Hamlet.

Some council members said they wanted to “vet” Lincoln in public. They postponed a decision until the first meeting in August.

Jian Torkan of ICO thinks the council has its priorities confused.

“This city never ceases to block its own success,” Torkan told me outside the meeting. “Bringing the second-largest apartment developer in the country to San Bernardino is a big accomplishment.”

Torkan said Lincoln envisions a mixed-use project with “significant amounts of residential and retail to create an urban village.”

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