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Developer Meets Resistance In Back Country

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Video published December 11, 2009 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: A developer plans to build more than 2,600 new homes on more than 1,000 acres north of Escondido on Merriam Mountain, but the proposal has divided the county's board of supervisors. Alison St John reports the story.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): The rolling mountains west of Interstate 5 north of Escondido have captured the attention of a developer who wants to bring the thousands of homes to that rural area. But them Merriam Mountain development is finding some major resistance in the backcountry. KPBS reporter Alison St. John is covering the story. So Alison, briefly describe the development plans for Meriam Mountains.

ALISON ST JOHN (KPBS Reporter): It's an enormous master planned community, Gloria, north of Escondido. If you ever drive up the 15 you can see Lawrence Welk on the right and this would be that hill, mountainous area to the left. It would put 2,600 more -new homes in those hills. It's one 2,000 acres and put more than 1,000 of those acres for open space. It would include dozens of parks, a new fire station and widen Deer Springs Road to four lanes. It would not have any schools, but it is the product of more than five years of planning.

PENNER: Well, San Diego's population is expected to grow. So, why the opposition?

ST JOHN: The thing about this project that I think is interesting, Gloria, I think, there area a lot of big decisions being made at the moment about new growth and density at the moment in unincorporated areas of our backcountry. This one here originates from a developer's decision to buy up more than 50 private lots and invest a lot of money, and do all this planning, contribute to Bill Horn's campaigns. That's the county supervisor, and whose district that is, district 5. And at the same time this is running parallel to another process, which you and I talked about a few weeks ago on San Diego Week, the county's general plan update. Now that process is really asking the people, it's going through a very long and democratic process with community meetings and local planning groups involved, to come up with an overall general plan of where the general plan should go. And, one of the underlying problems with this particular project is, the major exception to that plan, the current plan suggest 300 houses in that spot as opposed to 2,600. And the new update would suggest lower than 100. So, there's an internal contradiction there.

PENNER: And there's lots of interest in that. Many, many people showed up at the county supervisor's hearing this week. IN the end, the supervisors were split. Two voted for, two voted against it and one was not there. So, why the split?

ST JOHN: Well, Bill Horn, whose district it is, obviously is the main supporter of it. And Greg Cox, who pointed out when you are planning on developing in the backcountry, water is an issue and this particular site is within the county water authority boundary. So, that's a plus. It is on Interstate 15, so that's a plus, if you want to keep it on transit lines. The people who opposed it were supervisor Diane Jacob and Pam Slater Price, who were very concerned about the fact that there is no evacuation plan, as yet. There is a water issue in the whole backcountry, people are being asked to stop watering their fruit trees. Is it appropriate to put 2,000 more homes in that spot?

PENNER: Will Ron Roberts, who is that fifth supervisor and who is up for election this year, will he be the deciding vote? Will it come back to board of supervisors again, so he can vote?

ST JOHN: That's what it looks like. He was away in Sacramento on other business on the day of the vote. So now it's up to him to decide. He has 30 days to decide whether it gets put back on the agenda. Someone else could, but basically it's up to Ron Roberts to reconsider and add his voice.

PENNER: Any word where he is going with this?

ST JOHN: I've talked to a lot of people and nobody is prepared to say that they feel confident. So actually, I would rather not speculate. I think it's rather an exciting unknown at this point at which way the vote will go.

PENNER: Well, thank you for coming. Alison St. John.

ST JOHN: My pleasure.

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