Thursday, December 7, 2023

Ukiah City Council Approves Plans for a New Branch of Redwood Credit Union

The former site of the Dragon’s Lair will be demolished after the Ukiah City Council approved plans for a new branch of Redwood Credit Union [Picture by Sarah Reith]

The Ukiah City Council approved the seventh iteration of Redwood Credit Union’s plans for a branch at the corner of Perkins and Main at a special meeting on Friday afternoon.

The plans have been the subject of fierce debate in the community. Opponents have argued the design does not comport with the downtown zoning code, which volunteers created with objectives for a walkable city with mixed-use properties and high density.

But the property, which consists of two parcels with a couple of buildings that will need to be demolished before any work can begin, is not beset with offers of development. Even a last-minute plan to subdivide the property and bring in another low-impact business failed to sway two councilmembers, who remained opposed.

The latest changes include a partial second floor with two small offices. Councilmember Susan Sher noted that these rooms, which can accommodate 4-6 people, were not adequate to host a community meeting, as has been discussed at previous council hearings on the subject. She recalled that the old Chase bank had a room that could hold 20-25. “Usually community meetings are a pretty big group of people,” she noted.

Redwood Credit Union’s Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer Tony Hildescheim did not dispute the point; but, “Would we be able to create a 20-person conference room?” he asked. “Probably not.”

Dennis Crean, a member of the public who remained resolutely opposed to the project, told the council that he’s not satisfied by the lack of detail in the plans to subdivide the property, even though the changes also include getting rid of proposals for a drive-through ATM and an exit onto Perkins. “It’s possible that a new developer could come in and install a driveway on Perkins street, which is what you all were wanting to avoid in the first place…I may be a little more cynical than some, but it could be in the future that with a different City Council, if that’s been sitting vacant for a while, the Credit Union may bring back up again the idea of a drive-through ATM,” he cautioned.

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The disapproval of drive-thru ATMs was by no means a matter of consensus. Sher also remained dubious about the proposed subdivision. “It’s a complete unknown,” she said. “To me, it would be like someone who’s wanting to buy a house next to an empty lot, but they have no idea what’s coming into that lot. It could be a cannabis facility, it could be a residence with really nice neighbors, but we don’t know.”

Hildescheim pushed back on Sher’s request that the credit union hold off on building the new branch until it had sold the second parcel and the buyer had submitted a project that met the city’s approval. “You have a lot of lots in this city that you have no idea what somebody’s going to do with it,” he said. “All I can assure you is that we’re going to make sure that the neighbor we pick is going to be commensurate to Redwood Credit Union’s brand, and supportive of the General Plan. And you have a Design Review Committee, a Planning Commission, and yourselves, to ensure that occurs, as well.”

This led to a guessing game about what kind of neighbor the credit union would not select. Sher began on the process of elimination, positing that, “It won’t be a service industry, like a restaurant or a bank where there’ll be a lot of traffic.” Hildesheim assured her it would not be a bank, which led to brief laughter. It also won’t be a check-cashing business, which Hildescheim pronounced “despicable organizations,” or a dispensary. When Sher asked if it would be housing, Hildesheim paused and said that affordable housing is a possibility. “It won’t be a business that has a lot of traffic, it won’t be a business that has a lot of employees, and it won’t be a business that doesn’t lend well into who we are and what we’re trying to offer, and it certainly wouldn’t be competition to the Credit Union,” he offered.

Councilmember Juan Orozco said he’d cast his vote with Sher against the project. The drama of the evening escalated when Vice Mayor Josefina Duenas said she wanted more public input and that she planned to abstain, leaving the project deadlocked 2-2. Mayor Mari Rodin was dismayed. “Vice-Mayor, I implore you that it is a responsibility for you as a councilmember to make a decision, even when it’s hard,” she said, noting that Sher had characterized her own opposition as reluctant. “If you count all the meetings that have happened with the Planning Commission, and with us, there’s been a lot of public input,” Rodin went on. “And now it’s time for us to be grownups and to make a decision.”

Councilmember Douglas Crane likewise implored his colleague to break the tie. “Our community has a reputation for being very negative on development,” he said. “Very negative on moving forward. I think if we don’t act on this, we send a signal to the greater community that this is not a place to even waste your time.”

