Supervisors approve Newland Sierra project

Supervisors approve Newland Sierra project
The recently approved Newland Sierra housing development is located north of Deer Springs Rd. and west of I-15 in Escondido. Photo by Shana Thompson

REGION — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a controversial development near Merriam Mountain after a marathon hearing on Sept. 26.

With Supervisor Dianne Jacob absent, the board 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.

The project has a number of supporters, but received heavy opposition from local planning groups, a world-renowned spa facility and a Buddhist center, as well as wildlife agencies that expressed concerns about the project’s impact on a county habitat plan.

Supporters and opponents delivered more than four hours’ worth of testimony on all aspects of the project before the board rendered its relatively quick verdict.

“I think this is a good project,” said Supervisor Bill Horn, whose District 5 is home to the project. “I think it’s well-designed, well-planned and I am pleased with mix of housing types.”

The Board of Supervisors denied Newland Sierra’s predecessor, the controversial Merriam Mountains project, in March 2010. Developers of that project, which consisted of 2,700 residential units, first applied at the county July 9, 2003, nearly 15 years ago.

Developers resubmitted the revamped project in 2015, and the county released the draft environmental impact report in mid-2017. The report, which comes in at nearly 1,800 pages, states that the project will have significant and unavoidable impacts to traffic, air quality, mineral resources, noise and increase in population.

The project is approximately 1,985 acres and is comprised of 33 legal lots in the
easternmost portion of the North County Metropolitan Subregional Plan Area. Courtesy photo

Some of the traffic impacts — including increased congestion along several major roadways, intersections and Interstate 15 — can be mitigated, according to the report. However, several of the streets and intersections impacted are outside of the county’s jurisdiction and could only be fixed by Escondido, San Marcos or Caltrans.

Newland Communities, the developer, issued a statement shortly after the release of the report in 2017 touting the developer’s commitment to environmental stewardship.

The statement highlighted several features of the project that help make it the county’s first net-zero emissions community, including putting solar panels atop every home, a charging station for electrical vehicles in every garage, a community-sponsored shuttle with service throughout the community and the Escondido Transit Center and an electric bike-sharing program across the community.

The project also sets aside nearly 72 percent of the acreage for open space.

According to the environmental report’s summary page, the project is the first large-scale planned community in San Diego County to achieve a 100 percent reduction in the project’s construction and operational greenhouse gas emissions.

Supporters — 47 individuals and four groups who spoke at the Wednesday hearing — said the project was critical to helping the county begin to alleviate its well-documented shortage of housing, especially for middle-income earners.

One by one, they spoke about how many friends, family and children had been forced to leave San Diego because they couldn’t find a house within their budget.

“This is a project that the county can’t afford to pass up on,” Escondido resident Mark Baker said.

Kirk Effinger, an Escondido resident and supporter of the project, dismissed opponents’ concerns about fouling the rural nature of the area.

“Don’t believe opponents of the development that said that this is about preserving the back country,” he said. “This is about a (expensive) day spa and wealthy back country owners looking to protect their investment.”

Supporters also pointed to the widening of Deer Springs Road and other infrastructure improvements — $56 million worth, according to the staff report — as reasons to approve it.

Project opponents, however, 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.

“This is the same project as the Merriam Mountains project,” said Cliff Williams, an attorney representing Golden Day spa and 23 property owners near the project. “The board wisely rejected it then on the basis of bad planning. It was the wrong choice then, it’s the wrong choice now.”

Stephanie Sozui Schubert, the assistant meditation director of the Hidden Valley Zen Center, said that the project violates the law because it would hinder the center’s visitors from practicing their religion due to the construction noise and added traffic.

Others pointed to the increased traffic, potential fire hazard and the impacts to the character of the area as reasons to oppose the project.

