Escondido, CA

Proponents of Measure B address the issues

Editor—Please see our related interview this issue with opponents of Measure B. The two articles can be read as bookends to the issue of Measure B, which, if approved, would authorize the Newland Sierra development. Read them both and you decide.

The campaign leading up to the March 3 primary election in which Measure B is on the ballot is a highly contested one, with both sides throwing accusations of misrepresentation and outright lying. 

Elsewhere in this issue we address charges by residents of the Deer Springs Oaks mobile home park, who say the County and Newland have left hanging the improvement of the interchange at Deer Springs Road & I-15.

According to Rita Brandin, senior vice president of operations for Newland, that is wrong.

She told the paper, “The redevelopment of the Interchange is a requirement of our approval. It will be further studied through Caltrans and Caltrans will finalize the alterative. It is a required mitigation as part of Deer Springs Road widening.”

As part of its responsibilities associated with building the 2,135 home development, Newland will be widening Deer Springs Road, which is currently a winding, two-lane road that wends from I-15 almost to San Marcos city limits. This is a project that will cost in the neighborhood of $50 million to complete.

The I-15/Deer Springs interchange “will be studied under a separate environmental impact report through Caltrans,” said Brandin. “It’s a private project, which means the development will pay for the interchange. It must be built by a time certain as the units are built. We won’t able to move forward to build the homes without that interchange in place.”

Brandin also addressed accusations that the development doesn’t provide “affordable” housing. The development, she said, is planned for 2,135 homes ranging from 1,100 SF town houses to 4,200 SF homes. “It’s a broad range of prices, from $380,000 to $650,000.  There are NO million dollar homes!”

There will be “affordable housing.” “Since our approval by the Board of Supervisors  we entered into an agreement with Wakeland Housing—an affordable housing developer—that does restricted price rental housing.” Newland has agreed to a legally binding covenant setting aside 10% or 214 units (with 73 of those for senior affordable housing) and the balance family affordable.”

All are restricted to families making 60% or less of the area median income. The average monthly rent  would start at $1444 a month. “Because they are restricted they are available to a family that has assistance,” said Brandin. “That’s a big commitment that we have made so we could get a very broad range of housing. Of the 2,135, 60 percent will range from 60 percent of median income to 120 percent of median income.”

She added, “Because the Golden Door has taken the line that it’s only million dollar homes, we wanted a commitment that would be guaranteed, we would obligate that type of project. We recorded a covenant on the property that requires us to set aside 500 for preferred marketing to public. It is recorded on the land as a deed restriction. We will be held accountable for doing what we say we are going to do.”

She added, “Contrary to what the Golden Door is saying, there will be no homes in the million dollar range. Their commercials say they are all million dollar homes, which is a lie.”  

On the other hand, she says, “The General Plan calls for 99 large lot homes, which WOULD exceed a million dollars.  Those are not work force housing homes.”  The General Plan, if unamended, would call for 99 large lots and 58 acres of adjacent to the existing Arco station of up to 2 million SF of general office and commercial. “The reason we discuss Measure B as a ‘better choice,’ is because better housing is really in demand. There is no demand for more general office and commercial.  We don’t have a shopping mall crises, we have a housing crisis.”

North County, says Brandin, “has an imbalance of housing to jobs growth. Along the 78 Corridor are 280,000 existing jobs. Those jobs demand we provide housing for the workforce rather than forcing them into Riverside County.  About 53,000 commute from Riverside to San Diego county daily. If they had homes here the impact on the environment would be significantly less.”

Brandin also scoffs at the notion that the property is located in “The Backcountry.” “It’s surrounded by existing homes,” said Brandin. “Within a five mile radius are 90,000 homes. We’re less than a mile from the San Marcos city limit.”

We questioned Brandin about accusations by residents of the Deer Springs Oaks mobile home park that one of the drawings of an interchange shows a road bisecting their park. 

She notes that her company began working with Caltrans in 2014. One requirement was to generate a study of alternatives for redevelopment of the interchange. “Over those couple of years they had us studying at least eight alternatives. And that was one.”

The drawing provided to the newspaper is “obviously a draft and not a finished drawing. That was the drawing obtained by Latham & Watkins, which gave it to those residents, creating this level of concern and fear. It’s shameful what Latham & Watkins has done. Our EIR says there are three alternatives being looked at now.” None, she says, affect the mobile home park.  “The Environmental Impact Report for Newland Sierra calls out four alternatives narrowed down by Caltrans for future study.  The 1st alternative is to leave the interchange alone.  But our obligation is to improve the interchange.  The three other alternatives identified would be a tight diamond, a diverging diamond, and a diamond interchange with double roundabouts.  None of these alternatives impact the mobile home park.”

She added, “For Latham and Watkins to have pulled that out of multiple drawings and to suggest to these homeowners that their future would be impacted is nothing but shameful! What makes me angry is these good people have been misled by a $1,100 an hour attorney from Latham and Watkins. It’s not fair for them to be living in fear from this false information.”

And the park residents’ accusation that she offered to build them a subpar noise wall?  “The noise analysis did not require that wall,” she said. “I met with their subcommittee and offered to build them a wall in the county’s right of way. I provided a MOU (memorandum of understanding) and was willing to add that. They made a decision not to move forward with the MOU. They made a decision not to continue to work with Newland on that.”

On the issue of fire safety, Brandin said, “Working with the County Fire Authority and Deer Springs Fire Protection District, the project has an approved fire protection plan, including an evacuation plan. What’s unique about the fire protection design elements, is that instead of 100 feet of clearance from structures and roads, we have 2.5 times that, 250 feet of brush management zones. This provides a significant buffer around the entire community to allow firefighters a safe area to work and provides a buffer to neighborhoods west of Newland Sierra.”

Answering criticism that the development will create an impossible evacuation scenario with thousands fleeing wildfire on inadequate roads, Brandin said, “You have an expanded Deer Springs Road and improved interchange, with shoulders on both sides now. You have a significantly higher capacity.”

She notes that in County Fire Chief Tony Mecham’s testimony to the Board of Supervisors on the development, “you hear clearly their comfort level that our evacuation plan is solid. Mecham clearly says that the fire safety pros make decisions on the ground in real time.”

In addition, she said, “The community is built with up-to-date fire resistant materials, and underground utility lines along Deer Springs Road. A new community master plan rigorously reviewed over multiple years by planning staff resulted in changes that accommodated their plans, length of roads and pullovers.”

This resulted in a plan, “endorsed by the CalFire Firefighters Union, Deer Springs Fire, the County, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association and San Diego Police Officers Association. That is based on how the project is designed and the opportunity for public safety officials, veterans, teachers and other workforce to be able to afford to live there.”

Brandin talked about one final area: traffic. “Our project would create less peak hour traffic than if it was developed in accordance with the General Plan.” Higher traffic would be generated by the commercial development called for in the original designation. “Large scale commercial and office drive more traffic,” she said.  

Brandin concluded, “Voting yes on B would ensure that homes for our working families would be part of San Diego’s future. People all over the county recognize that an equitable distribution of housing is necessary to meet demands of keeping our workforce in our own county. Voting yes on B affirms a project that went through a public process of over four and half years, was approved by planning staff, the Planning Commission and unanimously by the Board of Supervisors. A yes on B vote affirms that approval and allows us to move forward with a desperately-needed new community to accommodate workers in a job rich area of North County.”

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