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An Orange County developer who led the effort to delay San Diego’s general plan update until his own project could be approved is one step away from his goal.

On October 23, the San Diego Planning Commission voted 5–2 in support of the Merriam Mountains project, a 2700-residential-unit, master-planned community proposed along Interstate 15, north of Escondido.

The 2327-acre project is owned by 21 individual property owners, whose land has been optioned for purchase by Stonegate Development Corporation of Laguna Hills. Stonegate’s president, Gordon Youde, has promoted the project.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has final say over Merriam Mountains, and the board is scheduled to discuss and possibly approve the project at its December 9, 2009 meeting.

The board also has the final say on when and how the county’s land-use plan will be updated and implemented. Labeled General Plan 2020 and in development since the fall of 1998, the land-use plan provides a blueprint for all future development in San Diego County.

The county currently operates under a plan approved in 1979, when the county’s population was less than 2 million people. The population is now over 3 million, and it’s expected to reach 4 million by 2030.

Critics have charged a direct correlation between the delays in approving General Plan 2020 and the length of time it has taken Merriam Mountains to be approved.

“Merriam Mountains should not be done,” says former California state senator Jim Mills. “The supervisors have not been sincere in the GP-2020 process. These delays are not by chance. Their campaigns are funded by developer money, and they want as many development projects as possible approved before any changes to the current general plan are in place.”

Both General Plan 2020 and the Merriam Mountains development were conceptualized in the late 1990s. In the fall of 1998, an advisory Steering Committee, created by the board of supervisors and made up of the chairs of the county’s 18 community planning groups, began the process of configuring the new general plan.

Where would future housing be located? How would traffic congestion be addressed? Where would San Diego’s jobs of the future be built? These decisions are all ultimately the domain of the general plan — and more to the point, the decision of the five members of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Soon after GP-2020’s process started, plans to develop Merriam Mountains into a residential and commercial community began to form. The original conceptual plan featured 435 residential lots within five villages on 1962 acres of land. Stonegate pushed to have the entire development area given its own special classification. The developers wanted a specific planning amendment for their project that would allow them to create their own zoning and density standards.

In 2002, a series of memos was uncovered during a lawsuit deposition by former San Diego city attorney Mike Aguirre (on an unrelated matter regarding political redistricting, while Aguirre was in private practice). The memos were written between June 2000 and April 2001. They revealed that Gordon Youde, president of Stonegate Development Corporation, had worked to delay GP-2020, attempting to gain approval for Merriam Mountains before the land-use-plan update could be enacted.

“At this point in time, Stonegate Development is the premier entity capable of countering Plan 2020 and getting projects approved prior to enactment of Plan 2020,” wrote Youde on November 14, 2000, to Merriam Mountains Property Owners, “Interested Parties,” and Escondido development consultant David R. Shibley.

Shibley was working with property owners and developers involved in the GP-2020 process through a political organization called Save Our Land Values (SOLV). After viewing an early draft of GP-2020, Youde explained his opposition to the plan in a memo to Shibley.

“We were aghast!” wrote Youde on June 14, 2000. “The map designates the entire Merriam Mountains as one dwelling unit for 40 acres! These designations eliminate any development potential.”

In that June 14, 2000 memo, Youde told Shibley that he’d met with then–San Diego Department of Planning and Land Use director Gary Pryor on June 5, 2000, and was advised that Stonegate would need a general plan amendment to get the project approved.

“Mr. Prior [sic] suggested we needed to review the Plan 2020 designation for Merriam Mountains, as the Planning Department would be hard pressed to recommend a plan for approval by the Board of Supervisors that is not consistent with what they are proposing in Plan 2020,” wrote Youde.

In a November 14, 2000 memo, Youde told Shibley that Stonegate had contacted the individual supervisors, formally requesting that the project’s zoning be changed from one dwelling unit per 40 acres to a generalized, specific planning area designation. That designation “gives us the planning flexibility to create a master planned community and set our own lot sizes and use designations,” wrote Youde.

According to county spokesperson Gig Conaughton, a specific plan “allows for a more specific development program than identified under existing general plan and zoning designations. And although it does allow you to designate your own density, density is still reviewed for appropriateness under the California Environmental Quality Act. Specific Plans are common in the county for large projects.”

Stonegate’s efforts involved direct contact with the individual supervisors and their staffs. In the June 14, 2000 memo, Youde described a meeting with Chris Brown, then Supervisor Bill Horn’s deputy for land-use matters.

