“If this rezoning goes through, it will mean Alpine will be urbanized."
At least there’s one thing that people who live in Alpine can still agree on: they live in a beautiful town with a near-perfect climate.
But that’s where the agreement ends.
Ever since the townspeople became involved in the Alpine Planning Area Group (APAG) — the community organization which will determine Alpine’s future development — agreement has been hard to come by.
Friends with trees
In fact, it’s gotten to the point where Alpine residents can’t even agree on whether they disagree or not. At their latest meeting on October 11th, APAG members argued about whether the group's hassles were merely petty bickering or whether there was genuine disagreement.
Like it or not, Alpiners are now split into two opposing factions who have named each other the “developers” and the “ruralists.”
The developers claim the group’s disagreements are merely petty bickering. The ruralists, on the other hand, believe the two groups are in real conflict over Alpine’s future. In fact, many ruralists see the developers’ use of the word “bickering” as one tactic in a strategy to sabotage Alpine’s attempt at collective community planning.
It all began in February, 1972, when Alpine became one of twelve unincorporated areas to have a County-recognized citizen planning group. The group, a voluntary association open to all Alpine residents, was to work with the County Planning Department in formulating a community plan which would eventually be presented to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
Following a schedule determined by the Planning Department, APAG elected officers and began a year of bi-monthly instruction from County staff. A comprehensive questionnaire was prepared and sent to all taxpayers in the area, to ascertain public opinion on the desired future goals of growth rate; residential, commercial and industrial development; recreation; public services and transportation. After the survey was completed and tabulated, APAG began formulating its goals.
But in February of this year, as APAG began drawing up its 1990 population goals, controversy exploded and the group broke into two factions.
The developers, as their name suggests, are people who deal in property — often in a big way. Most prominent among them are Ray Conley and Auren Pierce.
Conley, present vice chairman of APAG’s residential subcommittee, deals in rental property. Pierce is one of Alpine’s two largest developers, his most notable projects being Alpine village and the 2,000-acre Palo Verde Estates.
“When APAG was deciding on a 1990 population goal,” said Marie Swinney, an outspoken ruralist, “Conley proposed one million, while Pierce wanted no limit.”
The APAG questionnaire had already shown, however, that 84 per cent of those polled did not want Alpine to have a 1990 population exceeding 8,000 — double the town’s current size. APAG eventually set a 9,500 limit.
Like the majority of Alpiners, the ruralists tend to favor a slow, steady growth.
“Most of us ruralists are down the middle of the road,” said Joyce Gauss. “We want to have steady growth.”
“We need slow growth and low density,” said Marie Swinney, adding that Alpine should retain its A-l zoning which allows one-acre minimum lots.
Yet here is how Conley describes the situation:
“One group (developers) wants to see Alpine grow orderly, while the other faction wants everything to stay the same.
“Most of them (ruralists) aren’t property owners,” Conley continues, “and would deny the right of people to use their property as they wish. The other side (developers) is concerned about property rights.”
Pierce is even more blunt about it:
“It’s a case of people who believe in orderly growth versus people who believe in no growth.
“People who are opposed to growth live on postage-stamp lots somewhere,” Pierce continues. “Their stake in the community is minimal.”
Ruralists reject Conley’s and Pierce’s classification. “I'd say 90percent of the ruralists own their own property.” countered Marie Swinney. “It doesn’t matter how large their lots are. It’s their life savings and they’ve worked hard to be able to maintain it,” she said.
“Pierce, on the other hand, buys land for speculation, using other people’s money.”
Since APAG's goals have been drafted and since the growth rate is nearly that desired by the vast majority of the townspeople, ruralists cite the developers’ “no growth” name-calling as evidence of disloyalty to APAG.
But ruralists feel APAG is even more betrayed by the rezoning that is occurring. APAG as a group cannot challenge any current rezonings until its goals receive final County approval. Thus, the planning group is helpless to prevent new projects which might be detrimental to its draft plan. On September 21st the County Planning Commission approved a zoning change from A-l to C-2 (from one to 43 units per acre) on 33 acres just off the westerly freeway approach to Alpine.
