RSF Association may dispute Harmony Grove, Valiano projects

The Rancho Santa Fe Association is considering taking legal action to dispute the San Diego County Board of Supervisors’ recent approval of the Harmony Grove Village South and Valiano developments, which represent a total 779 new housing units in Harmony Grove and Eden Valley that could have impacts on the Covenant.

At the Aug. 9 board meeting, RSF Association Vice President Allen Finkelson said the board discussed the potential litigation in its closed executive session but has not reached a decision. The board is working on an Aug. 26 deadline to contest the projects’ Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and challenge the procedure of the General Plan amendments.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the 453-unit Harmony Grove Village South development as well as the 326-unit Valiano project in Eden Valley, south of Escondido on July 25. The projects were both recommended for denial by the San Dieguito Community Planning Group and both faced opposition from neighboring residents due to the fire risk of adding more density in a high fire hazard severity zone as well as exceeding the number of homes allowed in the General Plan.

The county is limited to four General Plan amendments (GPAs) a year but a single amendment may include multiple sub-items, referred to as batching. With the batching, the board approved three GPA projects on July 25 for a total of 3,937 new housing units in the county—a mixed use development of 3,158 residential units in Otay Ranch was included in the batch along with the two North County developments.

In total the county is expected to hear seven GPAs this year, including Newland Sierra, a 2,135-unit development in Twin Oaks Valley north of Escondido. Another GPA batch is expected to be heard in October, which would include Otay Village, Warner Ranch in Pala (780 units) and possibly the 1,746-unit Lilac Hills Ranch project in Valley Center.

Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside, an initiative that would require most GPAs to be subject to a countywide vote, did not qualify for a place on the November ballot.

As Association President Ken Markstein and director Rick Sapp were not in attendance on Aug. 9, Finkelson said they would have another meeting with a full board to decide how and if they would participate in legal action related to the matter. The Association has hired attorneys Joe Martinez and Scott Williams from Seltzer Caplan McMahon and Vitek to advise them on the issue.

At the Aug. 9 meeting, Martinez said they have been speaking with the attorneys who are working with the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council in their potential legal action against the county and the developers. Martinez said they have also completed their own independent evaluation of the materials as well.

The Association will be looking to partner with the town council or file its own action, Martinez said. Jacqueline Arsivaud, chair of the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council, said no decisions have been made yet on the council’s legal action.

During public comment, Rancho Santa Fe resident Holly Manion said she hoped the Association would take action toward stopping the two developments. Living off of La Valle Plateada, Manion said she has seen an increase in traffic over the last few years and often has trouble trying to get out onto the overburdened Paseo Delicias/Del Dios Highway.

She said the two projects of 779 homes, combined with the 742 homes already under construction in Harmony Grove Village, will negatively impact Rancho Santa Fe’s roads and quality of life.

“Everything pours onto Del Dios Highway…It’s just going to clog our roads here,” Manion said, who worries about what traffic would be like on the highway during the next fire event. “Our roads can’t handle this and our rural, pastoral environment will never be the same so I really hope our board gets on this.”

The San Dieguito Community Planning Group voted in July to appeal the board of supervisors’ approval of Harmony Grove Village South and Valiano should it happen, however, they were subsequently informed by the county that there is no such opportunity to make an appeal, according to former group secretary Mid Hoppenrath.

Following the approval of the two projects, Hoppenrath was so disappointed that she resigned after serving four years on the planning group.

“The guiding principles of the General Plan state that development in high risk areas must be avoided or have reduced density, certainly not four times the General Plan allotment. They state that rural communities are an asset to be protected, certainly not overwhelmed with urban sprawl. And they state that GPAs must not endanger the welfare of county citizens, certainly not increase their risk of fatal entrapment in a wildfire,” wrote Hoppenrath in her letter of resignation, citing her concerns about placing 2,000 new residents in a rural area with only one evacuation route. “I do not wish to work for a county government with so little regard for the public trust that it places the needs of the developer above the welfare of its citizens.”

During the projects’ hearing, county staff and fire experts said that the fire protection plan developed for the projects was extensive with measures that met and exceeded San Diego County Consolidated Fire Code. The evacuation plan was also approved by the County Fire Authority and Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District.

With their approvals, the supervisors stated the critical need for more housing in the county.

District 5 Supervisor Bill Horn said that he did not wish to comment on pending litigation.

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