REGION — Opponents of a controversial development near Merriam Mountain submitted well over 100,000 signatures as part of a referendum to rescind the Board of Supervisors’ recent approval of the project.
Needing just 68,000 signatures of county registered voters, signature gatherers across the county collected 117,291 signatures and submitted them to the Registrar of Voters on Oct. 17.
The petition drive takes aim at the Newland Sierra project, approved Sept. 25 by the Board of Supervisors, and is spearheaded by the Golden Door Spa, one of the project’s chief opponents.
If the registrar verifies the signatures, the County Board of Supervisors could choose to rescind its approval or place the item on the next possible ballot, which would be in 2020.
Newland Communities, the developer, said that it would issue a statement on Oct. 17 about the signature drive results.
About 250 paid signature-gatherers collected roughly 100,000 names at $8 each, a consultant who spearheaded the signature drive said. The remaining signatures were obtained by volunteers, according to reports in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The campaign began on Sept. 28 and ended on Oct. 11. The group then counted and checked the names before submitting them to the registrar, and estimates that 80 percent of them are valid.
The Board of Supervisors on Sept. 25 voted 4-0 in favor of the Newland Sierra project, a 2,135-unit development just north of San Marcos and west of Hidden Meadows and Escondido.
Supporters argue that the project will help ease the county’s housing crisis and pay for badly needed infrastructure in the unincorporated area north of San Marcos.
Project opponents pointed to the project’s incompatibility with the county’s general plan, which calls for 99 homes and retail in the area. They said that if the county allowed the development to go through, then the years of development behind the general plan, which was updated in 2011, were for naught.
Others pointed to the increased traffic, potential fire hazard and the impacts to the character of the area as reasons to oppose the project.
Since the approval, opponents and supporters have waged a battle over the signature drive. Newland said paid gatherers misrepresented the facts while project opponents say Newland had hired “blockers” to keep people from signing. Newland Sierra said it did hire “truth team” members to counteract misinforming signature collectors.
This scene played out across the county, as paid signature gatherers were reported in Chula Vista, San Diego and other areas far away from the project’s epicenter.
“The entire signature gathering process has made a travesty of truth and democracy,” Rita Brandin, Newland Communities vice president, said in a statement. “The East Coast billionaires of the Golden Door and their out-of-town signature gatherers fraudulently collected these signatures by telling falsehoods about our approved Newland Sierra plan, including the ridiculous claims that it would raise people’s taxes, that we are building a casino, and that the project encompasses 430,000 acres of land. With what they were claiming, we were even tempted to sign.
“Newland Sierra is a much better plan than what the Golden Door wants to keep in place. Instead of estate lots only the wealthy can afford, along with millions of square feet of office and big box retail, we will instead provide much-needed homes that San Diego workers can afford, especially our young people,” Brandin’s statement said. “What the out-of-town signature gatherers never stated is that our plan for Newland Sierra leaves 80% of the property undeveloped, results in less water use, better fire protection and fewer peak hour traffic trips than the plan Golden Door supports leaving in place.
“Unfortunately, this is an abuse of our democratic process with the out-of-town Golden Door billionaires funding and running this effort. They even paid off local, non-profit, anti-housing groups to be their front and collect signatures for them. This was not a local citizen-led effort.”