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Fate Of North County Housing Development Rests With San Diego Supervisors

The proposed site for Newland Communities to develop a master-planned community of 2,135 homes in the Miriam Mountains in North San Diego County, Sept. 18, 2018.
Alison St John
The proposed site for Newland Communities to develop a master-planned community of 2,135 homes in the Miriam Mountains in North San Diego County, Sept. 18, 2018.
Fate Of North County Housing Development Rests With San Diego Supervisors
Fate Of North County Housing Development Rests With San Diego Supervisors GUEST: Josh Chatten-Brown, land use attorney, Sierra Club

This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh the largest new housing development proposed in North County is scheduled to come up for a vote before the San Diego County Board of Supervisors tomorrow. But a recent court ruling could put the new and Sciarra housing development and others like it in jeopardy. We'll delve into that legal issue in a moment. First Cape PBS North County Reporter Alison St. John lays out the basic arguments for and against building a city of homes on an undeveloped site near the Mariyam mountains on a wooded hillside. Windchimes evoke the serenity and peace that the golden door retreat and spa is famous for. People pay handsomely for the chance to stay in the secluded spot. It's a great place just to connect and rejuvenate recharge and then move forward. What's really great about the golden door. It's in a place where it's just peaceful and tranquil. Denise price credits the place for helping her through a difficult life transition. She now represents the Golden Door in its battle to preserve its natural surroundings. It's also surrounded by some sensitive habitat. If you look around the county some of the most sensitive plants and animals are actually located just north of here in the mountain. A key wildlife corridor runs through the nearby hills. But time may be running out for this rural corner of San Diego. Hidden in the hills and valleys west of Interstate 15 the Mary mountains just to the north is the site of a proposed masterplan development. The project called Newland's Sierra would include seven interconnected communities made up of 2135 single family and town homes plus parks trails and a town center. From the crest of a hill at the top of a trail in the golden door price points across the valley to the ridge where Newlon Sierra would be built at a time when San Diego County is in urgent need of more housing. The empty hillside is a tempting sight for new homes with great views not far from 15. Some people might say this is the perfect place for a development has lots of space. San Diego needs more housing why not because it doesn't have the infrastructure to support it. We're talking about putting a city the size of Donmar right behind that mountain. There's not a roadway system to support it. We don't have the resources in terms of water either infrastructure the development that they propose should be happening in the urban centers where the transportation systems are that can support these projects. Just 15 minutes drive south of here at Cal State San Marcos construction is underway on North City a new mixed use housing education and retail development. Eric Brue vode CEO of the San Diego north economic development council says North counties created 10000 new jobs since the recession ended and employers want to see more housing built for their employees. So if we need more housing why don't we build more housing like this here in the city. Absolutely and we need all of the above. So this is a really exciting project here in San Marcos the North City project that's building in a more dense and urban way. But you know I think we need to be aware that there's still a pretty robust demand for suburban family kinds of forums in North County where people want a detached house with a yard to raise their kids and have a bigger family. Prove old estimates about 4000 new jobs in the life sciences telecommunications and defense industry clusters will pay enough to afford the single family homes proposed in Newton Sierra. These a reasonably well paying middle class jobs that can afford the kinds of housing that you'd see it new and Sierra. I know it doesn't sound affordable but houses in the five 600000 700000 dollar range are really important kinds of housing that we need in North County to cut down on the number of people that are making these hour and 15 minute long commutes. Millions of dollars have been spent on community plans to preserve the land. Tucked between state rights 78 and Interstate 15. But millions more have been spent to convert it into housing. The growing pressure to build more houses even if it means abandoning use of community planning and environmental stewardship could spell a different future for this quiet family. Alison St. John Kay CBS News. One of the ways that Newland's Sierra is trying to lessen the carbon footprint of the development is by purchasing carbon credits to reduce pollution. Outside the county this month the San Diego judge issued a temporary hold on developments adopting that strategy. The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and joining me is Josh Chaton Brown an environmental land use attorney who represents the Sierra Club and Josh welcome to the program. Thank you very much for having me. Did you explain the Sierra Club's main argument in this case it's over the county's new climate action plan specifically the plan's carbon credit rules. So this case is really about the County Board of Supervisors favoring developers interests over the well-being of San Diego. What the county is doing is they're allowing developers to claim unenforceable air pollution cuts in foreign