OP/ED by Glen Schmidt
The March Primary Election is rapidly approaching, which means we are bombarded by flyers, commercials, and all sorts of messaging. At one of our recent community planning subcommittee meetings a gentleman spoke regarding his concerns over Measure B, which will be on the ballot on March 3rd. I was taken back by all of the incorrect information he was conveying in his narrative. This kind of misinformation has inspired me to speak up. If you are not familiar Measure B, also called the Better Choice Measure, is a vote to confirm approval, (basically re-approval) of the Newland Sierra project that the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved in 2018. By the way, this is on the ballot because the billionaire owners of the Golden Door Spa near the development, a $10,000 per week spa retreat for rich celebrities, have spent millions of dollars to referend the Board of Supervisor’s approval because they don’t want neighbors anywhere near their spa.
Full disclosure my firm has been involved in the planning and the landscape architectural design for Newland Sierra project. So, I may not be considered neutral but I also know a lot of about the specifics of the development and want everyone to understand the facts in order to make an educated decision. Here are some important issues to consider.
First of all, the property is zoned for development, not open space. It is zoned to be developed into 99 large lot multi-million-dollar homes 5 to 35-acres each, along with a very large commercial area (2 million square feet, which is larger than Fashion Valley Mall). Knowing that there is a shortage of housing for working families in San Diego, the project has traded density between housing and commercial. They plan instead to build more affordable, smaller scale houses (2,135 units) and only 4% of the allowed commercial, which will include a grocery store, much needed in the area. YES on B will also prioritize more than 500 affordably priced homes for teachers, along with first responders and veterans, among others, through a legally binding deed restriction on the property. This will not be a development full of large million-dollar homes as some claim.
There is a concern that this development is “sprawl development” and that we should stick to higher density development in “Villages” envisioned by the General Plan. Well, these “Villages” in the General Plan are envisioned to accommodate a lot of housing development in a number of communities far from transportation corridors. For example, 5,000 units are proposed for Fallbrook, which is almost 7 miles from the freeway. Other locations include Valley Center, which is almost 9 miles from the freeway, and Ramona that is approximately 17 miles from the freeway. From my perspective none of those communities are going to be hubs of employment anytime soon. Newland Sierra on the other hand is located less the 1,000 feet from the I-15 freeway and there are more than 283,000 jobs along the Highway 78 corridor, a short commute from the property.
There are also concerns about traffic and fire safety. In terms of traffic, the developer will be paying for millions of dollars for traffic improvements such as more than doubling the capacity of Deer Springs Road from a very narrow 2 lane road to a higher capacity road with 4 lanes with shoulders and a multi-purpose pedestrian/equestrian path along side. In addition, they are building a new and much more efficient interchange at I-15. In terms of fire safety, the vacant property currently has few access points for firefighters to enter the property, and as noted previously Deer Springs Road is severely undersized. The Newland Sierra roads will create more access into the property, and they will be implementing a 250 ft wide fuel modification zones to reduce vegetation fuel loads, which is 2.5 times wider than the standard 100 ft buffer. With the wide buffers and improved road network, many fire experts such as CALFIRE Firefighters #2881 endorse Voting YES on B as a safer choice in terms of fire safety for the surrounding communities.
Finally, even though the General Plan doesn’t require it, Measure B sets aside 1,209 acres (61% of the property) for permanent dedicated open space, which is larger than Balboa Park. In addition, they will be building 36 acres of parks and 19 miles of trails that will improve access to open space for all San Diego County residents.
For these reasons and more, I believe Measure B is a Better Choice and I ask you to consider a YES vote.