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Over 40 environmental groups send letter opposing Harvest Hills development

A coalition with over 40 environmental activist groups has signed a letter to the Escondido City Council opposing the Harvest Hills development annexation proposal to the City of Escondido..

The Harvest Hills project is proposed for 1,100 acres adjacent to the San Diego Safari Park. The project was formerly known as Safari Highlands Ranch before it rebranded itself several years ago. The coalition considers the 1,100 acres sensitive habitat.

The more than 40 signers include Sierra Club North County Group, Friends of Hellhole Canyon, Escondido Chamber of Citizens, League of Conservation Voters San Diego, San Pasqual Band of Indians, Endangered Habitats League, North County Climate Change Alliance, San Diego Audubon Society and many others. 

According to the letter from the coalition, “In the three years that the developer has tried to respond to the many significant issues raised in the Draft EIR (October, 2017), several aspects have come to light that make this project even more unacceptable for the region. We are writing to share new information and request certain actions prior to any consideration of Harvest Hills.”

The letter cites several reasons that it says haven’t been considered before:

1. County General Plan policies and MSCP requirements not met.

“The project would remove 1,100 acres of habitat designated for protection under both South County and the proposed North County Multiple Species Conservation Plan (MSCP). The adopted South County MSCP requires the County to secure an Annexation Agreement prior to annexation out of the County,” says the letter.

The letter cites South County MSCP Implementation Agreement 9.19 which states: “…In the event land within the County’s jurisdiction is annexed to another jurisdiction, an agreement shall be reached between the County, the annexing jurisdiction, USFWS (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,) and CDFG (California Department of Fish & Game,) as part of the annexation process, to ensure that any development of the annexed lands proceed in accordance with the conservation goals of the MSCP…”

Although the County has requested such an annexation agreement for more than three years, one has not been executed. Because of this, says the letter, “The City should not consider a final EIR or project approval until that agreement is successfully executed due to changes to the project that may be required to meet the standards of the agreement.”

Further, County General Plan policy LU-4.5 requires County coordination to oppose annexations where the land uses are significantly incompatible. The General Plan calls on the County to “Coordinate with LAFCO to oppose annexations by neighboring cities that would result in land uses incompatible with unincorporated lands…” 

“These two requirements alone may result in County opposition to the proposed Sphere of Influence adjustment and annexation. The City should require these issues be addressed prior to taking up this decision,” says the letter.

It also quotes from the new LAFCO policy L-101 on preservation of open space. According to the letter, “It reads, in relevant part, ‘It is the policy of the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission to: 2. Protect and preserve open space land—and of most importance lands that support wildlife – against their premature conversions.”

The policy says that LAFCO should oppose proposals that would convert open space to other uses.

The letter continues, “As a community buffer and high value, wildlife rich open space included in habitat planning, these policies cannot be met by the current Harvest Hills plan.”

It points out, “The fire danger in this area cannot be mitigated. It can only be avoided by not putting people in harm’s way” and “Harvest Hills is proposed at a time when Escondido is in flux

Escondido has recently hired a new City Manager, Mr. Sean McGlynn. Since this project, if passed, will have a major, negative economic impact on the City for decades to come, the City Manager McGlynn should have a role in any further recommendations related to it.”

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