countries instead of making them cut emissions here in San Diego and by allowing this. The county is violating its commitment to protect our air quality and the quality of our life that we enjoy here in San Diego and we believe it's important to hold the county accountable. Now why does the Sierra Club think that allowing developers to buy carbon offsets that benefit communities out side of the county. Why is that such a bad idea. The county previously committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions here in the county and earlier this year the county approved a climate action plan in which the county goes back on its word and the county creates a loophole in which the it opens up potentially unlimited development throughout the county by allowing developers to buy carbon credits from anywhere in the world. The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit to make the county do what it had previously agreed to do and to make sure that those greenhouse gas emission reductions occurred here in the county but aren't similar carbon credits offered to businesses under the state's cap and trade program where they can also offset their emissions by buying carbon credits in other areas of the world. The county's program is completely separate and apart and is very different than the cap and trade program. The states cap and trade program has a rigorous system of ensuring that the reductions are in fact enforceable and it's restricted to projects in the United States and to other to Canadian cities. The county's program on the other hand allows reductions based upon crowd projects anywhere in the world and also the cap and trade program uses carbon credits for only a small percentage of projects emissions. The cap and trade program allows up to 8 percent of a project's emissions be offset here on the other hand. The county has no limit on the amount of a project's emissions that can be offset with carbon credits and in fact Newlon Sierra which the county is considering for approval tomorrow proposes to offset 82 percent of its emissions with carbon credits. Said Sarah Sarah. The developers say that they have their own plan to mitigate for increased greenhouse gases and they don't rely on or use the county's climate action plan. So the lawsuit and last week's ruling really doesn't apply to them. That's their argument. What's your response. The mechanism that Newland's here came up with is exactly the same as the out of county offset program that the county developed in its climate action plan and in fact the Newland's Sierra projects out of county offset program became the model for the county's Climate Action Plan. You say the outcome of this lawsuit could be precedent setting. Why. We do think that this has the potential for far reaching impacts throughout California. It is common now for cities and counties to develop climate action plans to deal with the GHG emissions or the greenhouse gas emissions of new developments and hopefully this litigation will send a clear message that those climate action plans must achieve real reductions. What do you say to those who say we are in the middle of a housing crisis. The new and Sierra project is supposed to be San Diego's first carbon neutral community and it's going to have a mix of housing retail commercial so that residents won't have to travel that far to work or to shop. Isn't this project a good compromise. No. This is a false choice. We don't have to choose between affordable housing and addressing climate change which is one of the most important environmental issues of our time. We can do both. While the county claims that these huge sprawl projects which are projects in open space are necessary to address the housing crisis the county's own recent reports show that there's plenty of capacity in existing developed areas to build. You were in court this morning trying to get the county Board of Supervisors hearing on this matter delayed because the Sierra Club believes the recent stay an injunction applies to this Newlyn Sierra project. What happens if tomorrow's county board meets. They move forward. The project is approved by the Board of Supervisors. The Sierra Club will challenge the Newland's Sierra project in court. The court decided this morning not to hold the hold a hearing as to whether the county is in contempt of court. The court was concerned that the county has not yet approved the Newlon project and it was also concerned that it could potentially delay the trial that we currently have scheduled in December. So the Sierra Club will have an opportunity to challenge the new Sierra Project's reliance on these out of county offsets in court if indeed the County Board of Supervisors votes tomorrow and perhaps approves this project. Will you go back to court and ask them to be found in contempt. The Sierra Club will be filing a lawsuit against the new Lindsay art project. The Sierra Club has not yet made a decision as to whether it will continue to pursue the request. The court fined the county in contempt but it is certainly true that the county is essentially thumbing its nose at the court. The court was very clear that the county cannot proceed approving projects or considering projects that rely on out of county offsets and the new and Sierra project is exactly that type of project that relies on out of county offsets. I've been speaking with attorney Josh Chaton Brown who represents the Sierra Club. Josh thank you very much. Thank you. You're listening to KPBS midday edition

The largest new housing development proposed for North County comes up for a vote before the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday.

Developer Newland Sierra would build more than 2,000 new homes in an area known for its wildlife and quiet retreat centers.

