We are facing a moment of truth in San Diego County. The recent fires in Paradise, Thousand Oaks and Malibu are a stark reminder that California is increasingly a fire-prone state and that some parts of San Diego County are at extreme risk. Because of this high fire risk, the county’s general plan discourages high-density development in the canyons and chaparral-covered hillsides of the unincorporated county. The county spent 13 years and more than $18 million creating this plan which directs where housing
To North Country residents living near Merriam Mountains, it feels like Dr. Frankenstein is bringing that monster back to life. A monster called urban sprawl the community chased out of their backcountry in 2010. “If you look closely, you can still see old Native American marks across the land, along with old rock carvings from passersby in the early 1900s.” STOP NEWLAND SIERRA Back then, the mammoth housing development was called Merriam Mountains. It’s now called Newland Sierra, but the opposition’s p
San Diego County’s plans to approve thousands of new homes this summer could be hampered by a court’s tentative ruling this week.
A Superior Court judge has tentatively ruled in favor of the Sierra Club’s petition for a stay in a case involving how to compensate for increased greenhouse gas emissions from new housing development.
Sierra Club attorney Josh Chatten-Brown said the County of San Diego promised in 2011 to be a leader in fighting climate change. He said the county planned to offset increased carbon emissions from new housing developments with programs to improve air quality within San Diego County.
The suit says the county is now approving new housing developments but promising to mitigate for increased greenhouse gas emissions with carbon offsets elsewhere in the world.
The lawsuit attempting to block this strategy could set a precedent, Chatten-Brown said.
“Throughout the state, agencies are looking at San Diego to see what happens here, so I do think there is a real potential to have state-wide impact,” he said.
Chatten-Brown said the county needs to find programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the county, rather than buying credits in other parts of the world.
“There’s plenty of county land, including the port, in which there is potential to create offset projects,” Chatten-Brown said. “The county, for whatever reason, decided not to go that route and allowed developers to go international.”
The lawsuit could affect Newland Sierra, a proposed master-planned development of more than 2,000 new homes in North County that the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is poised to consider later this month.
San Diego, like the rest of the state, is facing a shortage of housing. The question of how to make up for increased carbon emissions generated by increased traffic is one of several hurdles the region is facing as it struggles to expand to meet the demands of a growing population.
RECAP OF YESTERDAY’s BOARD OF SUPERVISOR HEARING ON SD15 near SAN ELIJO HILLS:
First, some background for rural residents and San Marcos residents:
a) This proposal (SD15) was not a full project that they were seeking approval on. It was a change in zoning on the County land that the developer, Mr. Bieri purchased some years ago. It sought a 600% increase in the density of the land adjacent to San Elijo Hills (and to Elfin Forest) in addition to 138,000 sf of commercial.
b) It was part of a convoluted process conjured up by the County called the Project Specific Request General Plan Amendment (PSR GPA) that included 23 different properties across 40+ planning areas, all seeking up zones or changes to the current General Plan. This was a process initiated by Supervisor Horn immediately after the most recent General Plan was approved in 2011 to satisfy property owners who felt the General Plan unfairly deprived them of the right to increase the value of their property through public action. [note: obviously, there is no inherent right to having your property investments increased massively by government decisions]. The County also paid for this process, costing $1.5 Million in taxpayer money. Normally, GPAs are paid for by the developers proposing them. SD15 was only one of the many up zones which is why the hearing took so long.
c) These 23 requests were reviewed by the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday and they voted to approve or reject these projects one by one, but in essence they are all part of one big General Plan Amendment. Each of the votes they took will be documented and consolidated into one big document and then they will vote to approve it as one GPA at a later date.
d) What this means is that the supervisors have not OFFICIALLY approved the PSR GPA, though it is a formality. As far as I know, this means WE MAY STILL BE ABLE TO SUBMIT COMMENTS to put “into the record” until such time as they vote on the final PSR GPA. Comments will not likely sway them to change their minds, but they will go “into the record” and be associated with the project and can be referred back to if any issues or litigation arise and perhaps could provide leverage in negotiations with the developer and/or County if it comes to that.
e) The reason they didn’t officially vote on the PSR GPA yesterday is because they are only allowed to approve 4 General Plan Amendments per year and they’ve already approved 3 large projects (including HG Village South and Valiano) and have 4 more in the pipeline for this year (for a total of 10,000 homes). They are bundling multiple GPAs into batches in order to avoid triggering the violation of state law. There are several lawsuits pending at the moment that are challenging this batching/bundling, including the Town Council lawsuits against the County on HGVS and Valiano.
f) In all likelihood, this PSR GPA vote will be bundled with the last set of projects: Lilac Hills, Warner Ranch and Otay 14 which will likely go to the supervisors on 10/31 or possibly 12/12 according to one source.
