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Battle Over North County Housing Development Enters New Phase

A man signs a petition asking for a referendum to overturn the approval of th...

Photo by Alison St John

Above: A man signs a petition asking for a referendum to overturn the approval of the Newland Sierra housing development in North County, Oct. 4, 2018.

Signature gatherers are out and about again, working to qualify another referendum for the 2020 ballot. Opponents of Newland Sierra, a major new housing development north of San Marcos, hope to overturn the yes vote cast by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors last month.

The petitioners have 30 days to reach their goal of collecting more than 100,000 signatures. They need just over 67,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. Referendums to overturn city council votes have succeeded in the recent past, but this may be the first time a county-wide referendum has been mounted.

Most voters are focused on next month’s midterm elections, but some were still willing to stop outside a State College area Walmart to sign a new petition.

David Oaks was collecting signatures and registering passers-by to vote if they were not already registered. He said he is paid $8 per signature for this referendum.

Oaks said the issue is to let voters decide the fate of a development of more than 2,000 new homes in rural North County.

“Let voters decide this issue about a very large new development, the size of Del Mar city,” he said. “Do not leave it up to our politicians.”

San Diego County Supervisors approved the project on a four to zero vote in September, after a planning process that lasted about four years. This is the third time a developer has proposed housing for these hills, which lie about 15-minute drive north of Cal State San Marcos.

But the Golden Door, a world-renowned spa, is fighting to keep the quiet rural countryside from being overrun by blasting and construction. Denise Price represents the Golden Door, which is paying for the signature gathering.

“It’s not just about the Golden Door,” she said. “It’s about representing our neighbors — all of us are feeling the effects. We are just the ones that have the resources to fight this project.”

Price said all the neighboring planning groups in Twin Oaks, Bonsall and Hidden Meadows opposed the project because of concerns about traffic, water and wildfire.

Photo by Alison St John

Signature blockers in red tee-shirts warn voters not to sign a petition putting a referendum on the 2020 ballot to overturn the County Supervisors' approval of Newland Sierra Development in North County. Oct 5th 2018

Signature blockers

Rita Brandin of Newland Communities, the developer, said the company has hired people to block the signature gathering. She said they are outnumbered by signature gatherers 20 to 1.

She called the blockers, who wear red T-shirts, “truth teams.”

“People shouldn’t sign this because they’re being told misstatements about what Newland Sierra is,” she said. “They’re saying we’re building million-dollar McMansions. What we’re really doing is bringing San Diego’s working families attainable housing.”

Rather than apartments, Newland Sierra would provide attached townhomes and single-family homes. Some homes at Newland Sierra could start in the $400,000 range, but most would be $500,000 to $900,000.

“If you flip through that petition package,” Brandin said, “you’ll see nothing about the 36 acres of parks, the 19 miles of trails, the open space that we are preserving, the mix of housing."

Brandin said Newland Communities has spent $12 million going through years of planning reviews.

“Actually ask about what type of housing would be provided, before giving up your signature,” Brandin said. “Actually learn about the benefits of this project and think about the other working families out there, our local families who are really interested in staying here versus moving up to Riverside County and commuting into San Diego to work.”

Brandin said it would cost another $3 million to $5 million to educate the public for a referendum, and the cost of defending projects gets passed on to the consumer in the cost of the homes.

Signature gatherers are out and about again, working to qualify another referendum for the 2020 ballot. Opponents of Newland Sierra, a major new housing development north of San Marcos, hope to overturn the San Diego County Supervisors approval.

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