By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Within California, the Roskis specialized in redevelopment projects, and in cultivating the sort of close contacts with public officials and city staff that had served them so well in Industry. In some cases, local officials describe their collaboration with Majestic as all positive. Others, however, describe the experience bitterly.
Majestic's accumulation of land in the Inland Empire has been most intense in Chino, the San Bernardino County city best known for its state prison. Today, the firm controls almost 500 acres of the city's prime undeveloped land, mostly fallow farm acreage, which one city councilman valued with buildout at over $300 million. Naturally, Majestic and the city share a vested interest in seeing these properties developed. "We work very closely with the city of Chino," said David Wheeler, Majestic's point man there. "We are talking constantly, between staff, City Manager's Office and City Council . . . it really is a partnership."
The means by which Majestic solidified its "partnership" in Chino, however, generated considerable criticism.
In the 1980s, Majestic built goodwill in Chino by revving up its political machine and donating thousands of dollars to council candidates. Roski's mandarins also cozied up to city staff, at one point giving the daughter of then-City Manager Richard Rowe a job with the firm.
By the end of the decade, Roski was ready to make a deal. After a lengthy process, the Chino council endorsed a two-phase, 90-acre development agreement with Majestic for a portion of its property along Highway 71. The city's redevelopment agency committed $15 million in public money to build the area's infrastructure.
The first phase allowed Roski to build the Chino Spectrum Marketplace, a 15-acre "Power Center" complex featuring a Home Depot and industrial warehouses. Majestic Vice President Wheeler touts the project as the best the company has ever built. "It really is," he said, "a marquee master-plan business park."
Chino's main interest, however, was a 75-acre regional shopping mall to be developed in Phase 2 - the sort of project that might lift the stature and tax base of a non-descript suburban backwater. But after a series of delays, Majestic announced that building a mall on the site was no longer economically feasible. According to Wheeler, new malls in nearby Pomona and Chino Hills undermined Majestic's plans.
Despite the company's explanations, many community leaders were incensed. "The perception we had was that the former city manager was instructed to bend over backwards for Majestic," said Chino Councilman Glenn Duncan. "You had the impression that Majestic got everything they wanted." People were starting to believe the city had been hoodwinked.
By the 1996 City Council campaign, despite substantial campaign contributions to the mayor and each council member, Majestic was the target of open hostility. Some political campaigns, such as that of Bruce Robbins, used the company as its central campaign issue. "By today's standard, Majestic got a very lucrative deal . . . excessive even," says Robbins, who won a seat that fall. "I ran to call attention to the fact that developers were getting everything and taxpayers were footing the bill." The company had become such a bogeyman in town that two council members returned Majestic's cash. "I thought they were getting a better deal with how they do business than the average person," explained Maurice Ayala, who returned a $1,000 contribution during a failed run for mayor. "I just think we got taken advantage of."
Regarding the considerable public funds Chino invested in Majestic projects, Roski is unapologetic. "Chino wouldn't have [the Spectrum Marketplace] unless they assisted financially," he told the Weekly. The taxes collected, he says, mean "the city gets all the benefits in a kind of way."
Roski is not alone in his steadfast belief in public subsidies. Monterey Park, which subsidized a commercial project that partnered Majestic with Eastside developer TELACU, has nothing but praise for the company. Sometimes cities even seek Majestic out. In 1995, for example, when Yorba Linda found itself without a developer for a 36-acre site on which it had already spent millions for improvements, city officials got on the phone and called Majestic. After negotiations made the $25 million project pencil out for both sides, Majestic constructed expansive "big box" facilities for Home Depot and Best Buy. "It's a good deal for us," said David Gruchow, the city's assistant city manager. "We'll get at least $500,000 a year in sales tax." Majestic now also holds options for additional development there.
Roski does not rely solely on his firm's expertise to getprojects built. When a city council is not persuaded by Majestic's usual sweet talk, company executives are than willing to push to get what they want.
The city of Redlands is a case in point. Since 1992, Majestic has engaged in a high-stakes war with competitors to build a regional mall in this quaint Inland Empire town, which most believe can sustain only one such development. Sometimes, however, the company appears to be at war with the city.
Majestic's stake in Redlands lies in a "doughnut hole," an unincorporated chunk of San Bernardino completely surrounded by the city. Majestic put together 125 acres of farmland and proposed a $100 million "Citrus Plaza," which like the Chino project would include a power station and a regional mall. City officials weren't pleased - they wanted to tailor the development so it would not compete directly with the city's historic downtown. But when its plans were rejected, Majestic turned to the county and won approvals there. Incensed, the city filed four lawsuits to assert their jurisdiction; the courts eventually found for Redlands.