THE VOTE: 4 to 1 in favor of the upzone with Diane Jacob opposing. Ron Roberts seemed to vacillate on the upzone and said on several occasions that the way they were assigning the densities seemed illogical. Horn, Cox and Gaspar, predictably voted in favor and Roberts sided with them in the end.
ARGUMENTS: There were about 15 commenters, but we had lost quite a few due to the late hour. Most people can’t take time off work to sit around all day to comment on a project. Most of the arguments were focused on fire evacuation, traffic and school over-crowding. In addition there were complaints that this process was not transparent and no one was notified (because no one lives within 300 feet of the property, being adjacent to a landfill and open space on the other sides).
The developer, Stephen Bieri and his consultants (Matt Simmons and his father, a local land use consultancy called Consultants Collaborative) made an attempt to address those concerns but since there was no actual project being analyzed there was very little hard data or evidence to support their perspective.
– Regarding fire evacuation, Matt acknowledged the difficulty in evacuating San Elijo Hills during Coco’s fire but repeated what the public safety professionals have been saying: “we’ve learned a lot from past fires.” Evacuation will be handled differently. They will only issue evac orders one neighborhood at a time so not everyone will evacuate all at once thus preventing the backup. My response is that during Coco’s fire most people began evacuating way before the orders were given (due to social media and the myriad other ways people find out about fires) so an orderly evacuation is wishful thinking at best.
– Regarding traffic, he made note that the project studies stating 16,000 average daily trips were flawed because they presumed that all 138,000 square feet of commercial space would be developed when they likely would not be. Unfortunately, since there was no actual project being proposed there was really nothing else to go by. Perhaps a more fleshed out project could provide a better assessment of the traffic, which is another reason I opposed the upzone.
– Regarding the school over-crowding, the applicants made an argument that by the time the project was finally building out, the school population will have dropped based on projections from the current student population that apparently is top heavy. It seems to presume that the population of the area will go down in the years to come as well, which seems doubtful.
I stated my opposition to the upzone on behalf of the Town Council on principal because there is no legitimate justification for increasing density 600%, just for the asking. According to the General Plan, to justify amending it, there has to be a public benefit and it may not impact public safety. On the public benefit, there is none, other than providing housing during a housing crisis. The general plan already provides for 66,000 buildable lots which is more than enough to keep up with housing growth. Furthermore, the Board of Supervisors are poised to approve 7 amendments this year alone with over 10,000 houses previously not in the general plan which brings the total to 76,000. In addition, there is a development in Harmony Grove (HG Village) that is in build out phase and they have only built 300 out of 742 homes and they have not been selling like hotcakes, despite the housing crisis. On the public safety side, I’m not convinced that this is not a public safety risk as mentioned above.
I also opposed the upzone because I believe that the developers should present a complete project to the community rather than forcing an upzone that will permanently entitle that land to having 362 homes regardless of what they end up doing. I disagree completely with how they went about this, though they say it was a County initiated process. The County did initiate this process, but it was to satisfy the property owners who felt they were unfairly deprived of the right to increase the value of their properties (at public expense). [note: property owners do not have an inherent right to have their properties increased value by a government decision]. It is unfortunate because perhaps the community might have been amenable to some sort of compromise. Now they feel that they were hoodwinked through an obscure backchannel process and are now forced to accept up to 362 homes when only 61 were allowed.
NEXT STEPS (mosly directed at San Elijo Residents who will need to absorb 362 homes, but also rural residents in EF / HG as well):
a) You can write more comments bringing up whatever issues you felt were not brought up in previous comments, letters or testimony.
b) Consider attending the final vote to register your opposition to the PSR GPAs and the SD15 proposal in particular.
c) You can wait patiently until the developer brings forth a more fleshed out project either through San Marcos or the County and weigh in on that project. Believe it or not, but some developers do want to work with the communities and the community does have leverage in working through a plan that might be workable to all. You might have a little less leverage now because the a lot of the effects of this project come from the increased density and that will be difficult to oppose given that the County has approved it already. But yes, some developers do try to work with the communities involved so you can start with that assumption, in good faith, until proven otherwise.
d) And, of course, there is always litigation if you truly believe that the County violated California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) or other federal, state or County laws in approving this upzone. This is not to be taken lightly as there is no guarantee that you will prevail and it makes it much harder to work with the developer later on. Consult a lawyer if you feel this way and you have 29 days to file after the GPA is approved.
