June's planning commission hearing was a preview of the tug-of-war likely to play out at September's supervisors hearing. Proponents tried to distance Newland Sierra from the 2010 version of the project by repeatedly stating, "This is not the Merriam Mountains project."
While it may not technically be the same project, Newland Communities appears to have been involved in Merriam Mountains since at least 2004. State filings show Newland Sierra LLC started out as NNP-Stonegate Merriam LLC
In September 2016, LLC registration was completed by adding member name Nash-Newland Segregated LLC. Nash Communities is the North American arm of Japan's largest homebuilder, Sekisui House. In 2009, Sekisui expanded into Australia and Russia before expanding into China and the United States in 2010.
This is when Newland formed a joint venture with the Japanese goliath. In 2012, Newland made their third acquisition with Nash (Sekisui) that included 28 master-planned communities in the U.S., including three local Newland communities (4S Ranch, Merriam Mountain, Torrey Hills).
A side-by-side comparison of the two projects shows Newland Sierra has 7-percent less density, 15-percent less acreage (1985 versus 2237), and 21 percent fewer dwelling units (2135 versus 2700). The county's general plan zones this parcel for 99 houses and commercial/office space.
Newland Sierra is keeping 61 percent of the parcel as open space (10 percent more than Merriam Mountains) but has 40 percent fewer parks (36) than Merriam Mountains (89).
Brandin said homes will be priced $343,000 to $984,000 and include 1140 single-family homes (3500-7500 square foot lots) and 995 multi-family units with 81,000 square feet of office/retail space. Construction is expected to take a decade.
Newland appears to be selling off parcels to builders. Their project website tells future homebuyers that buying a home from a homebuilder on the Newland Sierra site waives any claims against Newland or Sekisui arising out of that purchase.
They state work of team members that created the environmental documentation (that convinced county staff and most of the county's planning commission to recommend their project forward) is "not guaranteed by Newland."
County planning commissioners voted in June to recommend the project forward to the board of supervisors with only minor changes.
At June's hearing, proponents consisted largely of those working in or around the building industry (developers, realtors, consultants, etc). This is likely because the building industry association or BIA's Project Green Light organizes members to flood hearings in support of fellow member's projects. Newland Sierra is highlighted on their website asking members to attend the supervisors' hearing to support Newland Sierra.
Opponents consisted of nearby residents and nearby businesses (mostly the Golden Door) concerns about wildfire evacuations, traffic, and the environment. Proponents' drumbeat included the housing crisis and the project being the only hope for infrastructure repair.
Newland's traffic consultant was asked about mitigation on a certain road. At one point, he threw up his hands and said, "They just have to mitigate the impact due to this project, not bring it back to level of service D." Levels of service are ranked from A (best) to F (worst). If approved, the project will do some roadway improvements, the most significant being to Deer Springs Road (two-lanes to four, I-15 to Twin Oaks Valley).
Opponents are not convinced Newland's roadway remedies will be enough and say that taxpayers will end up footing the bill for their project impacts. A point bolstered by Newland backing failed Prop A (2016) to hike sales tax to pay for much needed infrastructure.
Before the planning commission vote, Beck (only no vote) said, "So, we're planning for gridlock basically, is what we're doing."
At the Merriam Mountains board of supervisor's hearing in 2010, county staff seemed unprepared to respond to Jacob's questions about their water assessment, which included conservation projections that made the math work out a little too cute.
A proponent at June's hearing declared, "we have plenty of water to go around." Someone might want to alert those throwing billions into Pure Water (toilet-to-tap) and Governor Jerry Brown who signed two laws in 2018 requiring cities and water districts to set permanent water conservation rules and strict water budgets, even in non-drought years.
The county chose to exempt Newland Sierra from the resources protection ordinance (protects sensitive lands). When Beck asked why, his question was met with uncomfortable silence until staff said they wouldn't be able to approve the project if they didn't exempt it from the ordinance (too many encroachments into wetlands and steep slopes that would not be allowed under the ordinance permitting process).
Beck sounded stunned at the county's logic of bending to the project instead of asking the project to bend to the ordinance, by perhaps reducing their parameters. "It's depressing."
As far as how the supervisors might vote on Newland Sierra, there are clues from the 2010 hearings on Merriam Mountains as four of five supervisor's voting then are still on the board. Horn and Cox supported the project and are likely to vote the same in 2018.
Jacob and Roberts voted no, partly because of issues with greenhouse gas emissions and density. These issues are still in play in 2018.
Kristin Gaspar, the newest supervisor (took her seat in 2017), may cast the deciding vote. Perhaps something can be gleaned from her appointing Michael Edwards (former planning commissioner and land use attorney defending architects and engineers) to replace Peder Norby (no vote on Merriam Mountains and general plan literalist) on the planning commission.