“There are far too many reasons to deny the project, and I could think of no reason to build it, except for profit,” said Carl Wayne Dauber of the Hidden Meadows Community Sponsor Group, which has opposed the project since its inception. “This project is an existential threat to our way of life. Sound extreme? Well, it’s not. For us it’s a potential death sentence.”

As part of the approval, the developer can’t start grading until after Dec. 21, 2018, due to a current lawsuit against the county’s climate action plan.

However, the project itself likely will be headed to court, as opponents have already said they would sue to stop it from going forward.

2 Comments
  1. steve s 3 weeks ago

    The same percentage of people who voted down Lilac Hills will vote down Newland Sierra, its deception and flaws.

    Newland is no good for schools: the San Marcos school district is at 2050 enrollment levels TODAY. They have projected to double in 7 years with no new plans for a school site because they are facing a budget deficit. Newland Sierra didn’t want to pay their fair of the current developer rate per student as it is. When they found out that the school district raised their rates on all new developments in response to ones like this. Newland Sierra VP Rita Brandon pictured here went to the BIA (Building Industry Association) of which she is Vice Chair, and filed a lawsuit against the school district. She did this because it would be bad press for Newland Communities to file the suit since they are claiming to be the best thing to happen to millenials and future generations.

    If you were at the County supervisor meeting like I was then you heard all the supporters from newland laughing. They were all talking about how they all were either friends of the developers, or had been paid to be there to fill up the chambers to make the opposition look smaller.

    Even some of the supervisors were paid to vote for Newland, especially Horne who received 25k in contributions from them funneled through the sheriffs association super pac. This was him securing his retirement, because he owns property that would go up in value with a neighborhood like this being built in proximity to him. This is why he was abstained from voting on the Lilac Hills Project that came before this.

    Rita Brandin is a fraud who’s friends say she has been here for decades. She actually moved here less than a decade ago from Las Vegas, and Georgia before that, before settling into a nice high class gated community on Pasa Tiempo road in Escondido near the Westfield Mall. She has no real authentic concerns for San Diego residents other than building another 4S Ranch style community so her rich friends will have a new high class neighborhood to live in around the San Marcos area.

    This development stands to profit over a Billion dollars, but they can’t make any concessions for residents affected by her plans, or the school system shes going to drop bombs on, or the roads to the schools she refused to do traffic studies on(Mission Rd and San Marcos BLVD), or the lobbyist Jim Wyland who excluded the wildlife organizations from commenting on the project by petitioning Duncan Hunter and Darrel Issa (because they had very real concerns about 3 different endangered animals they are trying to brush under the rug). Not to mention the destruction of our habitat mitigation plans that we have been working on for 10 years to preserve areas like this.

    The list goes on and on and on, I’m a millennial who is looking for a home, we had a parcel in twin oaks lined up and were talking to the agent selling it, then Newland came along and purchased everything bordering their community and effectively ruined that dream. I have lived here my whole life and in one day Newland bullied me out of the market I grew up in and told everyone they were doing it to benefit people like me.

    What a joke, I contract for a living no matter where they build houses I will be commuting for work. Now because of them to get the lifestyle I wanted to live, I have to move further away from my jobsite areas on the coast and commute in. I want a quiet country life close to town, now if they build this, instead of San Marcos I’m looking at Fallbrook or Valley Center. This will cost me an extra 200$ a month for gas because I have to have a large truck for work.

    Don’t let the dreamboat propaganda the BIA, and realtors that are harping its grandeur fool you this is bad planning, it will destroy the twin oaks valley character, lifestyle, local schools, I15 flow, fire evacuation times, and the lives of people who bought in the area because of its rural charm without the rural commute times. Sign the petitions, and lets all vote no on this project the county claims to be a unique snowflake to which no development laws or regulations apply.

    We the people see it for what it really is, big money buying political favor and paying its way into immunity to the law. Lets hold them accountable and show them that here in San Diego were tired of the pay to play, not everyone is a billion dollar development company being funded by the Japanese. If we the average folk stand up and use our pens and voting power we can still win.

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