Sunday, November 29, 2015 • 09:13

Neighbors protest Lilac Hills Ranch Project

Above, Lilac Hills Ranch Subcommittee Chair Steve Hutchison.
June 25, 2014
The Lilac Hills Ranch Subcommittee of the Valley Center Community Planning Group met June 16 to review and discuss the status and process of a second draft EIR (Environmental Impact Report) and to review assignments for responding to the impending release of the DEIR.

After the Subcommittee determined those members attending the meeting comprised an adequate number required to establish a quorum, Subcommittee Chairman Steve Hutchison addressed the concern of an EIR presented last summer by Lilac Hills Ranch (LHR) in which the Subcommittee submitted over 1,000 pages of response. Instead of responding to or answering the Subcommittee's comments, the county decided to resubmit the draft EIR in revised form.

"If you're familiar with government contracting, the public acted as the red team for Accretive and we pointed out all the flaws and faults of the draft EIR last summer," said Hutchison. "They've regrouped and said we've got to address some of these so they're not quite so onerous. So that's what they've done as far as I can tell. I'm speaking as if I oppose the project and I'll say upfront, yes, I do because it's inconsistent with the General Plan and it's inconsistent with the Valley Center Community Plan even as it is today. It's inconsistent with the Community Plan that should have been done by now but it's waiting to be finished because the county hasn't funded the staff to finish it."

Lilac Hills Ranch is a proposal of Accretive Investments which includes 1,371 single-family lots, 375 multi-family residential units within a town center and two smaller neighborhood centers. The plan includes 90,000 square feet of commercial and office space within the 25.8 acre commercial and mixed-use area. Also proposed in the original plan is a 12-acre public community park, private neighborhood parks, a 12-acre school site, a recycling facility to provide waste recycling for project residents and businesses, and an on-site water reclamation facility as well as orchards and other agricultural uses.

Those in attendance were informed the county website contains all the information for Lilac Hills Ranch including chapters one through four of the voluminous 1,100-page draft EIR, technical documents, studies, and the Specific Plan listed in three parts. It was noted the Table of Contents for the draft EIR is 10 pages.

Hutchison stated the purpose of the meeting was to discuss strategy.

"We acted as a red team for Accretive giving them hints of all the flaws that were in their proposal and now they've come back making changes based on those comments without the county having responded to the comments that we made," said Hutchison.

He deducted that there had not been many changes made pertinent to the Specific Plan but the changes that did exist represented careful word crafting. He stated much of the arguments made about the General Plan consistencies were still valid, although there were still changes that needed to be addressed. He stated in going through every subject, he noted a lot had changed but most of it being not consequential.

"But the trick is to find all the consequential," said Hutchison. "As we go through this, it is sad to say that unpaid volunteers are going to spend hours and hours pouring through this looking for anything consequential that has changed."

Hutchison revealed his plan and strategy of taking all the comments made by the Committee last summer because so many were still relevant and drafting a cover sheet to resubmit the comments in addition to any new comments based on the changes. The comments are to be resubmitted by the July 28 deadline. Since the comments were previously approved, it is unnecessary to get a re-vote. It was proposed that Chair of the Planning Group, Oliver Smith, draft a letter indicating the proposal with any new comments to be presented at a Planning Group meeting.

Hutchison advised participants to revisit and resubmit comments from last year, if relevant, with current dates and submit new comments as well. Previously, the Planning Group submitted 250 pages of comments. In addition, two law firms were retained by other groups and individuals opposing the LHR Project presenting voluminous commentary in opposition.

It was stated that the California Environmental Quality Act requires a response by the county from every comment addressed in documentation. It was advised to phrase topics as questions because questions get noticed whereas the county doesn't feel obligated to respond to comments. Overwhelmed by the number of questions and concerns, the county chose to recirculate the DEIR rather than respond. Legal counsel from the county advised it was considered unfinished business and in process, thus the reason the DEIR was resubmitted. It was noted that advantages in recirculating the DEIR provided by the county were changes in which deletions were stricken in red and additions were underlined in blue text making it easier to read the lengthy document.

"The objective for the Planning Group and Subcommittee is to defend the General Plan and the Community Plan," said Hutchison. "We've spent 18.6 million dollars, 12 years, and thousands of hours of volunteer's time to get it to where it was in 2011."

A committee member explained the Specific Plan is the developer's proposal in detail whereas the EIR is the county's document in which they assess the impacts of the developer's proposal.

Subcommittee then assigned writing assignments to members in attendance, which included problematic topics such as eminent domain, the right of a government to take private property for public use. There ensued discussion of speculation of the project taking private property to benefit another individual, in this case, the developer. The problematic topic of a traffic study presented the projected impact that an influx of 5,000 additional residents driving vehicles on two-lane Valley Center roads would create, especially during emergency fire evacuations when local thoroughfares would be clogged in dangerous gridlock. Other issues Subcommittee members were writing comments to included greenhouse gases, landscape, agriculture, archaeology, environment, sewage, noise, fires, recreation, and project alternatives.

"The Project is not in compliance with the General Plan because it consists of high urban density within an agricultural area which would extend schools and utilities to satisfy that," said Hutchison. But all that is necessary for the LHR Project to be in compliance is to change the General Plan, the objective of Accretive Investments.

In summary, Hutchison conjectured the fate of Lilac Hills Ranch could rest in the hands of five individuals, the County Board of Supervisors. Whereas Supervisor Bill Horn is a proponent for the Project, the Subcommittee could only speculate on the position of the remaining four supervisors.

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