Defending Open Space: San Marcos’ most valuable resource
Defending Open Space: San Marcos’ most valuable resource
Guest Post by Lesley Blankenship-Williams, Ph.D.
Next time you are outside in San Marcos, look up. Chances are, expanses of undeveloped terrain will be in your line of sight. Whether your gaze falls on the infamous “P mountain” or the undeveloped hills framing Cal State San Marcos, open space is San Marcos’ most valuable resource.
San Marcos’ unique topography is a boon to residents who cherish their proximity to nature. For us, open space provides therapeutic respite from the claustrophobic and frantic lifestyle of urban cities.
With close to 90% of San Marcos land already developed, open space is now a precious commodity.
Unfortunately, developers feel the same way. And if developers continue to have their way, the sanctuaries that characterize our City will be permanently mutilated.
The irreversible loss of San Marcos’ most valuable resource begins with the highly controversial Highlands Project, a high density housing development that destroys one of the most environmentally sensitive plots of undeveloped habitat left in North County. Just as the San Elijo Hills community works to conserve 502 acres of open space, residents to the north recognize that the Highlands Project will cause irreparable damage to the last expanse of open habitat in the Northern face of the city.
The Highlands Project has no redeeming features. It places 198 high-density homes directly on top of habitat of exceptional value; such habitat is an ecological gold mine. These 262 acres, owned by real estate investor Mr. Kubba, is the biological corridor connecting the last large blocks of coastal sage scrub habitat in North San Marcos.
The development will practically eliminate the corridor, irreversibly fragmenting the habitat. Moreover, the habitat is riparian – supporting the fragile headwaters of Agua Hedionda Creek. But the negative impacts of the project are not limited to wildlife. The Highlands Project endangers its new residents with an extreme fire hazard risk, further burdens our schools which are already beyond capacity, and saddles the Palomar College area with additional congestion. The community outrage surrounding the Highlands project is well-deserved and aptly described in this 2006 article. The project is, and always has been, designed to maximize the developer’s profit at the expense of the environment and the citizens of San Marcos.
Two-thirds of the proposed housing development are beyond City boundaries and thus subject to County zoning laws. In 2011, San Diego County zoned Mr. Kubba’s land as SR10; the property should support no more than 1 house per 10 acres. For a 262 acre plot, 198 proposed homes is a far cry from prescribed 26. And yet the project is moving forward as if nothing is amiss. And discussions with every City Council member strongly indicate they back the project as is, despite the community opposition.
Why would such an ill-conceived plan, plagued with a myriad of severe issues, be supported by our elected officials?
Because it’s about the road. It’s about the money.
To serve the new homes built in the Highlands area, Las Posas Road (currently a dead end that terminates in Santa Fe Hills) must be extended north. The multi-million dollar price tag on the extension is cost-prohibitive for City coffers. But Mr. Kubba can afford it, especially as he stands to make a hefty profit on the high density development of the Highlands Project. A classic quid pro quo deal. Mr. Kubba pays to extend Las Posas north towards Buena Creek Road. In return, the City looks the other way.
Why is a Las Posas extension important? The City’s end game, detailed in 2006 City Council meetings and confirmed by a recent meeting with City Planners, is to create a major arterial by connecting Las Posas to Buena Creek. The arterial will divert traffic into the historically rural communities in northern Vista, San Marcos and Escondido.
Proponents of the so-called Las Posas “punch through” deceitfully argue that the extension is a cure to our congestion problems on Twin Oaks Valley. Residents in the north need to “share the traffic” burden by diverting more cars onto Las Posas Road, even if it is at the expense of pedestrian safety, noise and community character. Residents who oppose the Las Posas extension are often labeled as selfish NIMBYs.
The devil is in the details. Who are the proponents of a Las Posas “punch through”? Ultimately, those with a financial tie to development. And here is why. Las Posas would complement Twin Oaks Valley as the second major arterial into the northern tri-city area, increasing access to these historically rural and isolated communities. This rural area, now characterized by estate homes, would be ripe for new high density development. If you build it, they will come – as evidenced by the thousands of new homes the developers propose for Merriam Mountains. Any traffic relief would be ephemeral as this study demonstrates. The new road would pave the way to high density housing. With new housing comes more cars and lots more traffic. Ultimately, the extension of Las Posas is the gateway for additional congestion.
San Marcos is at a crossroads. Citizens of San Marcos need to decide if San Marcos is going to be the reckless playground of a few rich developers or if San Marcos is going to respond to its current citizens and invest undeveloped open space, our most precious commodity. It is time to ask, just who do our City Council members serve? Us or the developers?
Send a strong message to our City Council that you value the remaining undeveloped open space as enhancing our quality of life and its role in preserving endangered wildlife and ecosystems by adding your name to this petition.