Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Borrego Springs - 'Rudyville' Over the Years

 

Last updated 4/1/2016 at 1:14pm



With the public hearing for “Rudyville” set for April 7, it is worth looking back on the past in order to make an informed decision on the future.

Reports from the Sun in regards to 'Rudyville' over the years, will be released in four parts. The first part can be seen below.

Vol. 56, No. 13 Borrego Springs, California June 28, 2007

‘Rudyville’ draws neighbors’ fire as county waffles on EIR status

By Maris Brancheau

Some people have taken to calling it “Rudyville.”

It’s a proposed subdivision of 148 homes on 172 acres located near the northwest intersection of Borrego Springs Road and Country Club Drive in an area thick with ocotillos and distinguished by a large sand dune.

The project proposed by developer Rudy Monica has neighbors irate, environmentalists squawking and the county of San Diego’s Department of Planning and Land Use waivering on the need for an Environmental Impact Report. The tool that informs decision-makers about the potential environmental impacts of a project can take months to complete.

As the developers seek to have the subdivision approved under current zoning allowances of one home per acre, the county’s General Plan 2020 is creeping toward an anticipated approval date sometime early next year. Under 2020, zoning on the parcels in question would change to allow one home on every 10 to 20 acres of land. In general terms, the dilemma is called “the race against 2020,” and Rudyville is just one local project running the race.

According to the most recent schedule released by the DPLU, it’s a race that Rudyville or Borrego Country Club Estates, as the project is officially known, could likely win. Backtracking on an August 2006 decision that indicated a full EIR would be required for the project, county planner Bill Stocks wrote to Monica’s business partner David Davis on Feb. 28, 2007, that an EIR may not be necessary.

Instead, Stocks indicated a negative declaration would likely be issued by the county. While Stocks didn’t return calls seeking clarification, two of his supervisors said that the county hasn’t decided yet if a full environmental impact report will be required for the subdivision project.

Noting that the developer had hired consultants to prepare environmental reports on biology, archaeology, hydrology and other impacts, DPLU Planning Manager Devon Muto said the studies for the estates project, known to the county as TM 5487, are not yet complete. Muto said “it’s too early in the process” to determine if a full EIR will be required.

If an EIR is prompted, either by the findings of the developer’s studies or because of information provided by community members, the lengthy EIR process could tack months on to the subdivision request. If a negative declaration is issued, the report will be open to public comment. That could happen as early as this summer, according to the DPLU’s tracking schedule for TM 5487.

“Even if we prepare a negative declaration, if we receive comments that are not fully addressed in the ‘neg dec’ it can elevate the document into an EIR,” Muto said.

Environmentalists and neighbors of the property want an EIR, and many have contacted the county directly.

“This is definitely the time to provide comments,” Muto said.

His words were echoed by his superior Glenn Russell, a chief in the regulatory planning section of the DPLU.

“My desire is that if people have information that could impact our decision, the sooner we know, the better,” Russell said.

Russell may be contacted at glenn.russell@sdcounty.ca.gov; Bill Stocks at william.stocks@sdcounty.ca.gov; and Devon Muto at devon.muto@sdcounty.ca.gov. Russell can also be reached by phone at (858) 694-2981 or Muto at (858) 694-3019. Reference TM 5487 in all correspondence.

Even if required, an EIR wouldn’t stop Rudyville. According to DPLU’s Aaron Barling, who provided the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group with an update on 2020 during annual training in June, an EIR simply spells out what the impacts will be for a project and how the developer plans to mitigate those impacts. Clearing creosote bushes for example, requires a developer to buy or preserve an equal amount of creosote. Currently, no county ordinances protect ocotillo plants.

While Stocks’ August letter to Davis indicated an EIR would be in order, a Feb. 9 letter from RBF Consulting apparently convinced the county otherwise.

The Feb. 9 letter states that Monica and Davis plan to buy an additional 233 acres of habitat bordering the proposed development. The developers propose to use that land as mitigation for the Sonoran creosote scrub habitat the project will disturb. The letter states: “It is the intent of this letter to demonstrate that the project issues identified (by the county) have been addressed and that the preparation of an EIR is no longer required.”

