San Diego County’s urban development bible, the General Plan, which took 13 years and $18 million to create, is being desecrated by the Board of Supervisors (BOS) one approved amendment at a time. Last month four of the five people that are the final arbiters of the fate of millions of residents, including those who live in the Ranch and surrounding neighborhoods, approved 4-0 three high-density projects, two of which are immediately to the east of the Ranch, that will forever redefine the essence of who we are as a community and our historic landmark. So, are we just going to accept our fate or are we going to fight? This is our rallying cry, Rancho Santa Fe. The RSFA should join the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council in suing the County for approving the Harmony Grove South and Valiano projects. Now.
An environmental impact lawsuit may sound drastic, but there is no other recourse. Against the 11-0 unanimous vote of the San Dieguito Planning Group (SDPG) and 923 residents whom group member and RSF resident Laurel Lemarie got to sign a last-minute petition in 10 days against the proposed projects, and in opposition to a public outcry from residents in the Ranch, Harmony Grove, Elfin Forest, and Escondido, four of the five people who make up the County’s Board of Supervisors - Greg Cox, Kristin Gaspar, Ron Roberts and Bill Horn (BOS Member Dianne Jacob was absent) — gave the green light on July 25 to three of seven massive housing development projects. Harmony Grove Village South and Valiano will add approximately 800 homes, instead of less than 100 residences that were originally planned for these developments under the General Plan. The SDPG tried to appeal the BOS’s decision, but was told by the County that “The Board of Supervisors is the final decision-maker for these actions. There is no appeal provided by the County Code for these approvals.”
This decision is the golden ticket for developers on surrounding large parcels who will now start requesting zoning amendments to build multiples of what they originally had planned. The RSF Post has published several articles that point to the dangers and permanent damage these high-density projects will have on the Ranch and surrounding communities: Increased fire risks in already extremely high fire-hazard areas, increased traffic and congestion, compromised air quality, increased water use, and the consequent negative change to the rural character of the unincorporated areas. Please see the following RSF Post articles as a point of reference:
- Ranch Residents: Sign Petition or Say Goodbye to Rural RSF by Laurel Lemarié
- RSFA and Residents: Where's the Outrage? by Holly Manion
- Petition to Stop Densification in RSF Covenant & Immediate Surrounding Areas by Roberta Oakes Clark
- Circle the Wagons by Rachel Laffer
One thing that is not touched upon as much in the articles published thus far is the fact that there have been serious discussions by the County over the years to four-lane the Del Dios corridor from Escondido to the end of Via de la Valle and significantly widen neighborhood Ranch roads, such as El Camino del Norte, La Noria/El Camino Real, and La Granada/Los Morros/La Bajada. Once upon a time there were efforts to build highways that would relieve congestion and circumvent the creation of major thoroughfares straight through the RSF village and our small community lanes, but it never happened. Ever since, the BOS has been chomping at the bit for an excuse to make our pastoral Ranch a carbon dioxide pit stop for the East by turning the above roads into wide, pulsing arteries coagulated by a continuous flow of cars. These amendments will likely give the County its much-awaited mitigating circumstances to chop our town up into four-lane highways. This is not chicken-little conjecture. It is very real.
Since SD County is only allowed four General Plan Amendments a year, the BOS’s new bag is to rapidly “batch” or “bundle” several projects under one amendment. That’s why this year alone it will review seven proposed housing developments totaling more than 10,000 units, which is in stark contrast to the 1,090 the County approved last year. Why the mad rush? To end run the opposition. Kristin Gaspar didn’t mince her words when the RSF Review relayed her views: "Gaspar said the batching process is not new but the backcountry growth initiative Safeguard our San Diego Countryside (SOS), which would require voter approval for GPAs that increase residential density in rural and semi-rural areas of the unincorporated county, incentivized property owners to move forward more aggressively, creating the number of big projects coming before the board in a short period of time”
Gaspar is referring to SOS’s recent submission of 107,000 signatures for its initiative to the Registrar of Voters, which means it could qualify for the November ballot. So the intention of these high-density developers is clear: Dodge the voice of the people by shoving through as many controversial and questionable projects now before November. This isn’t General Plan dynamics or progress. Surprise! It’s dirty politics. I’m all for profit, but this is at a cost of our entire community. The BOS (whom critics think is in the Building Industry Association’s back pocket) is selling us out, and doing it on the cheap. The developers buy this rural/semi-rural land relatively inexpensively because it’s not zoned yet for building, then go to the BOS for an amendment to re-zone for high-density projects, and then build relatively pricey housing. The end result is that massive developments are built that do little to relieve San Diego’s affordable housing crisis the government bangs on about (surprisingly, the County doesn’t require that even a fraction of these new homes are affordable for middle-class families), and that are located in extremely high-fire-risk areas with few emergency exit routes, and long, impractical commutes to the bulk of San Diego’s employment opportunities. So one should ask, who’s really benefitting here?
Just as a reminder, Cal Fire rates the valley where Harmony Grove is located as a "Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone." There have been 19 wildfires within three miles of the valley since 1980 alone. Santa Ana’s have blown those fires straight into neighboring communities like ours, which also have been designated as “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones.” Considering the Governor’s recent remarks on how things are only going to get worse in California when it comes to hotter temps, drier climes, longer droughts, and the consequent devastating wildfires, it seems negligent in the extreme to sign off on large-scale densification developments in these locations. It puts all of us, our families and our homes, in harm’s way.
The General Plan’s raison d’être is to set the guiding principles for long-range development planning in the County’s unincorporated areas. Yet this batching is undermining the Plan’s very essence. And the more the General Plan’s meaning is subverted, the more it redefines the rural landscape it is inevitably destroying.
Densification cannot be undone. We must not allow the Board of Supervisors to redefine who we are as a community and what will become of Rancho Santa Fe. I urge the RSFA to join the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council in filing two separate California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuits against the County in less than 30 days. Two separate law firms specializing in environmental law have been retained by the Council for several years each on these projects. The better known is Shute Mihaly Weinberger out of San Francisco, the largest environmental law firm in the state. The Council will likely host a press event next week to announce the filing. The RSFA should be standing right there with them.
This is our rallying cry.
The topics discussed above will be a part of the agenda of the RSFA’s Board Meeting on Thursday, Aug. 9. A letter to the RSFA Board will be sent prior to this meeting to request that the Board joins the lawsuits discussed above. If a Covenant Member is interested in adding their name to this letter, please email the RSF Post at firstname.lastname@example.org.