Manju Kumar and the Box People

22 thoughts on “Manju Kumar and the Box People”

  1. Why do I sense that Mr Fung has an ox that’s been gored? The nature of his complaining feels awfully personal, if you ask me, and successfully derails an entire post.

    Johnny, your patience is greater than mine.

    1. As a resident of the area, Hank sees the potential Pomona has as a city. It’s a once vibrant city center that was decimated by the automobile, and the opening of two shopping malls, one, now “dead” on the eastern edge of Pomona, and another just over the county line in Montclair. (Sales tax is a very important source of revenue in post Prop 13 California).

      The proposed housing is 1 flat mile (i.e. easy bike ride) from Pomona City Hall. Downtown Pomona has literally millions of dollars of utilities sitting underused plus a Commuter Rail link to both Los Angeles and Riverside, and a pioneering, in-service frequent Electric Battery Bus route (291)…

      …that will soon connect to Light Rail in northern Pomona:

      Is this not an example of “growing incrementally” in a region that is desperate for housing?

      1. No. These condo complexes are not examples of incremental small scale development. They are the opposite. They are all about controlling the behavior of the population.

        The pre WWII pattern that built our original downtown Main Streets – like Pomona’s – included people starting with a vacant lot and putting up a small building, growing food and keeping small livestock, adding on over time, operating a family business downstairs or in the front of the property, adding additional buildings to the back and sides, putting on additional upper floors, renting out space for residential, retail, and professional uses, and subdividing as economic conditions change.

        Today’s condos go up in big clumps, are restricted from being anything other than owner occupied residential units with strict controls on the number and kind of occupants, and are legally forbidden to change in any way – ever. They are rigid and brittle.

        The rules are designed to select a very specific demographic profile and to mandate outside employment and debt service at a particular predetermined middle class level. That’s why the freeways and commuter rail lines are constantly being promoted as the “answer” to mobility. People can’t just walk downstairs or around the corner to work as was the overwhelming pattern a century ago.

        Not small scale. Not incremental.

        And even if it’s physically possible to walk or take transit… Really? Really? You’re telling me people who can possibly afford at least a piece of crap car are ever going to walk anywhere in this environment? You’re either lying to yourself or you’re lying to me.

        1. Fundamentally what’s going on in the neighborhood no different than what happened in Cudahy, about 20 miles southwest, with the Cudahy lots –,-118.1756108,315m/data=!3m1!1e3!5m1!1e1

          Now, building standards have changed and fire regulations have been larded out to require wide aisles, hammerheads, and stuff that wasn’t needed 30 or 50 years ago. So too parking requirements, and the Kumars wanted more parking for the condo complex (as evidenced by the public record). Cudahy is a thriving community that is a gateway for Latin American immigrants and is relatively walkable and bikeable, with the large blocks doing more to discourage walkability than anything else. I would like to see more organic development, but the large blocks and deep lots encourage property owners to maximize their profits by building density – which is totally appropriate given its proximity to schools, parks, and transit, and the requirements to meet state RHNA and SB 375 goals.

        2. Yeah, you’re right. Let’s be BANANAs and let Pomona slide further into malaise as Prop 13 really kicks in and what retail is left dies. Hey, perhaps we can grow Bananas as the climate warms too? Maybe on all those un-used patches of grass to the north of the Kumar farm that apparently are just sitting there. Nah, too cloudy in Winter. Oh, wait, did I just reveal a flaw in the Kumar’s argument?

          I am sorry to be so flippant and cynical, but as you note, this is not the part of country where you can buy houses for $1 or $20. There is a distinct housing shortage in California that is leading to large numbers of homeless and families living in shelter and in vehicles.

          Are we going to lose yet more housing to Zucchinis?

          Tell me what form of housing would you suggest be built on the Tork lot?

  2. It’s unfortunate then that Rishi tried to spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt in stopping a neighboring property owner (the one to the south) from developing their property into what Mrs. Kumar calls “boxes” (although unlike Evergreen Gardens and other complexes, this would not be gated). (See page 81,, from an excerpt of the Planning Commission staff report where the Kumars attempted to stop the neighboring building from being built, including making various unfounded claims about shading and asking for less density on the property, in contrast to the existing densities nearby.)

    The Planning Commission split on acceding to the Kumar’s demands, and the neighbors filed an appeal to develop their property, which turned into a 3 hour public hearing (fast forward to about 2:00, and then ultimately approved a couple months later with some changes, even though the Kumars still wanted to postpone (, 3:42).

    1. Everyone objects to everything everywhere. That’s the baseline for land use regulation. People object to four unit apartment buildings because they cause crack whores just like mobile homes cause tornadoes. Seeding fear is the stock and trade of every zoning board hearing. I’ve been on the other side of that process. Trust me.

      People complained about her chickens and they had to cull the roosters. These are the back-and-forth dramas of land in flux.

      I spoke to Manju about the development next door and she was attempting to keep the newly purchased farm viable. On really narrow lots two story buildings next door do cast enough shade to compromise winter growth. The developer was frustrated but ultimately moved some buildings around and made things work.

      I’m pretty sure whoever moves in to the new complex will want to see the farm and their clothes line and compost heaps go away. There will be code violation complaints and the usual blah, blah, blah.

      Personally I suspect the Kumars will grow tired of this area once it’s completely built out. By then the value of the property might be high enough that they might be tempted to sell and use the cash to buy a better farm elsewhere. Just my thoughts…

      For the record, I’m in no way opposed to density or tall buildings. But when I look at the way Pomona is fleshing out it doesn’t add up to anything coherent as my previous post described.

