WATER, PACE OF DEVELOPMENT TOP CONCERNS IN CAMPO/LAKE MORENA PLANNING GROUP RACE

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By Miriam Raftery

Lake Morena

October
6, 2008 (Campo) -
Concerns over the impacts of new and proposed
major developments on water supplies and community character have divided community
members in this rural region.  

Tensions ran high at a forum for Campo/Lake Morena Planning Group candidates
held on September 29th,  where community members posed tough questions
for candidates on two opposing slates, plus independents with sharply different
visions for future growth.

DUELING SLATES AND INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES VIE FOR SEATS

Mountain Empire Resources Information Task Force (MERIT), a citizens’ group
favoring slow growth, has recruited a slate of four candidates to run for the
Campo/Lake Morena Planning Group.  The mission statement on MERIT’s
website pledges to protect and maintain natural resources, promote responsible
groundwater use, and preserve the community’s rural character. MERIT-backed
candidates are:  Joe Carmody, Shirley Perkins Driscoll, Jane Hamilton,
and Tammy Inman.

 “We recruited the slate because we felt there’s so much
in our community that’s untruth,” said MERIT’s Sheryl Bush-Carmody.

Five other candidates have been endorsed and received financial backing from
H.O.P.E. of the Mountain Empire: Brian Elmore, Kristi Kor, Paige McAllister,
Mitch Sanchez, and Brandon Will. HOPE’s site describes the organization
as “homeowners for the preservation and enhancement of the mountain valley.”  HOPE
has opposed Sunrise PowerLink.  Planning group chair FPPC records indicate
HOPE has received funding from Star Ranch Development Co.  Yet even some
HOPE-backed candidates expressed doubts about Star Ranch’s proposal.

The Planning Group has voted to deny approval of Star Ranch’s proposal
for a major residential development.  “On August 25, we had a meeting
to get comments from the public.  They ran 86% against it.  It’s
just too big,” said Planning Group chair Bev Esry, who is not up for
reelection. 

Two independent candidates have also thrown hats in the ring:  Larry
Johnson and Rob Romero.

Here’s a rundown on the candidates, compiled from their ballot statements,
comments made at the candidate forum, interviews and public documents:

MERIT-BACKED CANDIDATES

Historic Campo Diner is one of few commercial outlets in the
community

Joe
Carmody,
incumbent,  believes in “growth at a rural pace.”  He
has served on a groundwater subcommittee and co-chaired a committee on the
General Plan update.  Carmody says the newly-built KB Homes project,
Campo Hills, project has too much density and wants to assure that future
projects will be less dense. 

 He highlights what’s at stake in this election:  “If
we built on every piece of land available before the new General Plan, we could
have 19,000 people—but that’s not something I’d ever want
to see,” said Carmody, noting that that community now has a population
of about 3,000 people.   

Carmody respects owners’ rights to develop property but doesn’t
agree with some aspects of what Star Ranch has proposed in its plan to build-out
a large residential project over 20 to 30 years. “Everything revolves
around water.  We have a limited supply,” he noted.  Asked
about Star Ranch, he replied, “They need to adjust it a lot. It does
not fit our community in its current form.”  He expressed distrust
of the County.  “The County is not something we can really cont
on,” he said, noting that residents of  Campo Hills were forced
to have lawns and have been fined if they fail to keep them green.  “These
plans get out of hand, and I think it will end up hurting our community,” he
said.

Carmody opposes the proposed Sunrise PowerLink southern route.  “It
is too close to the other route. One fire could take out both. It’s dangerous,” he
said.

Shirley Perkins Driscoll, incumbent, is a rancher and 25-year
Campo resident who supports “moderate rural growth, rather than large
development forced growth” citing water management as her biggest concern.  A
well on her property went dry and she had to drill another, she said.  Now
the new well’s water level has dropped from 20 to 43 feet.  “Part
of it is drought. Part of it is Campo Hills,” said Driscoll, who is disturbed
over polarization in the community that “forced development” has
brought.  “There are many places we no longer feel welcome,” she
noted.

Driscoll said she was “appalled” to see mature oak trees cut down
for the Campo Hills project and opposes future heavy-density projects such
as Star Ranch.  “If they build 450 homes, they can’t help
but impact water,” she said, adding she would reconsider if the scale
of the project is reduced.  Driscoll opposes PowerLink, adding that power
generation from coastal tides should be considered instead.  She aims
to “keep Campo rural” but would support restoration of Camp Lockett,
a former Civil War outpost, to attract tourist dollars.

Jane Hamilton has lived in the back country for most of her
life.  Past president of Mountain Empire Homemakers and current president
of the VFW Post 2080, she was on vacation and unable to attend the candidate
forum. But she wrote “To live here is to embrace what Campo has to offer,
not to change it to something else for profit.  That doesn’t mean
we shouldn’t build our homes and businesses here, as I was able to do.
But we must be aware of the risks and consequences of forced large growth.”

Tammy Inman, a teacher in Jacumba, is a Campo native who
returned four years ago after living abroad. “I realized I loved the
small town I grew up in and wanted to raise my own children here,” she
said.  “As a teacher in our school district I understand growth
is important, but it needs to be done responsibly and gradually.  I am
a `growth at a rural pace’ candidate.”

