Lilac Hills Ranch Developer Goes for an End Run Around Community Groups
By Doug Porter
Union-Tribune headline this morning: ‘San Diego median home price hits highest point in a decade.’
Q’s: Are you a NIMBY? Don’t you care about San Diego’s housing crisis? The signature gatherers for the measure in support of building Lilac Hills said it would provide affordable housing for low-income families and veterans, along with being eco-friendly. How can you be against that?
A. Easy. If you’re buying the arguments proponents of Measure B are peddling, I have a bridge to sell you.
Measure B is a clear cut case of a developer doing an end-run around years of community input into planning. Voters in El Cajon and Chula Vista are being asked to decide on a North County project they only know of through ads with fallacious arguments. (Ask the people in Barrio Logan how they feel about that concept.)
For starters, there is no low-income housing in this plan. Unless a starting purchase price of $300,000 is considered low-income friendly. And the greenest thing about this development is the cash being passed around to support it.
What Lilac Hills Is
In 2008 Accretive Capital Partners began quietly buying up land in the northwest corner of Valley Center. Over the years their vision has evolved into a proposal to build 1,746 residences, 90,000 square feet of commercial office space, a 50-room country inn, a 200-bed group care facility, a recycling facility, and a water reclamation facility.
Measure B would replace slightly more than 600 acres of agricultural land that is currently zoned to hold 110 new homes and no commercial space with Lilac Hills Ranch. The developer’s web site calls this plan “A sustainable community in North San Diego County that promotes healthy living by connecting residents with the natural environment.”
Promised amenities include community vineyards and orchards, a farmer’s market, town center with sidewalk cafés and restaurants, boutique shops and grocery store, a fruit stand, office space and even robots to mow lawns and carry groceries.
Like the Jetsons, but still no personal rocket packs.
From NBC7 News:
Goodson said the robots can be assigned to the task of your choice via a mobile app. You tell the robot where to go or where to pick you up, similar to Uber, the rideshare app.
The developer has enlisted 5D Robotics, a Carlsbad company, to build the Lilac Hills Ranch robots.
5D Robotics showcased the capabilities of the Polaris and Segway models that would be used in the community at Carlsbad’s Alga Norte Park on Thursday. One rectangular, wheeled robot weaved back and forth across the park, meant to mimic the movements of a lawn mower. The Polaris operated hands-free, as it would when taking residents home from a night out in the community.
The Path to the Ballot
Planning groups in Bonsall and Valley Center rejected the plan. Not because they didn’t like the idea, but because their areas simply couldn’t handle the load 19,000 daily residents and visitors would place on their infrastructure.
Undaunted, the developer pressed on for a hearing before the San Diego Planning Commission.
The developer describes the site as half a mile from Interstate 15. But opponents said it is a mile and a half from the freeway, down narrow country roads that the developer is not proposing to widen.
Steve Hutchison of the Valley Center Planning Groups said the County’s General Plan — passed just four years ago at a cost of more than $18 million — specifically prohibited projects like Lilac Hills, which some describe as leapfrog development.
“It’s all about the money. Farmland, especially remote farmland, is relatively inexpensive compared to land that’s closer in to existing villages, “ Hutchison said. “The profit margin is potentially much bigger if you take hundreds of acres of farmland and build houses on it.”
The Planning Commission recommended Board of Supervisors approval of the project with changes. Passage by the Board wasn’t assured, and Supervisor Bill Horn recused himself from voting on it following a ruling by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. He owns land near the proposed development, and thus was deemed to have a conflict of interest.
Horn was expected to support the project. He’d received substantial campaign contributions from the developer. A former staffer was now serving as the primary lobbyist for Lilac Hills Ranch. With Horn out of the picture, two county supervisors would be all it would take to vote it down.
Then there was a decision by the California Supreme Court on another project in LA leaving similar projects uncertain as to how they should measure and disclose their potential greenhouse gas emissions.
So Accretive decided to put the plan on the November 2016 ballot. Paid signature gatherers sold the project as green, smart, and making a real impact on the shortage of available housing in the county. $1,158,105 buys a lot of signatures, and, needless to say, they succeeded.
Putting the plan on the ballot meant some of those pesky promises made along the way were discarded. It also meant that language blocking future lawsuits, especially those concerning emissions, could be inserted.
