The draft environmental review for a four-story apartment project that will be built on San Diego Unified School District land in Scripps Ranch has been released, and residents are not happy with it.
"We gave them a list of questions and concerns and they never responded," said Summer Spencer on February 5. "We looked at the draft [environmental impact report] and it is identical to the plan they presented when this started."
Calls for explanation, clarification, and comment to the developer and to the school district were not returned.
The Monarch Group plan for the 264-unit project that includes a five-level parking garage and 2000 square feet of retail space has been controversial from the get-go. The 6.7 acres of land at Scripps Poway Parkway and Spring Canyon is currently home to the Innovations Academy, a highly regarded but apparently underperforming charter school, according to the state. The school district voted in January 2016 to close the school and lease the land to a La Jolla–based private development company calling itself the Monarch Group.
Because the planned development’s environmental report is the responsibility of the school district, the city has no jurisdiction over it and no ability to challenge it, according to Miramar Ranch North chairperson Michelle Abella Shon. Others noted that similar situations have resulted in citizen lawsuits over the environmental reports and projects.
Environmental impact reports are usually written by consultants hired by the people who stand to impact the environment. The final report is supposed to address all relevant concerns raised in the comments, and the report is ultimately registered with the state. It is not independently reviewed once the comments close…unless it is dragged before a judge. In some situations, agencies can go ahead and do projects that they report will be harmful to the environment.
A quick look at the 1105-page draft report indicates that its preparers concluded that there will be less than significant or no significant impact to the area resulting from the addition of about 800 new residents and less than significant impact to the existing net of public services: police, fire, libraries, and parks.
Similarly, traffic and greenhouse-gas impacts, from a project with about 1000 parking spaces, will be less than significant, the review concludes.
The building is two miles from the nearest mass-transit center at the I-15. Of the 264 units, 22 will be rented at below-market prices, making them "affordable."
The development company includes Ryan and Rodney Stone and Patrick and George Kruer, all prominent figures in the development community. Father and son Rodney and Ryan Stone and a partner from the Monarch Group were formally accused of buying in to a Chula Vista Card Room in September 2015 without notifying or seeking permission from the state Bureau of Gambling Control.
The Stones are already owners of several Sacramento-area card-room businesses.
In June 2016, Ryan Stone, Monarch Group partner Masis Kevorkian, and poker player Kermit Schayltz admitted that they had done what they were accused of. The three agreed to pay almost $1 million in fines and investigation costs and to be monitored by a gaming expert they will hire.
The company apparently was the only developer that submitted a proposal to the school district — and, according to the local NBC affiliate, may be looking at other school-district properties.
Civic groups in the communities affected by the project (Scripps Ranch and Miramar Ranch North) have voted against it, citing traffic and crowding. Many are concerned about the height of the buildings, which will be the tallest in the area, except for the zone two miles away adjacent to the I-15. The tallest buildings near the freeway are four and six stories.
According to the draft EIR, two-story multi-family residential units are located north of Scripps Poway Parkway, screened from view behind naturally vegetated slopes. Two-story single-family houses are also located south of the project site, on top of a naturally vegetated slope overlooking the project site. These two-story homes are the tallest existing structures in the immediate vicinity.
“I don’t believe the majority of the neighborhood understands the impact, the full impact that this project will have on the community,” Spencer said. “You’re adding in 264 units of families that will add their children to Scripps Ranch schools that are already overcrowded — and they’re closing one!”
The civic groups and residents say they presented a list of concerns to the developers, none of which were addressed in the draft EIR, they say.
The draft report is now available for comments, which must be noted and addressed in the final EIR, though it is not mandatory that the plan be revised. The comment period closes on March 6.
The planning group created an ad hoc committee that will hold a meeting to review the project at the Scripps Ranch Community Center on February 28.
UPDATE February 8, 6:20 p.m.
The following statement was sent after publication by Chris Wahl, president of Southwest Strategies LLC:
"Not only is the Scripps Mesa project a smart growth development, it is also a responsible growth development that is permitted by the underlying zoning. The project will bring needed high-quality apartments to Miramar Ranch North — a community without any existing apartment homes — helping to meet community and regional needs for more balanced housing. The proposed project is also being developed through a lengthy public process, which has and will continue to include numerous opportunities for community input and engagement."