The rural serenity of the Daley Ranch preserve, located between Escondido and Valley Center, could be shattered if a proposed resort and residential development is approved. The so-called Daley Ranch resort would border the protected native habitat, disrupting its wildlife and migration patterns. Of major concern to residents, the development would install a traffic signal halfway down Valley Center grade, snarling traffic and impacting emergency evacuation routes.
The Roadrunner [The Times-Advocate’s sister publication] ran an article about this resort in July, and several items need clarification. The spokesman for the resort, Jim Whalen, implied that the resort would involve 1800 acres, which had all been a macadamia ranch. Wrong. The owner of the land, Richard Sager, owns a little over 200 acres between Valley Center Road and Daley Ranch, and that is where he wants to build a hotel and houses equaling 414 units on a parcel that is now zoned for a fraction of that number.
And yet Whalen was quoted as saying that “We are not asking for any changes to the existing density, and that 97% would be devoted to open space.” Wrong. Nearly 1600 acres of the 1800 acres Whalen refers to are not owned by Sager, but rather consist of nearby open space parcels owned by the City of Escondido, the County, and private individuals. Whalen’s scheme involves a pipe-dream transfer of density credits to allow an inappropriate, intense development on what is now low-density, rural land. Furthermore, if Escondido was to annex the land, Prop S would require City voters to approve any increase in density.
In the article Whalen also said that the County “had always anticipated” the traffic signal on the grade, as evidenced by “providing a break in the median strip.” Wrong. All of us who drive that stretch of highway can plainly see there is no break at all in the median. Such a signal could prove devastating to traffic flow between Escondido and Valley Center.
The quest to develop a 150-acre former macadamia farm on the eastern edge of Daley Ranch began in 1979, when it was purchased by San Diego resident Richard Sager, owner of Sager Management Corporation. The first attempt to develop the property was in 1987. That proposal was dependent on building a huge housing project on Daley Ranch, which never came to pass. Since then Sager acquired additional acreage alongside the Valley Center grade bringing his total holding to 207.6 acres.
Escondido’s General Plan would allow the 150-acre Sager Ranch up to 100 units based on land use categories ranging from Rural I (one unit per 4, 8 and 20 acres) to Estate I (one unit per 1, 2, 4 and 20 acres.) The 50 acres along the grade is also zoned Rural 1, but the General Plan does not cite a specific number of units. The new proposal, drafted as the Daley Ranch Resort Specific Plan, seeks to vastly increase the permissible housing density for both properties to 414 units, comprised of 189 homes and a 225-room resort by transferring development rights from roughly 1600 acres to his 207 acres. It is unknown how Sager will be able to transfer these rights without directly purchasing the properties.
Escondido residents may speak up to the City Council, which has jurisdiction over this land under its sphere of influence. Although the Valley Center Community Planning Group may not have direct influence over the fate of this project, the Valley Center Municipal Water District certainly does. The developer is seeking to have a pumping station and main line installed near Valley View Ranch with water supplied from the Valley Center District. The residents who share the border with the proposed development are represented by real estate agent and property manager Randy Haskell. Board meetings are held on the 1st and 3rd Monday of every month, at 2 p.m. at 29300 Valley Center Road.
Another point of influence for Valley Center residents is the County Board of Supervisors. Valley Center’s representative Bill Horn (District 5) is facing his term limit and the new supervisor could have a significant impact on the fate of the county owned portion of the proposed annexation to Escondido. Supervisor meetings on land use are at 9 a.m. on second Wednesdays, Room 310 at 1600 Pacific Highway. Additionally, the final approval of this proposal rests in the hands of a regulatory body called the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). LAFCO meetings are first Mondays, 9 a.m. in Room 302 at 1600 Pacific Highway.
Other issues involve potentially non-mitigable impacts to the integrity of the Daley Ranch Conservation Mitigation Bank, problematic construction required to get a sewer line down to Lake Wohlford Road, and wildfire issues, including the Escondido Fire Department needing to assume responsibility for the entirety of the annexation lands. There are so many moving parts to this story and the outcome will have a serious impact on Valley Center and Escondido citizens alike.