Fifty miles east of downtown San Diego, 12 miles south of Interstate 8, Buckman Springs Road, approaching from the north, ends at State Route 94 as it turns east after a mile-long northward jog from Campo. This intersection is the center point of the unincorporated town of Cameron Corners which, at only 27 acres and less than 100 residents, strains the definition of the word "town." That may change, if development plans filed with the county come to fruition.
In the late afternoon, during an early-March heat wave, Michael Thometz, an anti-development activist who lives on a nearby ranch, stands in the parking lot of the gas station at the corner of Buckman Springs and Highway 94. "This is Cameron Corners," he says. "All we've got here is a convenience store, a combination barber shop-beauty parlor, a little florist, a tiny thrift store, a video store, a burger stand, and a chiropractor who's here a couple of days a week. We had a bank for a while, but they just couldn't make a go of it. So we have an ATM now." He points to the gas station's sign, which advertises 87-octane at $2.39, 89 at $2.49, and 91 for $2.59 per gallon. "And we've got the highest gas prices in the county."
Ten or so single-story houses across Highway 94 from the gas station are the only homes within the town of Cameron Corners. But the owners of the Star Ranch, which borders the town on the south and east, are considering building a cluster of new dwellings around the town and possibly some retail space to create a country village around Cameron Corners. As many as 500 new units have been discussed.
Thometz, a heavily built man, stands over six feet tall. His face, bronzed from years in the high desert sun, contrasts with his thick white hair, which rustles in the constant breeze. "Star Ranch has been owned by Barry De Vorzan who lives in Montecito, which is the upscale part of Santa Barbara," Thometz says. "He has owned the property for 32 years, and it is for sale right now. About four years ago, the Star Ranch was on the market for $8 million. Now it's on the market for $10 million. For that, you get 2150 acres and quite a few cattle, assuming the cattle go with it, plus you get 2800 acres of Bureau of Land Management grazing leases. So [De Vorzan] has owned it for all of these years. He used to come down occasionally. Well, about a year ago, all of a sudden he appears out of the woodwork at a planning group meeting and says, 'Tell me how I can develop it.' He didn't come with any plan or anything. It was, 'I don't want to lose my value here; how can I develop it?' He didn't come into the community and say, 'By God, this is what the hell I am going to do and here it is; you take it or leave it.' I give him that."
More than a year before attending the planning-group meeting, De Vorzan had retained Doug Paul of the downtown San Diego engineering firm Project Design Consultants to create and implement a development plan for the ranch. "Then, around a year ago," Thometz says, "they came back to the planning group and said, 'We have 2150 acres...so we deserve 500 houses on this property.' "
The plan, according to Thometz, called for clustering the homes around a new commercial center to be built on the portion of the Ranch bordering Cameron Corners to the south. The development would be served by ground water pumped from beneath the Campo Creek flood plain, and sewage would be handled by the county-run Rancho Del Campo waste water treatment facility a mile or so to the south.
Doug Paul, the consultant in charge of the project, says the 500 homes figure is not a reflection of any written plans he or De Vorzan has. "That is what we thought the land would support from a water standpoint," he explains. "We still believe that is about what the water sources would support. We have existing wells on the ranch that are currently being agriculturally used. We have looked at rainfall recharge and we have engaged hydrology specialists to tell us what a sustainable effort would be, and that is what we have concluded. Now whether we actually propose that number or whether we propose something different than that would be subject to a lot of studies that have yet to be done."
Still, Paul acknowledges that clustering development around Cameron Corners is the focus of the development proposal they filed with the county last Summer. The filing does not mean the project will necessarily happen. It was done to meet a county-imposed deadline of August 6, 2003, for filing projects to be considered under the current county general plan as opposed to the general plan 2020, which the county has been developing for the past six years.
"I think that we are in the same camp as the county staff," Paul says, "in that we believe a cluster of resources and development in a reasonable size and in a community that has good attributes and amenities for the community is a more appropriate way to use land than to go out and just have a whole bunch of 10-acre ranchettes sprawled around the back country. So we favor a community that would have an actual location in a specific area at Cameron Corners."
Asked if Julian's town center is an example of what he envisions for Cameron Corners, Paul responds, "Julian is a little bigger than what we would have in mind. Maybe Rancho Santa Fe village -- some low one-story commercial and central buildings with some cottages or other kinds of residential cluster in the immediate area and then with increasingly larger parcels and less dense residential outward from there. Then you would have some amount of walk-ability or bike-ability or horseback ride-ability within maybe a mile or so of the bulls eye. And then basically the rest of the land further out would be 40-acre parcel sizes and larger. There would be some sense of arrival at some little local village. There would be a possibility for getting your hair cut at some place and having a soda shop. And you can't put the town where the town is now because that is all parceled out to a whole bunch of different sub-owners, so you would have to do a redevelopment acquisition and actually buy back all of those parcels if you wanted to get enough critical mass to create the kind of village you need to create. So it needs to be on a single piece of land, and that is why Star Ranch is the big player out there. And they have the water to support a community of a moderate to small size.