She called Campo Hills “horrifying” because it violated community
character.  But she praised its residents, including many parents who
have become involved with local schools.   She believes Star Ranch
is too big and suggested a project one-third the size would be reasonable.  “If
they build 460 homes it will affect every one of our wells,” she said,
noting that some residents near Barona now have to have water delivered from
outside the area.

HOPE-BACKED CANDIDATES

Candidate forum in Campo last month
drew a full house.

Brian Elmore, a self-employed consultant and father of seven
children, faulted the County for pushing densification as exemplified by
Campo Hills.  “The developers don’t have to beg for these
kinds of projects,” he said.

Elmore believes that “private property rights are what keeps this country
running,” but added that he would prefer to see homes spread out and
agreed that Campo Hills was too dense.  On water issues, he opposes water
meters on wells and noted that the County has not approved alternative sewer
systems and recapping of water.  He proposed horizontal wells for Star
Ranch, adding, “I don’t think there will be any problem at Star
Ranch.”

Elmore wants to see an area defined for commercial development and said the
region has been going “backwards” with no commercial development
in 50 years.  Asked about PowerLink, he replied, “It’s all
about money…As long as you have publicly traded companies, it’s
what you get. The real problem is they won’t buy our power.  That
goes to the national level.”

Kristi Kor is a fourth-generation back country resident now
raising her two children here. Co-owner of Wild Bill’s Retail Center,
she also operates insurance and business services.   She cites a
breakdown in communication between the community, the developer and government
on the Campo Hills project, but praised the project’s homeowners for
becoming active in soccer, Little League and other community activities.  “We
need dialogue with politicians to make it look like what we want it to look
like,” she said of Campo Hills.

As for future development, Kor said, “I would not support big projects.
They don’t fit into our community.”  She said she trusts the
county to conduct a groundwater study so that the community will have more
empirical data.  Asked about Star Ranch, she replied, “I can’t
answer a hypothetical question,” noting that environmental standards
must be met. 

She led opposition to PowerLink.  In addition, Kor noted, “We have
an opportunity to plan for sustainable growth with green building materials...it’s
our job to do this in a responsible and sustainable way.”

Paige McAllister is President of the Parents and Teachers
Organization (PTO) at Campo Elementary, a soccer coach, and “total youth
advocate.”  She believes KB  Homes has been “treated
unfairly” and said the builder has contributed to the community, including
raising test scores at schools.  She said she would oppose future large
development, however, and called for restoration of historical buildings to
preserve community character. 

McAllister called for comprehensive water studies and said Star Ranch would
need to be downsized before she would support it, adding that “We can’t
stop growth.”  She opposes PowerLink, supports restoration of Camp
Lockett, and urged more community involvement. McAllister praised the large
turnout of citizens at the candidates forum.  “This is what we need
to see all the time.”

Mitch Sanchez returned to the Campo area after serving
in the Marines and graduating from college.  A California Highway Patrol
officer, he is also Fire Chief of the area’s volunteer fire department.  He
called Campo  Hills “shocking” because of its density but
said he believes it was “good for the community” citing friendly
neighbors and improved test scores in schools. 

He believes Star Ranch is too big” and that future residential development
should be planned with infrastructure and roads in mind “We must make
informed decisions based on scientific data,” he said regarding water.
He opposes commercial development and expressed appreciate for “country
living.”  He hopes to see an alternative route found for PowerLink,
such as running lines along the border or undergrounding lines along I-8. But
he added, “It all comes down to money.

Brandon Will did not attend the candidate forum and failed
to RSVP.  He also failed to return questionnaires or requests for interviews
from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Independent Candidates

Rob Ramero said his well has dropped 35 feet and that others
in the community have had well levels fall also.   “I’m
a minus growth candidate,” he said, noting that a local school recently
had to drill down 1,000 feet for a new well.  “Any projects not
already started should not be approved. I’m basing that only on the water
table.”  He opposes Star Ranch and notes that water studies have
left out key areas. “Even medium density projects should not be done
now,” he added.

Ramero said the community was “ripped off by KB Homes” because
the builder did not provide a cool to be used by the full community.  He
called for construction of a community pool and also expressed support for
a new border crossing at Jacumba to ease traffic.

On PowerLink, he observed, “Nobody wants to see power lines, but we
have to have it somewhere, and at least some will be from renewable sources…More
than likely it has to go through someone’s backyard.”

Larry Johnson, a member of the advisory group since 2002,
did not attend the candidate forum.   According to the Union-Tribune,
he has abstained from voting on Star Ranch because his ranch is next to the
project Johnson said he supports Star Ranch but wants to see the project
much smaller than the current proposal, according to the Union-Tribune. 

In
comments submitted by Johnson to the County, he acknowledged the owner’s
right to develop his property and said “it can be a benefit to the community
to work with a single owner of a large project such as this.”  He
said the general project planning is “good” with specified exceptions.  He
called for a comprehensive groundwater study and acknowledged that water table
height on and off the ranch is an important parameter.  He also called
for reduced density with no houses south of Highway 94.

Editor Miriam Raftery
is a national award-winning journalist who has been covering East County issues
for more than two decades.