      1. I agree it’s not coherent, but that’s a product of having diffuse ownership. The alternative is the master planned acres of beige homes which you decry in other posts. In a free country people have the right to develop their property while not harming others. Manju should have culled the roosters because they crow in the morning, thus disturbing other working class individuals, and the city through their duly elected officials passed an ordinance against them.

        Now, because the housing crisis has reached epidemic proportions in Southern California, and because we are under a state mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, we need to have individuals live closer to work and amenities. As you can hear in the posted council meeting, I reviewed both competing shade analyses, and the main shading was in the three months in the winter, when there is minimal sunlight anyway due to regular cloud cover and rain. It does not override the need to house people, and the Housing Accountability specifically prohibits citing impacts on private properties when denying housing applications in properties duly zoned for them. I did find it surreal that several individuals drove from 20 miles away to testify in support of the farm, exhaling greenhouse gases in the process.

        1. California, and the rest of the United States, is full of older communities that have coherence and were built one lot at a time. Modern zoning won’t allow these kind of communities. Pomona is a product of the postwar consensus to design communities around the automobile.

    2. I have no dog in this fight, but if you have a point, I don’t think you’re making it clear.

      A single-wide east-west lot like the one in the google photo will absolutely be negatively impacted in terms of solar exposure by a two-story structure near the southern property line. This is simple geometry. The sun is lower in the sky in wintertime.

      The owner of an impacted lot is *expected* to object in a zoning meeting to any development that impedes the lawful and permitted use of their property. The zoning board must decide how to balance competing interests. That’s just how it works. You might disagree with the complainant — and some objections are certainly spurious — but that is the proper forum to resolve differences.

      1. In California, though, the Housing Accountability Act specifically provides for different standards to reject housing than, say, a warehouse or a gas station. My argument is that this should have never gone to the zoning board – the neighbors own their own property, followed all the rules regarding setbacks, and should have been able to build with staff approval.

        While having the farm is great, it does not allow for the farm owners to impede on the private property rights of other individuals who want to develop their property. Navigating these minefields is why small developers have been slowly purged out of building housing and become more professionalized, with REITs and armies of lawyers doing development. This may be great for Wall Street, and for diversifying my index funds, but it robs other people of valuable hands-on experience and the ability to be entrepreneurs.

        1. Thanks for clarifying. Ultimately it still comes down to the zoning board to balance competing interests. Certain uses are allowed by right, others require variances, etc. When rights conflict, discussions happen sometimes. And ZBs can be capricious monsters, of course.

          I used to live on the high side of a hillside road in SF. We had great views of the Castro/Mission/Potrero, until the one-story house on the low side of the road was replaced by a three-story. Oh, how the neighbors did howl. But the new (private, single-family) house was built anyway.

          1. This should have never gone to the planning commission in the first place. Johnny is right that nothing is ever “private property” in a sense that we all are subject to building codes, pay property taxes, etc. but the neighbors followed all the objective standards set forth and should have been approved, not have to sit through four public hearings to get their homes built. Even if Mrs. Kumar thinks they are “box people”, they are still people that deserved to be housed in a neighborhood near parks, schools, and transit, and not driving hours out of their way to the high desert.

            1. You seem to think we’re having a disagreement. We’re not. I want to see lots of new construction and I’d like most of it to be at a price point that working families can truly afford.

              But the stuff that’s being built is fucked up – and that includes the endless political process that pits property owners against each other over minutiae. We’re not building communities that support working people and healthy families. We’re building isolated disconnected warehouses for beds and couches. That’s my assertion here. And I don’t see any way to correct the situation any time soon.

            2. I think you’re seeing more hostility in the process than I am aware of.

              New construction impacts existing property owners. If a discussion can bring all parties to an agreement that minimizes negative impacts, the new neighbors will be more welcome when they arrive. And this is a developer — they don’t care where they put the shade lines, it’s just another design factor for them. But the existing owners care a lot. If the issues can be worked out, that’s a much better result for everyone.

              “Box people” sounds pejorative, but it’s probably pretty light-hearted. I wouldn’t take it too seriously.

        2. I don’t think you and I are in any way disagreeing.

          This post was intended to be about people doing small scale individual projects that solve (or attempt to solve) complex problems in a simple affordable mom and pop manner. You’ve pointed out that nothing is ever simple. Fair enough.

          Let’s drop the pretense of, “this is my private property and I can do whatever I want with it” nonsense. You can’t do shit with you property because of zoning regulations, the building code, the fire marshal, the Americans With Disabilities Act, off street covered parking minimums, bank financing requirements, permit and impact fees, and a very long list of additional official procedures.

          My point is that in the long run most of our communities are destined to fail under the dead weight of all the endless blah, blah, blah. What I’m looking for are examples of families who figure out how to inhabit the existing landscape in ways that make sense after the dysfunction has run its course. Maybe the Kumars aren’t there yet. But they’re moving in an interesting direction….

    3. Henry, how did you even find this blog post? Our farm is a positive contribution to Pomona, as made clear by the Mayor (who a strong majority of the city elected btw). I’d appreciate if you stop trying to slander me and our work and start working on making Pomona a better city like we are.

      1. If you believe Henry is stating things that are untrue about you, please provide what is untrue or your perspective of the facts, so we as the readers can get a more complete picture.

        1. All of the info above is from the two public hearings, or the comments sent by residents and by Mr. Kumar requesting an EIR be done for the project and making unfounded claims about shade (in my professional opinion, as I stated in public comment). If there is an inaccuracy, please feel free to correct me, but it is my opinion that FUD was used when the Kumars rallied people from throughout the region to write letters claiming that the farm would be devastated with the neighboring development.

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