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Lawsuits Challenge Approval Of Master Planned Communities; County Delays Vote On Lilac Hills

A view of the Valley Center countryside where the Lilac Hills Ranch was plann...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: A view of the Valley Center countryside where the Lilac Hills Ranch was planned, with 1,700 homes. The project was not consistent with San Diego County's General Plan for growth, and Measure B on the November ballot failed.

A key vote that was originally scheduled this week for the Lilac Hills Ranch development in North County has been postponed. A spate of lawsuits has sprung up challenging San Diego County’s approval of major new housing developments.

The County Board of Supervisors had planned to approve new developments of up to 10,000 new homes this summer. In September, the supervisors did approve Newland Sierra, a master-planned community of 2,135 houses in the hills north of San Marcos. But the supervisors have delayed until December a vote on Lilac Hills, another master-planned community of 1,700 homes proposed west of rural Valley Center.

Attorney Sara Clark, representing Lilac Hills area residents, said a key legal question is whether the county is allowing developers to buy their way out of increased greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing offsets in other parts of the world.

“We assume that the county is taking the additional time to consider the Lilac Hills Ranch project because it’s determining how it can move forward, given the current questions surrounding their efforts to mitigate climate change,” Clark said.

A Superior Court judge granted a stay and preliminary injunction sought by the Sierra Club, challenging the county's Climate Action Plan and inadequate mitigation of increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Following the approval of the Newland Sierra project in September, lawsuits were filed by various groups including the Endangered Habitats League, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Golden Door Spa. Issues include the destruction of preserved wildlife corridors, greater fire risk for existing residents and inadequate mitigation for increased traffic.

Rita Brandin, of Newland Communities, the developer proposing Newland Sierra issued this statement,

“For years, the out-of-state billionaire owners of the Golden Door have engaged in frivolous legal maneuvers to delay Newland SIerra, and this is just their latest tactic following unanimous approval of our plan.”

Clark said Lilac Hills differs from Newland Sierra in that it was rejected by voters countywide in a ballot initiative two years ago.

“This is a project that had been resoundingly rejected by San Diego County voters in 2016,” she said. “Our hope is that the board will take that into consideration, and that may lead to a different outcome here.”

Newland Sierra is another iteration of a project called Merriam Mountains that was rejected by the Board of Supervisors in 2009. In the 30 days following the supervisors’ approval this September, around 100,000 signatures were collected, and are currently being counted for a future referendum, seeking to overturn that approval.

A shortfall in the number of new homes being built in San Diego County is blamed for contributing to the escalating price of housing. Residents in the unincorporated areas are fighting to preserve rural land and residents in San Diego’s 18 cities are resisting new housing that will increase traffic and change the face of their communities.

The faces on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors have hardly changed in 20 years, but this November's election could affect future decisions on major developments in San Diego's unincorporated areas.

A key vote that was originally scheduled this week for the Lilac Hills Ranch development has been postponed. A spate of lawsuits has sprung up challenging the Board of Supervisor's approval of new housing developments.

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