“The most frightening thing he [Brown] said is that some kind of compromise would be worked out on the Merriam Mountains land use designation,” wrote Youde. “What kind of compromise would work for us? One unit per twenty acres? No. One unit per ten acres? No. One unit for five acres? No.”

In October 2000, at a meeting of the Alpine Community Planning Group, Pryor said developers and property owners would be smart to get their projects completed and built before General Plan 2020 was set in place.

“A plan for an undeveloped piece of property is subject to new restrictions under GP-2020. But if there are sticks in the ground — if a vested project has been established, or a building raised on a property — then those structures will not be subject to GP-2020.”

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Comments

HonestGovernment Dec. 2, 2009 @ 2:53 p.m.

Thank you for your carefully outlined history of the County Plan Update. We should all pay close attention to further developments. The next meeting is on December 4 2009. The County Plan Update website is http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dplu/gpupdate/index.html From their website: "The Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) will hold an additional public hearing on the General Plan Update on December 4, 2009. This hearing is a continuation of the General Plan Update hearings held on November 6, 19, and 20. The Planning Commission will complete discussions on Valley Center and testimony will be taken on the following remaining communities: Rainbow, San Dieguito, Otay, Julian, and Pendleton DeLuz."

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HonestGovernment Dec. 3, 2009 @ 8:29 a.m.

One more thought: the city-wide community plan updates are just starting a several-years-long process of revamping what will or will not be done in local areas of the city, in the coming decades.

The advisory committee members have probably all been chosen, though there may still be a chance to get on your area committee, if anyone has dropped out or not enough people applied.

You can check http://www.sandiego.gov/planning/community/ for your community.

Of concern are the number of committee members already announced and selected who are developers and realtors. Why? Because of the following sentence, quoted from the City's objectives in the updating of the plans:

"The recent update to the General Plan shifts focus from how to develop vacant land to how to design infill development and reinvest in existing communities."

Key word in older neighborhoods ringing downtown: INFILL.

If you live in South Park, for example, please pay attention. If you don't want to see your locally owned grocery store with plenty of free parking disappear, you'll have to object when the Plan Update developer members start proposing infill to replace local cottages and shops. Because that is what INFILL is.

Instead of a local grocery and ample parking lot, you'll get a "mixed-use" building with as many tiny condos or apartments as can be packed into a multistory unit, right up to the curb, and a token "upscale gourmet" shop with high-priced items to sell to the captives living above the shop. Oh, and metered street parking.

Here are a few more quotes, from a D.R. Horton/American National Investments publication about infill objectives: http://coib.govoffice2.com/vertical/Sites/%7B6283CA4C-E2BD-4DFA-A7F7-8D4ECD543E0F%7D/uploads/%7B1B48A9FF-C035-4E5D-8B18-8418BA4025A7%7D.PDF

"Extend day into night - develop a place that does not become vacant when the sun goes down." "Project residents create the captive market needed for quality retailers."

If you want to retain a quiet residential neighborhood that DOES get quiet at night, and has real, affordable amenities, stay tuned.

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HonestGovernment Dec. 4, 2009 @ 9:59 a.m.

The above link to the D.R. Horton/American National Investments publication doesn't work. Try this: http://tiny.cc/0aw7V

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Viking13 Dec. 6, 2009 @ 11:37 a.m.

The E.A. Barrera article, "Play the Sneaky Developer Game," represents another stage in what might be the most corrupt County of San Diego administration. This is the cauldron which spawned Bill Horn's candidacy. Back in the 1980s, the Board of Supervisors approved the Hidden Meadows Project and placed a huge oak forest in an "open space lot" to mitigate the impact of housing. Then another developer bought the lot and planned his own housing subdivision that would mow down the oak forest. When told he would need to prepare an Environmental Impact Report, he bought the Valley Center Roadrunner and began a campaign of propaganda stories trashing the Department of Planning and Land Use and advocating electing a property rights supervisor. His cohorts found Bill Horn in the Valley Center Community Planning Group and sponsored his run at the north county seat. Once elected, Horn hired the developer's crew on his staff and they circulated a list of planning department employees they wanted fired. When County Counsel advised this illegal, they then stripped the budget and eliminated 80% of the department staff, but failed to eliminate the man who directed the EIR. But this is the historic context in which Gary Pryor re-shaped the deparment to respond to powerful land developers and their lobbyists. Merriam Mountains and GP 2020 are just links in the chain. Viking 13

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