Roberts Votes To Scuttle Merriam Mountain Project
San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts cast the deciding vote Wednesday to reject a major housing development in the North County. The Merriam Mountain master planned project would have built 2,700 homes and commercial development on Interstate 15 ten miles north of Escondido.
More than 100 people signed up to speak for and against the development, which has split the neighboring communities.
It split the board of Supervisors also, a body that usually votes five to zero on most things. At the first hearing on Merriam Mountain in December, the board split 2-2, effectively scuttling the project.
Joe Perring, project manager for the developer, Stonegate, took full advantage of this second hearing to tell the County board it was a project they could be proud of.
“We are building a 21st century sustainable community where families will live and play near their jobs and major transportation corridors. This is the type of growth contemplated by the General Plan Update and in accordance with the County’s planning principles.
But Supervisor Ron Roberts, who was absent for the first hearing, and had the deciding vote, had a different take.
“My own personal feeling is that the communities of the 21st century are going to be very, very different,” Roberts said, “they are going to have, as an integral part, public transit. They are going to be lower in their impacts in every way shape or form.”
Roberts had called for the second hearing, leading some observers to believe he intended to support the project. He kept silent about his intentions until the end of the five hour hearing, and then took everyone by surprise by refusing to give it an exemption from the General Plan.
“Sometimes,” he said, “being an architect and a planner by profession, you look at things different.”
The defeat of this development sends a strong message to other developers who have more projects waiting in the wings for undeveloped areas up Interstate 15. Their proposals contradict the County’s General Plan Update, which community planning groups and County staff have been working on for more than a decade.
Sandra Ferrell of the Twin Oaks community group begged the Supervisors not to scrap everything they had worked for.
“The Merriam Mountain simply does not fit the character of our community or the vision that our community said it wanted through the 10 years of workshops and meetings that we held on the General Plan Update. Many hours of work and significant public funds have gone into the General Plan Update, and it’s a shame to throw it all out over one project.”
Supporters of the plan pointed out that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) met all state and county regulations. But Wes Peltzer, an attorney for the Golden Door Spa which opposed Merriam Mountain, pointed out that the EIR directly contradicted findings in the Environmental Impact Report for the County’s General Plan.
“On the fire impact side, “ Peltzer said, “what you’re being told in this EIR is everything is hunky dory, it’s an insignificant impact. But then you go right over to your General Plan 2020 EIR, and it’s a significant and un-mitigateable impact, and the fact is that as you bring the development down to those areas, you increase the fire risk for people -- it’s a fundamental disconnect.”
Hal Gross, another nearby resident, put an even finer point on it.
“You might as well put up a letter on the wall saying to small developers and homeowners, ‘You have to follow the General Plan, but if you’ve got the money, we’ve got the exception.”
Supervisor Dianne Jacob, along with Pam Slater Price opposed the project all along.
Jacob questioned the validity of some of the background reports. She said she could not find where an extra 1.3 million gallons of water a day would come from for 2,000 more homes. But her main objection was she could not reconcile the project with the County’s own General Plan Update.
“There is no way,” Jacob said, “that this project corresponds to those guiding principals which this board adopted to guide development under our General Update. This to me is like putting the city of Del Mar in a rural residential area. It established a very bad precedent. It is clearly leap frog development.”
There was a hushed silence in the supervisors’ chambers when the deciding vote was cast, but a faint sound of cheering could be heard from the overflow chamber next door, where the communities’ planning groups had been monitoring the meeting.
Their version of how to manage growth will be before the supervisors in fall -- that’s when the sweeping General Plan Update is up for consideration.