e) support the SOS (Save our San Diego Countryside) Initiative which will be on the March 2020 Ballot. If the voters approve it, most GPAs that are in the County will have to go to a referendum to all the voters in the County to approve GPA projects. This will encourage developers seeking GPAs to put forth projects that people are likely to vote for. It may or may not affect this project, but it will give more power to the people versus the 3 rubber-stamping supervisors and the developers who help get them elected. http://www.saveoursdcountryside.org
f) Get more involved and informed about land use and housing which are the most likely to impact your quality of life. Seek out local candidates who support your view on housing. Don’t get thrown off by typical political distractions that both parties use to attract voters. Vote based on local issues. [FOR SAN ELIJO RESIDENTS] In your district there are four candidates: Randy Walton (who was at the hearing yesterday), Kristal Jabara, Eric Flodine and Mike Sannella. The Town Council does not endorse candidates but can make factual statements about them. I will note that Mr. Sannella is endorsed by the Building Industry Association and has also received thousands of dollars from the BIA as well as the developer of the aforementioned project, Stephen Bieri. You should research their stances and make a decision accordingly. For Mayor, you have Chris Orlando who I believe lives in San Elijo and Rebecca Jones. [FOR COUNTY RESIDENTS] District 5 supervisors candidates are Michelle Gomez and Jim Desmond. Desmond is endorsed by the Building Industry Association as well and has received campaign donations from a who’s who of developers of major projects around the County. He was recently in the news for accepting donations from developers in San Marcos and then voting to approve their GPA projects months later, despite loud opposition by the community including a recall effort on one of the decisions.
Land use and housing is likely the biggest issue that a community will face that will have the biggest impact on your quality of life. Sign up for the City of San Marcos Council newsletters AND the County Board of Supervisors newsletter where the meetings and agendas are announced. Sign up for Grow the San Diego Way’s newsletter to get more insights on land use and housing in the area. I started Grow the San Diego Way as a think tank and policy research outfit that seeks to provide a more balanced discussion on housing and land use that is a counterbalance to the narrative that is currently dominated by the profit motives of the building industry. www.growthesandiegoway.com
Also sign up for the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council E-ALERTS at: http://eepurl.com/bz03fv
Grow the San Diego Way
Vice Chair, Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council
Op-Ed opposing County rezoning of 69-acre lot west of the landfill (sent to San Elijo Life by Friends of Copper Creek)
Urgent Appeal to Save San Elijo Hills Quality of Life:Deadline September 12!
A huge increase in zoning is currently being proposed that, if approved, will permanently change San Elijo Hills.The 69-acre property is just west of the closed San Marcos Landfill, south of San Elijo Road.This project is called SD15 in the County and Copper Hills in the City of San Marcos.
The developer could have named this project “Toxic Hills” as this land never produced copper and County reports document (1) on site signs of landfill leachate and/or landfill gas intrusion and (2) possible health risks to future residents and tenants.
This will change the community forever by
harming the character of the community;
dramatically increasing traffic;
impeding emergency evacuation and diverting fire resources; and
causing environmental harm to Copper Creek and neighboring habitat preserves.
Right now, this property is in the unincorporated County.An amendment to the County General Plan proposes increasing SD15’s maximum density almost six-fold from 61 dwelling units (SR-1 zoning) to 362 dwelling units plus a large amount of commercial space (C-1, SR-0.5, VR-10.9 zoning).
This project will be heard at a Board of Supervisors meeting on September 12 and will be approved unless San Elijo Hills and other neighbors vocally protest.While the San Dieguito Planning Group voted against this project, County staff and the Planning Commission are recommending approval.Nonetheless, this project can be stopped by our elected representatives if residents speak up.
If this property is rezoned, County studies report there will be an additional 16,231 average daily trips.That is approximately a 27-fold increase over the number of trips allowed under current zoning.This will negatively affect the quality of life.
Impedes Emergency Evacuation
Existing roads and connectors are already inadequate to provide a safe exit from San Elijo Hills.In the 2014 Cocos fire, there was traffic gridlock causing people to wait hour(s) to evacuate.The proposed residential and commercial density will make this problem much worse.
Diversion of Fire Resources
This property will primarily rely on the San Marcos Fire Department and will divert fire protection resources from San Elijo Hills.This property will be very difficult to defend on up to three sides from a fire.Because of the proposed density concentration, fire departments would likely prioritize this property over single family homes.
Harms to Copper Creek/Escondido Creek/San Elijo Lagoon
Copper Creek (leading to Escondido Creek and San Elijo Lagoon) is already suffering from siltation, sedimentation, scouring and flooding from projects such as this that did not adequately mitigate the impacts.The intensity of this proposed development/hardscape will only increase the harms to the Creek and property downstream.
This project is opposed by the Escondido Creek Conservancy.
This Project Is Harmful to Habitat, Including Nearby Preserved Lands
This property serves as an important connector/corridor from the County Core to the San Marcos habitat areas.Development of this property as proposed will fragment the habitat and decrease habitat connectivity between the County and San Marcos.Edge effects will harm neighboring habitats and fuel modification arrangements will cut into the habitat.Light and glare effects will affect neighboring preserves and decrease resident’s quality of life.
This project is opposed by neighboring land managers, including the Center for Natural Lands Management.
