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Supervisors Approve Hundreds Of New Homes In North San Diego County

Harmony Grove Village, a new housing development seen in the distance from El...

Photo by Alison St John

Above: Harmony Grove Village, a new housing development seen in the distance from Elfin Forest Preserve, July 16, 2018.

The San Diego County Board Supervisors on Wednesday approved new developments that will add hundreds of new homes in Harmony Grove in North County.

A key concern was whether residents will be able to evacuate in time to escape in the event of a wildfire.

The supervisors heard impassioned testimony from people arguing the region is desperate for more housing.

Erik Bruvold, CEO of the San Diego North Economic Development Council, said the county is short 53,000 housing units, compared to what regional planners have said the area needs, and North County is short 20,000 housing units.

"If you don’t build it, they will still come," he said, and people are already driving 60-mile roundtrips to jobs in San Diego.

Others protested that houses in the new development would not be affordable, and urged the supervisors to require that developers include at least some homes at prices that people working in the area can afford.

But the most common concern voiced at the hearing was the threat of wildfires since there is one main road, Country Club Drive, in and out of the area. Retired police officer Kevin Barnard said more than 20 homes in Harmony Grove were lost in the Cocos fire in 2014, and in the future, catastrophic losses are not only probable but to be expected.

But fire officials said they are confident they could evacuate homes, or advise people to “shelter in place.”

Cal Fire Chief Tony Mecham said policies have changed since the 2007 fire when half-a-million San Diegans were given orders to evacuate. He said it will become more common to shelter in place.

“One of the things that we see with newer developments, that are built to the modern fire safety standards, include larger road segments, fuel modification, and water supplies, often times it is much safer to leave people in their communities than put them on the road,” Mecham said.

Local resident Jaqueline Arsivaud was not convinced.

“What we have been able to find, by hiring our own fire consultant and our own traffic engineers, is that at least 2,000 to 3,000 people and hundreds of horses would be trapped, that really is the decision that you are voting on today,” she said.

Arsivaud said the community spent years negotiating in good faith with the county to reach consensus on the plan for where housing should be developed and changing it now will discourage future community involvement in planning.

Supervisors Ron Roberts and Bill Horn both asked fire officials several times to go over the reasons they are confident they can protect residents from wildfire.

Supervisor Kristin Gaspar sought more information about what sheltering in place really means and encouraged everyone to register with the county’s emergency hotline. The vote to approve the Harmony Grove Village South and Valiano projects was 4-0 with Supervisor Dianne Jacob absent. Her office said she is recovering from routine surgery.

The supervisors are fast-tracking approval of nearly 4,000 homes this week, all of them in areas where the county’s General Plan has formerly limited development. Almost 1,000 of them are in North County, and more than 3,000 are in Otay Mesa.

Another 5,000 new homes in four more new developments that require amendments to the General Plan are expected to come before the supervisors in September and October.

San Diego County Supervisors have approved a new development that will add hundreds of new homes in Harmony Grove in North County. A key concern was whether residents will be able to evacuate in time to escape a wildfire.

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