Then Hildescheim hinted that the credit union has a relationship with a reputable organization it might consider as a neighbor. “There is a not-for-profit housing organization that is known to build nice, affordable housing units,” he ventured; “who we have a relationship with, who is a chairman of the board for Catholic Charities and Santa Rosa Diocese, and the Caritas Center. I happen to have very good relationships with. That is one of the options we’ve spoken to.”

Duenas interpreted this as a commitment to bring in Catholic Charities, and decided to vote, after all. “I think, counting with your promise, I will move ahead and say, yes, let’s do it,” she determined.

After three and a half hours, the council voted 3-2, with Orozco and Sher dissenting, to approve the Redwood Credit Union’s final proposal.

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  1. Correct me I’m wrong but did you not just shut down dragons lair because the building was uninhabitable or unfixable for a business curious please correct me if I’m wrong cuz it would be the first time I was wrong but something seems fishy here

  2. The bureacratic-political circus that the applicant had to go through to demolish a vacant structure was ridiculous. Even though the project barely scrapped by and was approved, it has sent a clear message that development is not welcomed in Ukiah.

    This project could have ushered in sorely needed redevelopment into our downtown, but instead nothing will come of it. Our downtown will remained hallowed-out for now. Maybe when the courthouse is relocated, new life can be brought into the downtown? I doubt it, but I will still hope. Perhaps naively so.

    Remember folks, the lack of affordable construction, such as housing, has been caused not by some natural, unavoidable phenomenon, but rather by government regulations, NIMBYism, and a lack of investment in the education and training for “blue-collar” jobs.

    NIMBYism in particular has been the downfall of many cities and counties throughout this country. NIMBYs, in a vain attempt to preserve their idealized version of the past, will destroy the future for my generation.

  3. Why not another restaurant? Of course the failure rate of restaurants in Ukiah is extremely high so maybe a bank? It would seem that without jobs or affordable housing who will have money to deposit or withdraw? Just look at the bullshit surrounding the Palace Hotel, which should have been demolished years ago! So that leads us back to the city council that has strangled the downtown with red tape and misguided attempts at building a viable downtown for decades! 

  4. I suggest Ukiah locals who are interested in upgrading the downtown core to show up to city council meetings and voice their discontent with the vacant/ dilapidated shops. Make suggestions like streamlining or making the city building code more clearly/transparent to avoid this very situation. Also change the definition of a historical structure or allow a way for the owners to exempt themselves from the historical society. Owners who want to keep their historical status can stay while the ones that don’t can exempt themselves out. Putting pressure on the city council is key. Run for city council if you have the means and time. Some of Ukiah’s economic development issues are self inflicted, which means they are fixable. The Court house battle is less than 5 years down the road and unless Ukiah wants two giant albatrosses sitting in downtown. Ukiah needs magnet businesses in the downtown core that are real businesses that are open, like on weekends and such. I suggest locals pressure their city council members for clearer development goals and a plan for the downtown core that makes economic sense. Business brings in more business. (Trader Joes, Daiso, Petco, Pet Smart, Mixed housing/ businesses, EL Pollo Loco, Cannabis infused restaurant?, Outdoor produce market, Balloon ride, Asian market, etc)

    • Ukiah Power, you suggested “… a plan for the downtown core that makes economic sense”, obviously an oxymoron. Then offer a list of businesses that inhabit the strip malls we’ve been fighting for years (decades?).

      • Hi Mike,

        If you have ever looked at a zoning map of Ukiah, feel free to look, please take note that essentially half of the city is deemed R1 which means they are single family homes. Even outside of Ukiah you immediately have many unincorporated R1 housing units. This is indicative of a car culture designed city/region. Many people who work in Ukiah commute from Lake County or Willits via car. Parking lots exist because people live far away from their basic needs. I.E. (grocery stores, entertainment, work, etc) Ukiah, if serious, should be building multi-story living spaces. Like Apartments and Condos in city limits. Mixed developments are common place in other city downtowns. This will make the downtown core area flourish if the audience is already living within walking distance of the business. Businesses look at how people get around, and in Ukiah it is still car dependent. Ukiah downtown is often a ghost town on weekends yet places like Costco, Home Depot, and Freidman’s are booming because they are open for one, and they have adequate access for people to park.