The Board of Supervisors voted to put the measure on the ballot after asking for an impact report by the County’s Planning and Development Services Department to be included as part of the election package voters can study prior to marking their ballots.
We’re now looking at a total of over 600 pages of legalese and jargon for citizens wishing to make a completely informed decision on Measure B. Lots of luck with that.
From the Valley Roadrunner:
Although the project does not now comply with the General Plan, the general plan amendments included in the initiative would ensure consistency. “The initiative would comply with the general plan through the amendment,” said PDS project manager Mark Slovick.
Valley Center Parks & Rec board Vice President Larry Glavinic, who opposes the project, commented, “Park offerings by master plan developments such as Lilac Hills are nothing more than private parks masquerading as public parks.” He added, “I view Lilac Hills parks as nothing more than a parasite to the public treasury. We would decline accepting those parks because they are a nonperforming asset.”
‘A Terrible Precedent for Our Region’
Leaving no stone unturned in their quest to hustle voters, supporters of Measure B sued County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu, alleging opposition ballot arguments misrepresented facts about the Lilac Hills Ranch project.
Although San Diego Superior Court Judge Sturgeon left much of the wording of the “No on Measure B” ballot arguments intact, he did a lot of tweaking of the language–enough for both sides to claim victory.
From the Valley Roadrunner:
Measure B would authorize the Accretive Group to move forward with Lilac Hills Ranch. It would require a majority of those voting to approve it. It allows the developer to build the project without complying with California Environmental Quality Act or conditions that had previously been attached by the San Diego County Planning Commission in the summer of 2015.
James Gordon, one of the principal opponents of the project, told The Roadrunner: “The court supported our concerns about Measure B: it is inconsistent with the General Plan, it will not provide affordable housing, and the developer’s contributions to address known traffic impacts are a drop in the bucket compared to what it will cost taxpayers to keep traffic flowing…”
“…With this court case behind us, the truth about Measure B is clear,” said former County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, one of the five signatories to the ballot argument. “Lilac Hills Ranch is a bad project for San Diego County, and Measure B would set a terrible precedent for our region. Voters should be very cautious about allowing big money developers to push their agendas through the ballot box instead of conforming to local laws and planning requirements.”
Ballot Language – ORDINANCE AMENDING THE COUNTY GENERAL PLAN, COUNTY ZONING MAP AND COUNTY CODE, AND ADOPTING THE LILAC HILLS RANCH SPECIFIC PLAN Shall this Initiative be adopted for the purpose of amending the County General Plan, Zoning Ordinance and Code of Regulatory Ordinances and approving the Lilac Hills Ranch Specific Plan (“Plan”)? The Plan provides for the development of a 608-acre master-planned community including 1,746 dwelling units, three commercial centers, a public park, 10 private parks and 16 miles of trails. The project site is generally located north of Escondido and east of I-15 in the unincorporated area of North San Diego County.
A YES vote would: approve the Lilac Hills Ranch development plan.
A NO vote would: reject the Lilac Hills Ranch development plan. However, a revised plan could come back before the Board of Supervisors in the future.
Yes on B Website
Yes on B Facebook
For information on the November 2016 General Election, see our San Diego 2016 Progressive Voter Guide
Other San Diego Free Press coverage of the 2016 general election.
Tomorrow: Measure C. As in Chargers. We’ll be writing about various state and local contests Monday-Friday for the next few weeks.
Key Dates for the November 8, 2016 General Election –> pic.twitter.com/uEQEgPKHRk
— CA SOS Vote (@CASOSvote) September 12, 2016
On This Day: 1887 – According to folklorist John Garst, steel-drivin’ man John Henry, born a slave, outperformed a steam hammer on this date at the Coosa Mountain Tunnel or the Oak Mountain Tunnel of the Columbus and Western Railway (now part of the Norfolk Southern) near Leeds, Ala. Other researchers place the contest near Talcott, W. Va. 1962 – James Meredith, a black student, was blocked from enrolling at the University of Mississippi by Governor Ross R. Barnett. Meredith was later admitted. 1973 – Jim Croce was killed in a plane crash on his way to Sherman, TX, for a concert. Maury Muehleisen and four others were also killed.
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