County Neighbors were Held to a Double Standard
Before the County’s 2020 General Plan Update, this property and its neighbors were all zoned 1 dwelling unit per 2 acres.As a result of General Plan 2020, this property was already doubled in density to 1 dwelling unit per 1 acre while its County neighbors lost their density and are now zoned 1 dwelling unit per 10 acres.That means this project will have 52.5 times the density of its County neighbors.This just isn’t fair!
There have long been concerns with the San Marcos landfill.The landfill is mostly unlined and took 18.75 million tons of material between 1979 and 1997.The landfill reportedly accepted residential, commercial and agricultural waste including paint and paint thinners, oil, treated sewage sludge and medical waste.No laws prevented “certain types of low level radioactive waste, known as decommissioned materials” from disposal in the San Marcos Landfill.
A 2017 letter from the County about SD15 states, “While the San Marcos Landfill has closed, it can be expected to remain biologically active and generate landfill gas and leachate for more than 30-50 years after closure.”Monitoring may need to continue forever.
The County writes that “Landfill gas represents a health and safety issue” and gas can “migrate off-site.”Landfill gases “can pose an explosion and human health threat.”
SD15’s onsite groundwater monitoring wells are detecting toxic chemicals of concern (“COCs”).According to the County, there are two likely sources: landfill leachate and landfill gases. Per County documents, “[t]he source of COCs outside the waste area is likely due to migration of [landfill gas] and, to a lesser degree, leachate.”County letters concerning SD15 state that “Landfill gas has been documented to travel in the subsurface 1,000 feet or more from the source.The underlying geology of [SD15] is fractured rock, which adds another layer of complexity to potential gas migration.”
County maps show that most of the groundwater from the landfill flows towards the west, towards SD15/Copper Hills.
News articles report that the San Marcos landfill “is leaching chemicals known to cause cancer, reproductive harm and other health problems.”It continues, “officials said that because these chemicals don’t occur naturally, any leak exceeds standards set for those sites” and “[a]ny volatile (organic compound) that’s detected in groundwater is an indication of release from the landfills” (emphasis added).
Unfortunately, the County has limited ability to protect residents/tenants from landfill gases and landfill gases.The County has stated that the Solid Waste Local Enforcement Agency “has no regulatory authority to require [this] Project to be constructed with measures to mitigate the effects of the landfill” (emphasis added).
The County has only the power to request Department of Environmental Health monitoring of residents, resident notification of landfill proximity, and installation of landfill gas mitigation measures such as explosion-proof conduits/sealing, use of a gas migration barrier with passive venting and hard-wired methane detectors.Will this developer follow the County’s requests?
In 1999, eighty acres of San Elijo Hills was condemned by the County as a landfill buffer.News reports state the condemned land was located 1000 feet to 1.5 miles away from the landfill.SD15/Copper Hills is within 1000 feet of the landfill.
This property should not be aggressively developed and this project should be stopped.
Doesn’t this project include a Boys and Girls Club?
As the property is currently zoned for 61 homes only, with no commercial zoning, it is highly unlikely that there is any definite plan for any specific commercial tenant. I have seen real estate developers frequently make big promises to push through their projects.Often these promises are not kept and communities disappointed.
Real Estate Speculators Should Not Benefit at the Expense of Neighbors
This property was purchased by the developer, Steven A. Bieri, for only $48,755 per acre.That price reflects that this land is not suitable for intensive development.Now, these real estate speculators want to benefit themselves at the expense of the San Elijo Hills, Harmony Grove and Elfin Forest communities.
We can build a better world for our families and children by speaking up because every voice matters in local politics.The more public input, using different communications methods, the greater the likelihood that we can preserve the community:
Oppose this in person at the Board of Supervisors Meeting on September 12, 2018 at County Administration Center (CAC), Room 310 (Board Chambers), 1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego;
The Building Industry Association of San Diego County sued the San Marcos Unified School District this month, arguing that increased developer fees amount to illegal taxes that will raise the cost of new homes in the area.“The disputed fees should be deemed to be a form of unlawful tax, rather than reasonable ‘fees,’ ” the lawsuit, filed Aug. 10 in San Diego Superior Court, argued.The suit challenges a 21 percent hike in the fee that the district charges home developers, to cover the costs of serving new students in the school system. In May, the district raised that rate from $4.61 to $5.61 per square foot of new construction, a hike that the association called an “unjustified and grossly excessive schedule of fees on new residential construction.”
High on a hillside in North County’s unincorporated area, you can see new houses springing up on lots in Harmony Grove in the valley below. Elfin Forest resident JP Theberge said the local community agreed to 700 homes in this rural valley west of Escondido. But developers are now proposing 700 more, on land that was supposed to be protected from development. Theberge said none of the homes will be affordable, even to middle-class families earning San Diego’s median income.