SAN MARCOS — A group of residents who have expressed frustration with the pace of development in San Marcos said the City Council’s recent approval a 220-home development on Twin Oaks Valley Road is the final straw.
The group of residents plans to pursue a referendum to reverse the council’s 4-1 approval of Brookfield Residential Properties’ proposal, which would re-zone about 23 acres near the southwest corner of Twin Oaks Valley Road and Village Drive — just south of Cal State San Marcos — from commercial to residential to pave the way for the new homes.
Residents packed council chambers on Jan. 23 to urge the council to vote against the second reading of the ordinance approving the project. The council had voted two weeks earlier to approve the first reading.
They said that the city is approving residential development at a much faster pace than the infrastructure needed to support it, pointing to overcrowding at San Marcos’ schools and congestion on key roads and State Highway 78 as evidence.
“It’s the next development on the docket and we are fed up,” said Kelly Shipley, one of the chief organizers of the opposition. “What we want to see is development with infrastructure to support it.”
Their message to the council was clear: slow down.
“I get that growth is going to happen and that you’re going to experience growing pains,” said Jeffrey Gelt, a longtime city resident, at the Jan. 23 hearing. “You have a responsibility to grow the city slowly and take care of the citizens that are already here. There is a disconnect between the City Council and the citizens of the city.
“We have thousands of new permits slated for new construction, but no new schools,” Gelt said. “If the council votes to adopt this resolution, you will receive formal notice that we are moving forward with a referendum.”
Several residents did speak in favor of the project, as well as Brookfield Vice President Dave Bartlett, who said that the project had been vetted by staff and the Planning Commission.
“Every legitimate development issue raised tonight has been thoroughly vetted by your professional staff,” Bartlett said. “We have worked with the community, including the Friends of Discovery, and we have put a substantial amount of time into this. We believe we got it right.”
Mayor Jim Desmond and Councilwomen Rebecca Jones, Kristal Jabara and Sharon Jenkins voted for the project. They said that the project pays its fair share of development fees, as well as raises money for schools through a community facilities district.
Switching the land from commercial to residential would actually decrease the number of trips the project would generate, they said.
Desmond in his address to the public, argued that the public’s calls amounted to a moratorium on development, which would harm the city. He said that many of the people in the audience moved here after he arrived in 1992, in housing developments that were controversial at the time.
“They all had the same complaints, similar stories … that every new neighborhood is going to bring Armageddon,” Desmond said. “Growth is what builds infrastructure. We don’t have money sitting around for roads, growth is what builds new roads. Growth raised the dollars that went to the school district that allowed us to get (new schools).”
Desmond said cities that take no-growth stands wind up with deteriorating infrastructure and failing schools because they don’t have the money to improve them.
“Stagnation is not an option for the city,” he said. “Stagnation is death for a city.”
Councilman Chris Orlando was the lone dissenting vote. Siding with residents, he said that the city doesn’t have the same funding mechanisms to pay for infrastructure like it did in the past, and that critical improvements to Highway 78 have been taken off the table indefinitely.
“We used to have redevelopment dollars, now we don’t have the ability to do infrastructure at the rate we used to,” Orlando said. “We are going to deal with (the infrastructure woes) for a very, very long time, yet we keep doing things the same way.”
In order to pass a referendum, the residents would have to collect the signatures of 5,500 residents, at which time the council would either choose to reverse the approval or hold an election.