By Roy L Hales
On October 14th, or possibly the 28th, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors will decide if they should rip up the dreams of a rural community so a developer can get a lot of money. As County Planning commissioners Peder Norby and Michael Beck recently pointed out, if the Lilac Hills project goes forward it will destroy 13 years of work, and close to $20 million, that went into San Diego County’s General Plan.
The project spreads across 608 acres in the Valley Center area. There are currently 16 “dwelling units” and a total of just 110 are allowed under current zoning. Accretive Investments wants to build 1,786 units over the course of a decade. This would support a larger population that the city of Del Mar. Why plunk a city in the middle of nowhere?
Rural Values Vs Development
Lilac Hills is embroiled in a conflict between rural community values and “development.”
The project’s developer, Randy Goodson, did not return my phone call.
According to the project’s website, “Lilac Hills Ranch will be a cutting edge green community, offering the latest in green technology and building practices. Residential and commercial design will look to incorporate solar, recycled water, rain water harvesting, onsite composting, green building practices and sustainable housing components, maximum insulation, high efficiency water and electric devices.”
Some believe their real motivation behind this project is an entirely different kind of green. According to Mark Jackson, one of the residents opposing the project, agricultural land is worth about $25,000 an acre. The value per acre can double, if you are approved to put a house on a 4 acre plot. “Nothing more than the paper, the same land.”
“If you can build urban density on it, the master developer buys land for $25,000 an acre, makes what-ever improvements are required and puts in the basic infrastructure. He has to put in the roads, the sewers, all of the utilities and whatever improvements the county forces them to do. (If you do this) it is worth between $300,000 and $400,000 an acre when you sell it to the builders, who put up the residential and commercial structures,” said Jackson.
He added, “They can make ten times the value of the farmland if the county makes the exception that will make this happen.”
There are reputedly more than a dozen projects like LiIac Hills wanting to set aside the General Plan.
Peder Norby told his fellow Commissioners that if this project proceeds will blow “an absolute hole in the General Plan that will sink the General Plan as we know it.”
Partnership With Simon Malik
Accretive’s involvement in this project goes back to 2005, at least, when Goodson’s partner Simon Malk was Lilac Creek Estate’s “agent for service of process. Four years later, Accretive Investments LLC filed a Plan Amendment Authorization (PAA) to put “1,746 dwelling units, a school, a neighbourhood-serving commercial village center with retail uses, and an active park on 416 acres” of Lilac Hills.
Malk appears to have dropped out of the story around the time they were were turned. He is still President of the “Accretive Group,” and lists Lilac Hills Ranch as a “past project” on his website.
Goodson carried on with Accretive Investments, LLC and in 2010 the Planning Commission gave him the go ahead to submit a plan for 2010.
Enter Ranch Capital
His next close association is mentioned in some papers obtained through freedom of information. Ranch Capital “is a private equity firm … that specializes in unique real estate investment opportunities.” Lilac Hills Ranch is listed as one of their “Pedestrian Oriented Communities Under Development.” One of the company’s founders, Lawrence S. Hershfield, met with three members of San Diego County’s Planning & Development Services, to discuss Lilac Hills Ranch’s development, on November 4, 2013. According to Ranch’s website, Goodson was their “Director of Real Estate.”and someone from Accretive Investments LLC was also present.
Though county tax records show that Ranch Capital LLC once owned land in Lilac Hills, it exited the scene by the time Goodson signed an ownership disclosure on July 20, 2015.
Current Investors in Accretive Investments
“The disclosure also had 59 entries with numbers like "128-280-27" and "129-010-72" representing parcel numbers and another 18 entries with the names of people with ownership interest. A comparison of those names with those from tax records reveals that there has been a turnover in ownership.”
A couple of articles in the local media state that Accretive, and at least three of its investors, have made significant campaign contributions.
In the San Diego Reader‘s 2011 list of contributors to Republican Steve Danon’s war chest, it mentions: “pyschiatrist Steve Rahimi of Pacific Clinics, La Habra ($1000);Nena Zosa of Rio Hondo Pediatrics Associates and Noli Zosa of Rio Hondo Medical Group, Long Beach ($1000).” The Zosas were mentioned in the disclosure, but Rahimi has moved on.
According to a recent article in the Voice of San Diego, Accretive put more than $100,000 into local elections. Most of that went to the Fire Board that will have a significant voice in the approval of the project:
“For the November 2014 election, the developers poured $58,800 into the three open spots on the five-person Deer Springs Fire Board, through a political action committee, Public Safety Advocates. Among the committee’s spending on local elections was $12,370 in support of Fire Board candidates Tom Francl, Robert Osby and Jean Slaughter. All three were elected.
In that one fire board race, the committee spent almost the same amount as the 54 candidates in all fire board elections in San Diego County that year, according to campaign disclosures. Together, all the candidates, including those in Deer Springs, raised a combined $13,166.
The two losing candidates, James Gordon and Mark Jackson, are vocal opponents of the Lilac Hills project. They didn’t receive any financial help from the PAC.”
Now that the fate of their project is about to be decided by the County Board of Supervisors, it is important to note that Accretive gave $40,000 to a political action committee that supports County Supervisor Bill Horn. Lilac Hills also hired Chris Brown, who worked in Horn’s office more than a decade ago, as their lobbyist. Even if Horn is totally innocent, there could be a perceived conflict he takes part in any approval of the project.
Setting Aside the General Plan
One of the biggest hurdles Lilac Hills faced was getting the Planning Commissions recommendation that the County set aside its own General Plan.
“The General Plan said you should put developments like Lilac Hills in areas where there is infrastructure: roads, sewer, water, ect. It identified smart growth areas and this project is so far outside of smart growth areas … There is no transit. There is no place to get reasonable services,” explained Jackson.
There is little industry, which means that people living in Lilac Hills would have to commute to work on the I-5. This adds up to increased gridlock and higher greenhouse gas emissions from all those cars on the highway.
“It is not making things any better, its’ making things worse,” said Jackson.
Jackson said the county commissioners added a lot of conditions “that cloud the project’s financial viability” before they voted 4-3 to recommend it.
• The developers were trying to shove everyone onto existing roads, now they have to build new ones.
• They have to build a major school.
• “This is a very high wildfire risk area,” and Lilac Hills will have to pay for a fire station manned by three people.
• Jackson said that Accretive’s own studies reveal that an evacuation of Lilac Hills Ranch would take more than two hours.
• Lilac Hills promised to institute water conservation measures and also that 30% of their water would be recycled. The problem, according to Jackson, is that the existing recycling plant would need a major upgrade that could take up to five years and cost (possibly taking five years to build that could cost $40 million and take five years to complete.
“Let’s stick to the plan and reject Lilac Hills Ranch. If the Supervisors allow this project to move forward by approving a General Plan Amendment, there are plenty more offenders waiting in the wings. The Supervisors should reject not only Lilac Hills Ranch but also Warner Ranch, Newland Sierra, San Marcos Highlands, Valiano and any other proposed development that plops down urban developments in remote locations,” said Jackson.
Before the County Board
The County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on this project on October 14.
According to the Valley Road Runner, "Since it is very likely that two supervisors, Bill Horn and Greg Cox, favor the project and two, Dianne Jacob and Dave Roberts, don't, its fate could very well rest with one member of the board, Ron Roberts."
The problem with this equation is that a political action committee that supports County Supervisor Bill Horn, whose district the project is in, has received $40,000 in campaign contributions from Accretive interests backing the project. He should not be allowed to vote.