Ths project site burned in the 2007 Harris wildfire. State Route 94 through Jamul, the main access route, is rated by Cal Fire in the most dangerous 1% of areas in the state for evacuation during a major fire.
By Kendra Sitton
June 27, 2019 (Jamul) – San Diego County Supervisors have voted 3-2 to approve a Master Planned Community outside of Otay along Proctor Valley within the Jamul area, known as Village 14 and Planning Areas 16/19. Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents Jamul, voted against the plan alongside the only Democrat on the board, Nathan Fletcher during the Wednesday, June 26 meeting.
The development could eventually include 1,119 homes, commercial space, a K-6 school, parks and trails and a fire station on the 1200-acre lot. According to the developer, Jackson Pendo Development Company, those homes will start selling at $550,000, which is just below the median home price in San Diego County in March. With the median income in the area at $86,300, people would need to make around 150% of the median income to afford the house. Basically, a person needs to make well over six figures to afford living in these detached houses.
The project was approved back in 1993 as Chula Vista adopted a plan to start several villages to address the upcoming housing needs. The villages further west are apartments and other multi-family buildings, while the villages include only single-family homes in the Otay area. Most recently, the county included it as part of the General Plan adopted in 2011.
The plan was opposed for three main reasons: traffic, fire danger and environmental impact.
“We know things today that we didn’t know back in 2011, not the least of which is fire risk. And the threat of fire is real,” Jacob said.
In support of the plan, many came out to share the impacts of the housing crisis and explain why the new development was needed.
Glenn Paxton of Chula Vista said, “I would like my kids and grandkids to live in this county but they’ve already been priced out of this community.”
Jamil Shamoon of Symons Fire Protection, which has helped the developers work on adding sprinklers and other fire protection to the project, said, “Our affordability is out of control.”
He pointed out that many high-end housing have been built in the last ten years since the housing crisis began but not a lot of entry-level housing. He said housing needs to be opened up all along the ladder, so people in entry-level homes can upgrade, opening up their previous properties for new buyers.
The project was initially slated to pave the two-lane dirt road, Proctor Valley, and connect to SR-94. The new paved road will be two lanes with a bike lane and pedestrian crossings as well as several roundabouts to slow traffic.
Following feedback from people in Jamul, the developers agreed to not connect to SR-94 in Jamul, which is already rated by Cal Fire as among the most dangerous 1% of areas for evacuation during a wildfire -- worse than Paradise, CA, where 92 lives were lost last year. However, to provide secondary access, the new road will now connect with Valley Knowles and Whispering Meadows, both of which are private roads paid for by the people who live there.
Many on the Jamul/Dulzura Planning Group disputed traffic studies that showed the development would add only a few hundred trips onto the 94
. Members of the planning group, including Michael Casenelli and Janet Mulder, pointed out anyone in the development heading north or even to downtown would more likely travel through Jamul than further South into Chula Vista to use the toll road.
Mulder specifically brought up that a study (on how evacuating the community in stages could get everyone out in case of a fire) refers to the residents of Jamul as “ambient traffic” and they not taken into account. She noted if Jamul had to all be evacuated at the same time, the 94 has in the past become “a parking lot” and other residents should have been taken into account in the study.
From both Jamul residents and climate change activists, fire was a frequent fear. Jacob wondered if these new homeowners would even qualify for fire insurance, since so many of her constituents have struggled to access it recently.
The 1200 acres of the site were completely burned during the 2007 Harris Fire. The housing development will not help end the housing crisis if it burns down, opponents noted.
CalFire San Diego Unit Chief Tony Mecham tried to mitigate those worries.
“This project incorporates the best of everything we know today… I do believe this area will burn again. What stopped the Harris Fire was the homes in Chula Vista,” he said, noting his concern is with current structures.
Jacob noted that the project comes as the county is still grappling with whether to allow new developments in areas that will inevitably burn. “Do we completely prohibit large developments in these high-risk fire areas?” she asked.
In addition to the fire risks, environmental advocates spoke out against the project due to their predictions that it will harm biodiversity in the area, because it places the huge development in the middle of preserved land. The developers emphasized the project is carbon neutral because each house will be equipped with solar power. The project includes 770 acres of preserved open space. This was not enough for many of the activists worried about climate change and air quality.
“These lands are sacrosanct,” said Dr. Peter Anderson of the Sierra Club San Diego who lives in Jamul. “This completely blows up the Climate Action Plan [by adding] many vehicle miles traveled.”
Sophie Wolfram, Director of Programs at Climate Action Campaign said, “Continuing to approve sprawl projects is climate change denial, plain and simple. This project further locks in car-dependence and air pollution,and makes it impossible for our region to meet state climate law. The County is failing to protect San Diego families and we will fight to make sure kids enjoy the basic right to a safe and livable future.”
Cody Petterson of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action pointed out that 150% of a median income in the region is not adding the affordable or moderately-priced housing the region needs. Instead, the development is far from job centers and mass transit, so will ensure everyone who lives there will commute.
“This project is reprehensible,” he said.
The Master-Planned Community is expected to be built in five phases now that the Board of Supervisors approved its development.
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