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Oceanside City Council Narrowly Approves Controversial Housing Development

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By a 3-2 vote, the Oceanside City Council on Wednesday night narrowly approved a controversial housing development on some of the city's last agricultural land.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Another development battle played out notion side last night with the city council voting to approve a major new housing project. The North river farms project in Morro Hills will bring 585 homes to what has traditionally been agricultural land in Oceanside. The vote passed the council on a three two vote. It was not supported by the ocean side planning commission and the public comments were reportedly largely against the new development journey me is San Diego union Tribune reporter Phil deal. Phil, welcome to the program.

Speaker 2: 00:33 Good morning. Thank you.

Speaker 1: 00:35 Give us some of the basics about this development. What kinds of homes are part of this proposal and what's on the site now?

Speaker 2: 00:43 Uh, well the site now is completely agricultural. There's a, they still grow tomatoes. They're mostly tomatoes, I think maybe some citrus and avocado. Um, and it's been that way for generations. Um, their proposal is to build all these sounds. They're separated into different villages with different types of housing. There's a village core that has like a meeting area and some commercial development, a restaurant and some other things. Um, so that's what's going there.

Speaker 1: 01:14 Now, apparently the developer changed this proposal a number of times to try to get approval. How did they sweeten the pot?

Speaker 2: 01:23 Well, um, it's been around for three or four years. When it started out, it was almost a thousand homes. So they reduced the total number of homes. A couple of times they have added land that will be preserved for habitat or for agriculture. There's a big emphasis on agriculture. It's going to have, uh, community gardens for the residents to use. It's gonna have educational or classes in, in farming and agriculture. And there's a big emphasis on the agriculture. Um, they've added more improvements to nearby streets. They've offered to, uh, set aside land for a fire station, which is badly needed in that area and help staff it. Um, so they've done several things like that to sweeten the pot.

Speaker 1: 02:14 Now one of the city council members who voted in support of the development, Chris Rodriguez is quoted as saying, this project will mean the difference between life and death for people in the area. What did he mean by that?

Speaker 2: 02:28 Well, I mean that could be a little hyperbole, but, um, he's essentially saying that people there don't have, there's not enough housing in that area. It badly needs housing. All of Oceanside does. And this'll be, um, homes for people who may not otherwise have them. I think that was his main point.

Speaker 1: 02:47 What are the other arguments in support of this project?

Speaker 2: 02:52 Um, there are other arguments would be that, uh, in support of it or just that it will help beef up some of the infrastructure there. They're going to help improve this sewer system, the water system, um, which at the for now, because it's mostly agriculture, I mean the lots are a minimum of two and a half acres, so there's not that many homes there. They're spread far apart. So the infrastructure systems like that are pretty minimal there.

Speaker 1: 03:20 That and the two city council members who voted no pointed that out and they were equally strong in their criticism of the project. Tell us what they had to say.

Speaker 2: 03:30 Um, well, Esther Sanchez, uh, was the most vocal critic of it and she calls it sprawl development because that area is a way from needed services like public transit. It's not really close to any, uh, trained stop or bus stop. Um, and it, she's concerned that it'll development will leap frog from there farther East and to more agricultural lands. And she and other, other residents want to promote the agricultural heritage of this area. And they say that this will just take that away.

Speaker 1: 04:12 Now I read in your report, Phil, that this was a very long public hearing before the Oceanside city council. Tell us about it. Was it contentious?

Speaker 2: 04:20 Yes, it was very contentious. There were 97 speakers, um, by one person's count. There were only about a third of those people were in favor of the project and some of those speakers were actual literally bused in by a supporter of the developer. And at times it got emotional. There were several breaks to take time out and let people cool off, I guess. Uh, but, uh, and it was a close decision. Three, two. So, and there was some tension because nobody knew for sure how it was going to end. It was not really clear how some of the council members would vote. And then in the end, uh, Peter Weiss, the mayor, uh, cast the deciding vote for the project

Speaker 1: 05:08 and what happens now? What's the next step in this?

Speaker 2: 05:11 Uh, I'm not sure they will need additional approvals for a lot of things. There are a lot of what they call discretionary permits. I think that they need for, uh, individuals, sites and individual projects. So there it'll be back for more. They will need more approvals for various things like, uh, site plans and um, building permits and things like that. Some of which will go to the city council. It does not go to the plant or to the coastal commission cause it's outside the coastal zone. Um, but essentially, I mean, this is the specific plan for the project and it's the general plan amendments that it needs. So these are all the, the biggest hurdles for the project. It really doesn't need a lot else to get started.

Speaker 1: 05:56 I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune reporter Phil deal. Phil. Thank you.

Speaker 2: 06:01 You're welcome.

Speaker 3: 06:04 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.