Joe Collins — Alpine’s other super-developer besides Pierce — will sell the property should the supervisors give final approval to the zone change. The prospective buyers of the property are James Buckles, Harold J. Logan and William F. Logan, the men who built Grossmont Center. They plan on building a $2 million shopping center on the site which will have ample room for high-density development.
This despite the fact that 77 percent of the polled Alpiners wanted to minimize development along the town's westerly freeway approach to maintain Alpine’s rural atmosphere.
Mrs. Swinney echoed the sentiments of most ruralists:
“If this rezoning goes through, it will mean Alpine will be urbanized and that’s the end of the fight to keep it rural," she said, adding that over 800 residents have signed a petition protesting the rezoning as premature.
The Board of Supervisors are due to approve the re-zoning at their November 21 meeting.
Ruralists also feel the community planning process itself is being undercut by the Board of Supervisors. On August 30th Supervisor Lou Conde proposed a 60-day moratorium on all community planning groups to allow an ad hoc committee to investigate why only two of the twelve planning areas — Fallbrook and Poway — have completed their plans.
Four groups, including Alpine, which had not completed their goals were “put in limbo." This meant they would no longer have County staff to assist them, nor would their goals be considered by the Board.
Conde complained the $1.5 million expended in the planning had produced too little result and urged that the process be streamlined.
The Supervisors said the planning groups had become local pressure groups which spent more time dealing with immediate problems rather than doing long-range planning.
But ruralists, along with sources in County government, suggest other reasons for the Board’s decision. Pierce and Supervisor Dick Brown are good friends. One County source offered that Pierce had anxieties, that community planning “would preclude some of his options."
Likewise, Supervisors Conde, Bear and Taylor are staunch believers in the rights of private property and are wary of the community plan process.
The fate of this very process will become clearer November 30th when the Supervisors announce their revisions of the planning process.
Besides feeling betrayed by the “developers," the Planning Commission and the Supervisors, ruralists believe APAG was being disrupted by its chairman, Al Adams.
Active in the youth center, the chamber of commerce and other community affairs, Adams is a well respected man. However, many APAG members feel he has failed to represent the group and sided with the developers.
APAG Secretary Olive Wooldridge says Adams has withheld important County correspondence from the group.
“I’m secretary and I haven’t seen any correspondence," she says. “He considers it his personal mail."
There is a widely held suspicion that Adams is actually helping the developers sabotage APAG. He and Pierce are reportedly good friends.
Members of the planning group voted to censure Adams October 11th, in part for telling County staff that community planning groups aren’t worth the time, effort and money.
Secretary Wooldridge said the developers’ side “would like to see him keep things disrupted."
The conflict between the two factions reached a new level by the October 11th meeting at Alpine Union Elementary School. Only a handful of developers appeared. Instead, a letter was read in which developers stated their intentions to be absent from any future APAG meetings “which are unauthorized and unsupervised by County staff.
“We contend the APAG in its present form is not a viable instrument in the planning of our community," read the letter.
The developers said they supported the County’s decision to evaluate the program. Interestingly enough, the letter condemned the discord created by the^ unjustified presence of “two out of town speakers." One of those speakers, attorney Jim Webb, had been asked by Olive Wooldridge to inform APAG how their rights as a community planning group were protected by state law.
The developers deplored the “constant strife, bitterness and angry expression" permeating the meetings.
Ruralists are quick to note that the developers are leaving the group at a time when the preliminary goals have just been drafted.
“When we agree with them, it’s not bickering," said Edith Bishop, “but when we disagree with them it’s bickering."
Bob Ballard insists the split is exaggerated “mainly by those in real estate, construction and development."
Indeed, the developers don’t seem to think community planning will work. Conley, for instance, sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors in which he urged termination of the present group. In its place he suggested that Supervisor Brown “appoint one or two people and have them come down to the Civic Center to confer with staff on what they think is the best plan."
“I favor that approach," said Pierce. “I see no way the group can be harmonious.
“I'm a professional developer and that’s all I do. You don’t achieve good results when you’re trying to make a plan with people who have no background or knowledge of the planning process."
But Joyce Gauss, a ruralist, disagrees:
“We're not poles apart," she said. “We who are called ruralists like what Auren Pierce builds.
“Let the group Finish the plan. I would rather holler at the meetings. We’re going to understand each other more by arguing it out."