Walnut hears out the public, makes historic decision

An arduous discussion results in a big change for the city

Lights shine bright in Walnut City Hall as a banquet to honor Councilman Bob Pacheco unfolds

Eddie Ursa

Lights shine bright in Walnut City Hall as a banquet to honor Councilman Bob Pacheco unfolds

On Oct. 26, the Walnut City Council convened in front of a crowded audience who waited hours to speak on the proposed changes to add gated access to a housing development on Valley Boulevard.

This proposed amendment would alter the developer agreement between the city of Walnut and Sunjoint Development LLC, which would allow for a portion of the development entitled the Terraces at Walnut to be enclosed within a gated entryway, including a guard shack and an additional emergency vehicle entrance on the north end of the property.

The amendment to the development gathered a surprising amount of public attention as Walnut citizens wrote numerous emails and showed up in force to speak during the public hearing regarding the issue.

The public attention was stirred because of the amendment’s unusual nature. If approved, the Terraces would become Walnut’s first and only gated community homes. Walnut’s general plan policy LCD – 7.9 discourages walled or gated communities, therefore public opinion initially appeared split on what decision the council should make.

Graded development next to Valley Boulevard where a proposed entrance to the development will be constructed. (Eddie Ursua)

All city council members were present as the mood continually shifted to a more serious note and approximately an hour into the meeting, members prepared to hear a presentation from developer Sunjoint on these proposed changes to the Terraces.

Sunjoint representative Bob Russi clarified the proposed amendments by saying one main vehicular access point with guard station will make an iconic entryway for the new family homes which are set to begin construction in the first quarter of 2023. Russi specified that pedestrian gated entry points will be added and Walnut residents will be granted access into The Terrace’s amenities such as pocket parks.

Overhead shot of the proposed development by Sunjoint. Via Sunjoint.

Russi continued to explain how the gate addition would provide benefits such as additional income from fees for the city, increased property value for homes and controlled access which offers a safer way of living that isn’t currently available.

As the discussion opened up, some details on the plan were questioned. Councilwoman Linda Freedman said, “it’s a great proposal but it is missing some details,” when referring to details such as public access to the Terraces’ amenities and the future proposed guard station.

Councilman Bob Pacheco said, “We’re kind of nitpicking every little thing about it when the reality of it is, it’s the developers cost and the homeowners association cost, paid by them not the city.” Pacheco seemed satisfied that Sunjoint’s preliminary plans for public access and covering costs were adequate enough to move forward.

Back side of the Terraces where a proposed emergency exit will connect with the neighborhood of Snowcreek. (Eddie Ursua)

Emails were read from members of the public who had a lot to say about the issue. Similar letters endorsed by over 34 Walnut residents stated, “Walnut’s general plan adopted May 9, 2018, specifically discourages walled or gated communities and we should not change that policy for the benefit of a developer.” These letters continued to state that if this gate is approved, more requests will appear and pointed out there may be a perception of conflict of interest since Walnut’s former City Manager Robert Wishner is now the CEO of Sunjoint.

The Walnut citizens packed inside the Council Chambers finally had the opportunity to make a comment when a public hearing opened up. A line formed of people who waited to have their voice heard.

Walnut resident Robert Anderson said, “I strongly urge you to approve this gate to protect our neighborhood.” Anderson spoke first but his comments reflected a vast majority of the public’s sentiments who felt that a new gated community will bring a safer opportunity for new Walnut residents and create a barrier of protection for existing neighborhoods as well.

Former Walnut Mayor Larry Waldie appeared and said, “People suggesting a conflict of interest should apologize to [Robert Wishner] and all the people of Walnut. They have no justification for saying anything like that in their emails.”

After approximately two and a half hours of intense discussion, the council approved the motion to amend the developers agreement in a 3-2 vote, with Freedman and Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Tragarz voting no.

The crowd of citizens let out a brief applause and sighs of relief as the City Council approved Walnut’s very first gated community and what most citizens hope will be a safer way to live going forward.

Before this lengthy discussion there was also a banquet and ceremony to honor Councilman Bob Pacheco who has spent the last 30 years of his life working in public service. Pacheco played a vital role within the council, especially during the latest Sunjoint amendment. Pacheco completes his term on Nov. 8 and Richard Cajulis will be sworn as the next member of the council.

Councilwoman Linda Freedman, Councilman Bob Pachecho, Gale Pachecho and Mayor Allen Wu pose for a photo at a banquet to honor Pacheco’s service to the community. (Eddie Ursua)

Walnut will hold its next meeting on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. Council meetings are held in the Council Chambers located in Walnut City Hall and can be attended in person or via Zoom.