Secluded Spot

Melodic wind chimes resonate softly through a wooded glade, evoking the serenity and peace the Golden Door retreat center and spa is known for. People pay handsomely for the chance to stay in this secluded spot, with Japanese gardens and trails leading through shady valleys and rock-strewn hills. It lies on 600 acres a few miles west of Interstate 15, north of Escondido.

“It’s a great place to connect and rejuvenate, recharge and then move forward,” said Denise Price, who credits the place for helping her through a difficult life transition. “What’s really great about the Golden Door is that it’s just peaceful and tranquil.”

Fate Of North County Housing Development Rests With San Diego Supervisors

Price now represents the Golden Door in its battle to preserve its natural surroundings from encroaching development.

“It’s also surrounded by some sensitive habitat,” she said. “If you look around the county, some of the most sensitive plants and animals are actually located just north of here.”

RELATED: Judge Issues Tentative Ruling On Carbon Offsets For New Development

A key wildlife corridor, part of what’s known as the “Multiple Species Conservation Area,” runs through the nearby hills.

The Golden Door is not the only retreat center in this quiet valley: a Catholic church and a Zen center have existed here for decades on nearby Sarver Lane. A stone Buddha and a meditation hall can be seen through the oaks, next to the two-lane road.

But time may be running out for this rural corner of San Diego.

The location of the Newland Sierra project is shown on this map.
KPBS Staff
The location of the Newland Sierra project is shown on this map.

The Merriam Mountains, just north of this valley, is the site of a proposed master planned development. The project, called Newland Sierra, would include seven interconnected communities, made up of 2,135 single-family and townhomes, plus parks, trails and a town center.

Construction in these granite hills would involve years of blasting to create housing sites and new roads. Price said the project would generate thousands of new car trips a day, putting an end to the tranquility of the valley.

From a hilltop at the top of a trail at the Golden Door, Price pointed across the valley below to the ridge where Newland Sierra would be built. At a time when San Diego County is in urgent need of more housing, the empty hillside is a tempting site for new homes with great views, not far from Interstate 15.

But Price, who has a background in land use planning, said the development is a prime example of the kind of urban sprawl that was popular in the 1980s but has been avoided since then.

“Because it doesn’t have the infrastructure to support it,” she said. “We’re talking about putting a city the size of Del Mar right behind that mountain. There’s not a roadway system to support it, we don’t have the resources, water and other infrastructure.

“The development that they propose should be happening in the urban centers where the transportation systems are there that can support these projects," she said.

Urban Alternative

Just a 15-minute drive south, next to Cal State San Marcos University, construction is underway on North City, a new multi-story, mixed-use housing, education and retail development.

Erik Bruvold, CEO of the San Diego North Economic Development Council, said North County has created 10,000 new jobs since the recession ended and employers want to see more housing built for their employees. Bruvold said it’s not a matter of building in either the city or the country.

“We need all of the above,” he said. “This is an exciting project in San Marcos, the North City project that’s building in a more dense, urban way. And I think we need to be aware that there is still a robust demand for suburban family kinds of forms in North County, where people want a detached house with a yard to raise their kids and have a bigger family.”

Bruvold estimates about 4,000 new jobs in the life sciences, telecommunications and defense industry clusters pay well enough to afford the single-family homes proposed in Newland Sierra.

“These are reasonable, well-paying, middle-class jobs that can afford the kind of housing you’d see at Newland Sierra,” he said. “I know it doesn’t sound affordable, but houses in the $500,000, $600,000, $700,000 range are really important kinds of housing that we need in North County to cut down on the number of people that are making these hour, hour and 15-minute-long commutes.”

Millions of dollars have been spent on community plans to preserve the land, tucked between state Route 78 and Interstate 15. But millions more have been spent to convert it into housing. This is not the first time developers have come to San Diego County Supervisors with proposals to build thousands of new homes here. The last time, in 2009, the board narrowly rejected it.

But the pressure to build more houses, even if it means abandoning years of community planning and environmental stewardship, could spell a different future for this quiet valley.

Fate Of North County Housing Development Rests With San Diego Supervisors
The largest housing development proposed in North County comes up for a vote before the San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday. Newland Sierra would build more than 2,000 homes in an area known for its wildlife and quiet retreat centers.