San Marcos’ growing pains at top of agendas

7 are campaigning for 2 City Council seats
By Linda Lou
October 19, 2006

SAN MARCOS – Familiar and new faces are seeking two council seats next month. Though no single issue stands out, how the rapidly growing city continues to develop and how it deals with the resulting traffic congestion are probably the most important. The city is three-fourths built out, and whoever is elected likely will vote on several large projects.
The largest project is a proposed $1 billion private development of shops, condos and trails north of San Marcos Creek that would create a downtown for the city. Others are a research and technology park with condos proposed near California State University San Marcos, and two mixed-use developments, called Heart of the City, also near CSU San Marcos, and Palomar Station, near Palomar College.

Regarding traffic, the question of extending Las Posas Road one mile north on unincorporated land to Buena Creek Road has been hotly debated. The connection has been on city traffic circulation plans for about 20 years.

Residents of Santa Fe Hills, who live near the north end of Las Posas, are worried that motorists will use their neighborhood as a shortcut to and from Interstate 15 if the extension is built. Twin Oaks Valley residents want it completed because they believe it would give them traffic relief.

In the City Council race, incumbent Councilman Mike Preston is joined by Dean Nelson, chairman of the city’s Planning Commission; Chris Orlando, also a planning commissioner; Wally Simpson, a business owner; Stephen Tomacelli, owner of a printing shop; Darby Sherwood, a retired businesswoman; and Gary Sloan, a baseball agent. Longtime councilwoman Pia Harris-Ebert is not running for re-election. Sherwood and Sloan were not available for interviews.  Nelson, 44, is general manager of the Star Builders Supply/ACE Hardware store in San Marcos. When he’s the one behind the service counter, Nelson said people often seek him for all kinds of advice, which he said makes him a good listener.

Nelson, a longtime San Marcos resident, said development should be placed along transportation corridors, if the location is right. He supports the creek project and Heart of the City, but not Palomar Station because he said it doesn’t make sense to put housing in a manufacturing area.He said he’s not sure of a position on the research park because its initial plan has too many condos. Las Posas should be connected to Buena Creek Road, Nelson said, adding that he hopes there will be an agreeable solution. With Harris-Ebert leaving, Nelson said, his knowledge of the city’s previous projects allows him to provide continuity on the council.

 Orlando, who ran for a council seat two years ago, represents the new face of the city. He’s 36 and has lived in San Elijo Hills, a development still under construction in southwest San Marcos, for four years. Orlando was among those who successfully campaigned to block a second Wal-Mart from opening in San Marcos, near San Elijo Hills, and a proposal to create a city-owned utility that would have provided electricity and natural gas to some areas. Orlando, who works in corporate communications, said he supports quality growth that will benefit the city. But he also wants to look after existing neighborhoods and keep the city a great place to call home. He said he hopes it will land on Money magazine’s list of best places to live one day. Traffic congestion is a serious problem, he said. The city should set priorities, improving areas that need the most help, such as the west side of the city, Twin Oaks Valley Road, San Marcos Boulevard and San Elijo Road, he said. Orlando favors extending Las Posas. “You can never solve problems by creating dead ends,” he said.  Orlando is a fan of the creek project, but he doesn’t have a position on the research park because its environmental report isn’t finished and he’s concerned by the effects of traffic on people living in Discovery Hills and Discovery Meadows. Both Heart of the City and Palomar Station could be interesting opportunities for the city, he said.

Preston, 53, said if re-elected, he will push for an ethics panel that will monitor local elections. Preston, a sales account manager for a wireless communications company, said he also wants the city to establish more wireless-friendly locations and speed up wireless connections. If that happens, he said, it would encourage new business to open and allow more people to work from home. Preston voted three years ago in favor of the second Wal-Mart, an idea voters overwhelming rejected in a referendum. Preston said he supports quality growth and likes the creek project. He also generally supports the business park and Heart of the City development, but is against Palomar Station. He voted against it once because he said it wouldn’t be safe for children to live in an industrial area. Preston said he hasn’t made a decision about Las Posas. The city needs to determine, he said, whether a 20-year-old traffic-circulation plan is still applicable. He and Mayor Corky Smith have asked county Supervisor Bill Horn to support re-evaluating traffic in the city-county area.

Simpson, who grew up in San Marcos, said he wants to get more involved. He’s part-owner of The Blvd Bar and Grill and coaches football at San Marcos High School, where he once played on the offensive line. If elected, Simpson, 35, said he hopes to reach out to senior citizens with more services. As someone who knows the city’s past, he offers a prediction about its future: “San Marcos is going to be the downtown hub of North County.” Simpson, who is a member of the creek project’s task force, said he supports the proposed development, but wants to get more input from residents. He said he hasn’t seen plans for the research park or other projects but generally likes mixed-used developments. As for Las Posas, he said he’d rather look at other options instead of an extension because he doesn’t favor directing traffic through residential neighborhoods.

Tomacelli, 53, was mayor of Hidden Woods in Washington more than 20 years ago. He has lived in San Marcos 12 years and said he supports growth that is well thought-out, such as building along the Sprinter commuter rail line. Tomacelli supports the creek project but is unsure about the other proposals because he has yet to see plans. However, he said he generally doesn’t like projects that mix industrial uses with housing. Tomacelli, who lives in Santa Fe Hills, opposes the Las Posas extension and road improvements that he said would encourage motorists to cut through neighborhoods. He said the extension would bring in additional traffic, including heavy trucks, which would be unsafe for children walking to Paloma Elementary School. He said the city needs to take a stand against any changes to roads for a proposed project called Merriam Mountains that he said would make traffic worse in the northeast part of the city. The plans calls for 2,700 residences along the west side of Interstate 15 north of Deer Springs Road. Tomacelli said if housing developments north of the city are stopped, Twin Oaks Valley Road wouldn’t be further congested, eliminating the need for extending Las Posas. If elected, he said, he will do what’s best for the entire city and not split neighborhoods into political factions.

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