  5. I am wondering how much money all this indecision has cost Redwood Credit Union in the time they have been forced to pander to the city council for what should have been a simple answer.

    • At an earlier meeting the RCU representative stated that they had already put ~$1M into the project, which includes the purchase of the property. I would imagine it’s more than that now.

      • Just imagine this was a ‘small business’ with limited resources trying come into this space. The only businesses that will survive this process are larger corporate companies with deeper pockets.

  6. Without the drive-through ATM, I would have voted NO on the proposal. The situation with the proposal is WORSE than the current location, as you can feel safer with the openness of the walk-up ATMs and the fact your car is a very short distance at the Orchard location. With the new location, you’ll have to walk AROUND the building to get back to your car, after having to risk someone is lurking inside the lobby.

  7. Can’t we let in something for the young folk? Like a soda shoppe or boba place or whatever it is the kids do now. It would be perfect next to the library. Banks don’t exactly scream ‘come hang out here, relax and enjoy your community’. Going to the bank is a chore, not a pastime. Call me a Nimby but there’s nothing to DO in this town! Rip out CPS building and install a zip line or rope swing or Rock climbing wall or something! A discovery center! A natural history musesum! A tree! A lazer tag center, a bouncy house,? Smoothies? Aguas frescas? A fountain! For Fs Sake!! A Bank???!!

    • Please attend the city council meeting and voice this issue at public comment. Ask about creating an entertainment district. Write emails to the city council about improving entertainment in Ukiah.

      • There is no desire of this community to build anything for the youth or to let anything for the youth stand. Out with the bowling alley out with skate City and if you happen to build a place for children and make a start you will be burnt out such as was the building at the south end of town I believe near where skate City used to be. They’re trying to make this an older community keep it an older community the reason for this is greed yes believe it or not. With what the government has planned all the youth will be away at war no reason supply them with any past time activities we need only to supply the greedy believe they found the fountain of youth and plan to live forever happily ever after

        • I do agree the older generation here is over represented with their legacy wealth and bloated pensions suspending them from reality. The problem I see in Ukiah, even under a boomer dictatorship, is one where there is no medical services in a place where mostly geriatric people live. Young people will continue to migrate to other places where their needs get met. There are no urgent care facilities and one fairly limited hospital. One thing all people need is medical access and Ukiah doesn’t have it. It will undermine this boomer utopia / dystopia.

          • Ukiah power I completely agree. Anyone with an aging loved one in Ukiah knows that the last years of your life will be spent commuting to Santa Rosa for appointments.

            • “Anyone with an aging loved one in Ukiah knows that the last years of your life will be spent commuting to Santa Rosa for appointments.” – If they know this then why do elderly live so far away from a functional medical center? Why are there no plans to improve medical care/access or encourage medical professionals (i.e. younger people) to live in this area? Elderly vote and they wield a great deal of political pressure especially in Ukiah. This doesn’t have to be a forgone conclusion.

  8. We’ve lost to the bank dear community!
    But fear not! There is still the big-windowed and library-sided gem of the ol Curry’s Furniture building!! Imagine the possibilities!! Dream! Think of the children!! Band together! More Murals! Guerilla garden the Rail Trail! Pedestrian Footbridges! What happened to picnic areas?!! Where’s the music?! Where’s the potted plants?! Where’s the big ass sidewalks made for people!!

  9. Personally, I think the focus should be on the Talmage Rd into Ukiah. Most people stopping in Ukiah go on this exit. The newest hotels are on this side of town, yet there is no sidewalk from Talmage to State street.
    THERE IS NO SIDEWALK FROM TALMAGE TO STATE STREET! This should be a huge concern. Big surprise, a bank is moving into downtown area but don’t get distracted. TALMAGE road is in complete and udder disrepair and disregard despite being the true economic heart and new downtown of Ukiah

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Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith is a radio and print reporter working in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, focusing on local politics and environmental news.

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