County Board of Supervisors approves up-zoning to 360 homes at Copper Hills. Read Detailed update

Update from our Elfin Forest Neighbors

RECAP OF YESTERDAY’s BOARD OF SUPERVISOR HEARING ON SD15 near SAN ELIJO HILLS:
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First, some background for rural residents and San Marcos residents:
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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– 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.
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– 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.
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– 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.
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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.
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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.
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NEXT STEPS (mosly directed at San Elijo Residents who will need to absorb 362 homes, but also rural residents in EF / HG as well):
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a) You can write more comments bringing up whatever issues you felt were not brought up in previous comments, letters or testimony.
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b) Consider attending the final vote to register your opposition to the PSR GPAs and the SD15 proposal in particular.
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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
Good luck.
-JP Theberge
Grow the San Diego Way
Vice Chair, Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council

2 comments

  • Thank you JP for your thorough and informed post. As a resident of San Elijo Hills, I was against SD-15 (Copper Hills) from being approved and spoke up at the Board of Supervisors Meeting Wednesday along with many others from our community. Thank you to those who took the day off and came down to defend your views! As JP mentioned above, there are options for all of us to consider moving ahead and I would like to help organize a formal meeting in which the citizens of San Elijo Hills and neighboring communities can come together to hear information, get informed about options and decide how we can move forward as a collective group. I have contacted a few others that were at the Board of Supervisors meeting to try to set a meeting / place and time. I will post something as soon as this comes together. This meeting would not take place at our HOA meeting as that is not the format. We may form a website as a place to post eventually but for now, if you are interested in getting together as a group to have a voice against this kind of development, let us know by posting.
    Thank you, Stacy and Tom Matthews, San Elijo Hills residents against up-zoning of SD15 property / Copper Hills.

  • My experience working with Stephen Bieri and especially the Simmons family is that they will not work in good faith with community members if your suggestions or concerns eat into their profit margins. Stephen Bieri also proposed the Murai Project in north San Marcos. The general plan said UP TO 89 homes. His proposal reduced the allocated park space and put the building footprint right in the middle of the wildlife corridor, which provides year round access to water for the animals. This was so he could get all 89 homes squeezed into this heavily vegetated land. When Sandra Farrell proposed an alternative project of 82 homes with an ADDITIONAL FIRE EGRESS that drastically reduced the impact on the wildlife corridor, she was rejected because it was not “financially viable”. No one can say she was a NIMBY because her proposal actually moved the tract homes right into her backyard (literally) so the ecosystem could be preserved.

    When I started asking hard questions about the Highlands Project in north San Marcos, Jim Simmons (the father) called my employer and insinuated that if I kept speaking up, my employer might be in legal trouble. The Simmons family also lied about the state of a pond (again more fresh water) on the Highlands property that would need to be paved over. They asserted the pond was contaminated and nothing lives there. They repeated this lie to the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife so F&W would approve the removal. It took a lot of hours and digging to expose that lie. Consultants Collaborative also likes to use an environmental consultant that fabricated a Ph.D. from Harvard (the CV kept changing online, and so when I saw the Ph.D. from Harvard pop up randomly on one CV, I called Harvard directly and did a degree verification check to confirm no such degree existed). With all of these experiences, I would not hold my breath that any project headed by Consultants Collaborative would consider the input from residents in a honest or genuine way.

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