By Wayne Dauber
The San Diego County Planning and Development Department recently completed a 45-day period for public comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for Newland Sierra, a 2,135 unit housing development proposed in the hills above Deer Springs Road. Numerous individuals, community groups and public agencies submitted letters or emails expressing serious concerns and questions about the project.
The Hidden Meadows Community Sponsor Group was one of the groups submitting formal feedback on the DEIR. In our letter, we addressed four specific problems with the Newland Sierra proposal:
1) the project’s lack of compliance with the San Diego County General Plan,
2) the extreme impact the project would have on traffic on the I-15, surrounding surface streets and the Deer Springs/Mountain Meadows interchanges,
3) the severely dangerous congestion that would result in a fire evacuation situation,
4) the levels of noise, particulate and visual pollution the community would experience during the projected 10 year buildout period.
The HM Sponsor Group’s letter was based on our review of the 8,000+ page DEIR and with input from the community. We have discussed the project at several of our regular meetings. About 30 individuals attended our meeting on July 27, including local residents as well as representatives from Newland Sierra and from the Golden Door Resort and Spa (which opposes the project). The discussion that night, which lasted the better part of three hours, was lively and offered us an opportunity to ask questions of the Newland representative. The general sense from attendees’ comments was that the Hidden Meadows community is strongly opposed to the project. Before sending our official letter to the County, we publicly reviewed it again at at special meeting held on August 3. That meeting was also attended by several residents and Newland Sierra and Golden Door representatives. It is interesting to note that Newland Sierra has sent videographers to record the discussions at our meetings (as well as at other community meetings).
Other Community Sponsor Groups also submitted responses to the DEIR. The Twin Oaks CSG, which represents the neighborhood most directly impacted by the proposed development, submitted a lengthy and well-prepared package with supporting documents including the detailed results of a community survey they had conducted by mail.
One of the most interesting letters submitted to the County was from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Their letter, dated August 10, cited several inaccuracies and omissions in the DEIR. The Caltrans letter took particular exception to statements in the DEIR that suggest Caltrans is planning a project to improve the interchanges at I-15 and Deer Springs Road. Caltrans claims to have no such project in the works. The letter states that Newland Sierra is actually the entity that would be responsible for initiating and paying for an interchange improvement project, because it would be needed to mitigate traffic impacts caused by their proposed development. Caltrans also noted that additional environmental/technical studies would need to be completed before an interchange project could even be approved. Another issue raised by Caltrans was the impact that the project would have on existing Park and Ride facilities, which are already at 100% plus capacity. Finally, the Caltran’s letter called it “unacceptable” that the DEIR simply states that there is “no feasible mitigation” for the project’s significant impact on traffic.
The planning department is now in the process of reviewing the comments and preparing a revised EIR. The final report, which could take several months to complete, will then be submitted to the Planning Commission before being sent on to the County Board of Supervisors who will decide whether or not to approve the Newland Sierra project. In the meantime, the Community Sponsor Group encourages Hidden Meadows residents to share your thoughts about the Newland Sierra project with members of the County Board of Supervisors, as well as candidates for the Board. Your voice could make the difference in whether or not this project goes forward.