By Jennifer Madrigal
Norco – With so much controversy and politics surrounding the now infamous Silverlakes Equestrian and Sports Park in Norco, there seems to be a notion that the taxpayers of Norco have received nothing in return. According to Norco Councilman, Kevin Bash, that simply is not true. In fact, Bash points out that Norco has directly and indirectly received millions of dollars in cash, infrastructure, property improvements, road improvements, and more.
The Silverlakes property was first purchased in 2002 for $5.5 million dollars with the primary intent to stop more homes from being built. The City also hoped to create a “green belt buffer” between Norco and Eastvale. The money used to purchase the park was from RDA (redevelopment) Funds, and as a result the Redevelopment Agency actually owned Silverlakes. Those funds were very limited in what they could be used for and were eventually taken away by the Governor. Had the property not been purchased, the money would have been completely lost.
Already occupying the property, the once beautiful Lyn-Bar Ranch and fishing ponds fell deeper into disrepair as the land continued to be a constant source of Council and public controversy. Weeds grew higher, the property generated no revenue, and the costs for fencing and weed abatement began to add up. In April of 2011, the City of Norco purchased Silverlakes from the RDA for one dollar, and ownership came with a Federal deed restriction stating the land could only be used for a park and any commercial use included must fund the park.
Silverlakes developer, RJ Brandes, CEO of Balboa Management Group, has continued his quest to see this land turned into the Silverlakes Equestrian and Sports Park that both Eastvale and Norco are eagerly anticipating. Negative press, bank troubles and political divisions between the Council and community have caused delay after delay. According to Councilman Bash, “This project should have been shelved so many times, but Brandes has continued to stick in there because he sees the big picture.” In fact, following the December 2010 flood that absolutely devastated the property, Brandes had already spent $4 million on the site.
In July of 2011, Balboa Management Group, LLC and the City of Norco entered into a Funding Construction and Acquisition Agreement in which the City of Norco agreed to set aside $6,000,000 of a 2009 Enterprise Revenue Refunding Water and Sewer Bond to reimburse Balboa Management Group for the actual cost of eligible sewer and water related facilities. This loan agreement was very unusual because normal practice calls for the landowners, The City of Norco, to be responsible for installing the entire infrastructure, but in this case Brandes accepted a loan to do all the work. To clarify, Norco bond holders (Norconians) will be paid back and thus pay nothing for water, sewer and storm drain construction. This loan was discussed in multiple public meetings and clearly understood by the Norco City Council. Bash believes that many people don’t know that there is a loan agreement in place. Part of the loan agreement includes Balboa Management Group paying $33,040 each month in lease payments. This rental income is the second largest tax revenue generator for the City of Norco. In addition, these initial Norco/Silverlakes start-up loan monies have attracted millions of dollars from county and federal agencies, which funded the long delayed Hamner Avenue widening project and will be used to build the new Hamner Bridge.
The money and improvements from this project to the City of Norco cannot be ignored. Over $396,000 each year in lease payments has been collected from Balboa Management Group, which goes directly to the general fund. This money is used to fund public safety, children and senior programs, and more. Additionally, millions of dollars from outside agencies, services and advantages have been provided to Norco, one of the most substantial being the dike. After the flood of 2010, Norco Staff, Brandes and the Army Corp of Engineers sought a better way to protect the property from flooding. A protective dike that runs from the northeast sector of the property around to the southern end along the river was constructed. This dike is designed to withstand a flood where water rises up and over the property. The $752,000 project was paid for by Riverside County Flood Control.
Another project that was completed was the Hamner Avenue Widening Project, which was funded as a direct result of the Silverlakes Project. Norco received $1.4 million from TUMF (Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fees), $1.5 million from DSA (Chino Desalter Authority), and $1.6 million from Successor Agency (formerly RDA, funds pending). Other improvements to the site that are directly benefiting Norco and parts of Eastvale presently, are the tunnel, which acts as a Silverlakes flood release valve, and storm drains located in the new Eastvale Community Park – which combined with the tunnel will act as further protection from another devastating flood.
The Hamner Avenue Bridge Project will also begin with the federal government paying 88 percent of the costs, and regional agencies matching the other 12 percent. This project is currently in the engineering stages and Riverside Supervisor Tavaglione predicts the bridge will be completed in five years. These projects and many other small infrastructure projects, as well as businesses that have come to Norco in anticipation of this park, are just a few examples of the good that this project has already created.
Silverlakes Equestrian and Sports Park may still seem to be only weeds and dirt at this point, but the property has generated thousands of dollars to Norco’s general fund, brought road and city improvements to Norco and the property is worth so much more than it was five years ago. It has promise, and will be a major component to the economic health of the communities of Norco and Eastvale by attracting more business interests to both cities. At press time, Brandes is still committed to the project, is still making his lease payments, and hopefully will soon acquire the financing needed to finally bring this project to completion.