By Don Greene / Escondido Democrats
In 2012, after a number of years in planning and design, the residents of Escondido approved an update to our city’s General Plan. The General Plan is the guide to how the community wants to see our city grow. Included within the General Plan are different “elements” which address a variety of different yet related aspects of how we will grow our city. One of these elements governs land use.
The Land Use Element of the General Plan addresses allowable land uses and the specific zonings. It also addresses a number of areas within the city that either will or could be developed for commercial, residential and multi-purpose use. Included in the Land Use Element are also “Land Use and Community Form Goals and Policies.” These set the tone and feel for all the future development within the city.
The designated purpose of including these goals and policies are:
“Specific goals and policies related to land use and community form provided below are intended to guide development to meet present and future needs, achieve a vibrant community, and enhance the character of Escondido.”
Specifically, Goal 16 having to do with Annexation addresses the whys and hows of the city should move forward when it annexes land. Safari Highlands Ranch is a 1084-acre parcel of land in the unincorporated section of the county that the city wants to annex. Everything about this project is contrary to the criteria listed in Goal 16 of the Land Use Element.
The goal reads simply:
“Annexation of properties for the provision of municipal services whose development shall complement and be compatible with adjoining areas without placing an undue financial burden on the city.” [emphasis added]
Already, within the first few words of this goal, Safari Highlands Ranch goes against what the voters of Escondido have approved. There is no possible way that a development of 550 homes, in an area that currently has absolutely no infrastructure, will not have an “undue financial burden on the city.” In fact, Mayor Abed told us at the council meeting on August 26, “There will be an impact on the city.”
Looking at specific parts of the goal, we find that the project is really not suitable for development.
Annexation policy 16.2 reads:
“Promote the annexation of unincorporated lands where it is determined in the city’s interest to promote orderly development, implement goals and objectives, and/or to expedite facilities and services.” [emphasis added]
Neither the city nor the developer has told us how Safari Highlands Ranch will be in the “city’s interest to promote orderly development.” There are a number of in-fill projects in the city that can be addressed and should be prioritized. These are projects that have infrastructure in place (water, sewer, gas, electricity, etc.) and will not cost the residents of the city extra monies to build and supply. Safari Highlands Ranch has none of these things and cannot surely be counted as “orderly development.” Look at a map of Escondido. The octopus continues to grow while the holes within the city remain.
Annexation policy 16.3 reads:
“Demonstrate that facilities, services, and infrastructure are adequate to serve proposed annexations in accordance with city standards, acknowledging Neighborhood Maintenance & Preservation Policy 4.4 allowing more flexible public improvement requirements in the Rural and Estate I single-family residential areas.” [emphasis added]
Clearly the infrastructure does not exist in this area and cannot be deemed “adequate to serve proposed annexations.” In fact, the city’s infrastructure is so inadequate, that the developers are offering to build a waste treatment plant in the area to serve the new homes. That’s all fine, but the waste still needs to flow out of our outfall to the sea and that will continue to put a strain on our resources. We can’t handle the amount of wastewater that is generated in storm events now, with the addition of the water coming from this new development, we will really be in serious trouble.
Let’s also not forget one very salient point. The proposed development is suggesting that there be one two-lane road for ingress and egress from this development. And that road will merge with an existing, already overburdened two-land road. Even if there is only one car per family, that’s additional 1100 average daily trips added to a road that is severely congested. Clearly our infrastructure is not ready to handle this project.
Annexation policy 16.4 reads:
“Allow annexations if it can be determined that appropriate improvements as determined by the city will be financed by the property owner(s), and that such expansion of the city will not have unacceptable adverse fiscal or environmental impacts to existing city services or residents. Exceptions to this policy may be considered subject to Policy 16.2.” [emphasis added]
The “unacceptable adverse fiscal and environmental impacts to existing city services and residents” is clear. Fire and police service is strained thanks to the “union busting” efforts of Sam & Co during budget negotiations. Adding a potential 550 service calls to an already strained system will have a detrimental effect on existing residents because wait times will increase. It will have fiscal impact on the residents because we will all have to pay for new police officers and fire fighters.
The parks and roads and the waste water treatment plant are being built by the developer but are not being staffed and maintained by the developer. This cost will transfer down to us, the existing taxpayers for amenities to which we will not have access. The monies that we will pay for this development will necessarily only benefit the residents in one, very specific area of the city and will potentially hurt the rest of us.
Sam & Co’s attitude of scorched earth budgeting means that when these new monies are needed, they will have to come from somewhere. Where might they come from?
- Development projects never pay for themselves, meaning that the tax dollars generated through property taxes aren’t enough to cover the actual infrastructure costs. So, they won’t be paying for themselves.
- Sam & Co refuses to use reserve dollars, even though they are tax dollars that we’ve paid so that the city can use them for our benefit. So, we won’t be using reserves.
- The tried and true practice of eviscerating our public benefit programs like Parks & Rec, Libraries, and any other program that appears like a “social service” will be the target. So, we’ll be paying.
The cost for shiny new homes in a hillside in the middle of fire country will land directly and disproportionately on the backs of those who use our city’s amenities. Parks are already in disrepair; imagine what they will be like when there is no money to maintain them. (With the exception of Sam’s brother’s property named the “Mercado Neighborhood Park”.) Our library system is already pared to the bone; how will service be in the newly expanded library when we don’t have money to hire staff?
Safari Highlands Ranch is bad for Escondido for a number of reasons. We can’t afford to lose the lands that will be taken when this project is approved and the residents of Escondido can’t afford the price tag for what is to come.
Jay Powell says
General Plans are supposed to serve as the land use constitution for a jurisdiction. Perhaps there needs to be voter approval mechanism to protect these plans.
When City of San Diego City Council voted to open up “Future Urbanizing Area” lands prematurely in 1984, citizens formed San Diegans for Managed Growth, placed an initiative on the ballot by petition and won “Proposition A”, the Managed Growth Initiative in 1985. It requires voter approval to develop agricultural and open space lands at an increased density.
Over the decades there have been a number of ballot measures to allow development. The difference is that the public had a direct role in reviewing the cost benefit arguments. Real public benefits such as dedication of open space lands were a part of the deal to develop.
Reading about this development and the massive Lilac Hills project which the County Planning Commission approved on a narrow one vote margin last week, signals the need for a stronger threshold to maintain the intent and purpose of General Plans in our region. Great job by Don Greene in this article making the arguments for why sprawl is a bad deal fiscally and environmentally.
I urge you to consider putting in place a mechanism like the 1985 Managed Growth Initiative to bring this matter to the voters. It was not a complicated, hundred page land use measure; it simply said if you are going to divert from the adopted General Plan as set in place on a certain date by crossing over what some places refer to as the urban services line, you have to go to the voters. It puts the onus on the developers to make their case versus citizens fighting each transgression, one after another.
Mandy Barre says
Why doesn’t Chuck Lowery understand this???? Well written. Thank you.