The letter from Monica’s consultant continues: “Sonoroan creosote bush scrub is not identified as a sensitive habitat and has a wide distribution throughout the Anza-Borrego region. Nonetheless, the project applicant has an opportunity to secure approximately 233 acres of habitat for mitigation land to compensate for the loss of Sonoroan creosote bush scrub ...”

If the developer can prove that environmental impacts will be mitigated, an EIR may not be necessary, according to Russell and Muto of DPLU.

The CSG has weighed in on the Country Club Estates project. The advisory group recommended that the subdivision proposal be denied because of its proposed density, impacts to groundwater, impacts to the stabilized sand dune that runs through the parcel, and because the development would encourage Borrego to grow to the south when efforts have been made to expand Borrego’s residential district to the north onto current agricultural land. More recently, the CSG wrote to the county encouraging a full EIR.

“This area is and always has been recognized as an ocotillo forest, a local artifact unique to the Borrego Valley, with the highest density of ocotillo in Borrego Springs,” the letter signed by CSG Chairperson Abby King stated. “This community has assumed for the last year that the county would be requiring a full EIR.”

Neighboring property owner Lori Paul, who also happens to be a biologist, expressed shock when learning that the county was leaning toward a negative declaration. She said a negative declaration makes sense when a developer wants to build something over, say “a paved parking lot,” not when a property owner proposes 140 plus homes on “virgin” desert.

“As word spreads, opposition to Rudy Monica’s proposed project is growing quickly, for good reason,” Paul said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why.”

Topping Paul’s massive list of problems with the project, which includes impacts to endangered species and species of concern, is a proposal that would affect her and many other neighboring property owners. Consultants working on the drainage and flood studies for the parcels have proposed improving a dirt dike on Paul’s property and building a system of concrete culverts to carry floodwater through properties east of the project all the way to the Borrego Sink.

According to Paul, that’s not going to happen. “I’m the last person on the planet to let anyone turn my levy into a cement dam,” Paul said. “The dike is under re-vegetation and is home to at least one burrowing owl.”

Burrowing owls, a California Species of Concern, also live in “Rudyville.” Paul says she’s found their burrows there and also spotted fringe-toed lizards, some of which could be federally endangered. Those discoveries came during the course of a single hike “without anyone really looking,” she said.

Paul said she’s made inquires with numerous officials at the county and can’t get a clear answer on the status of Rudyville. In fact, she says, if her neighbor didn’t happen to sit on the sponsor group, she wouldn’t have even known of the plans for the dike on her own land. She has received no word from the county or the developer as a neighboring property owner.

Neither Rudy Monica nor David Davis returned phone calls or e-mail messages from the Borrego Sun asking for an update on the plans for Country Club Estates. But, in a May 30 e-mail, Davis tells Department of Public Works Project Manager Ken Brazell that he is eager to share information with the public.

“We have not had an opportunity to tell these people what we are providing,” Davis wrote in the e-mail that is part of the county’s file for TM 5487. “We are doing everything we can to make the community a better place.”

Davis states that the project will help fund a new fire station (a county requirement in order for the proposed homes to be built), will “protect several hundred homes from flooding” and will improve medical and fire safety by paving the rest of Country Club Drive.

The e-mail also states that Davis believes “a letter-writing campaign has started against our project.” Previously, more than 30 residents signed a petition requesting a full EIR for the development. Paul said she believes there are impacts that the developer won’t be able to mitigate. Those include air quality problems that could arise if the relict sand dune on the property becomes unstable and damage to the view-shed that will reduce property values for surrounding neighbors and adversely affect the state park view-shed.

The area is documented on a 1949 fun map of the Borrego Valley as a tourist attraction because of the presence of so many ocotillos. But, while Monica has stated to the CSG that he finds the plants beautiful, when asked on a county form if the property contains natural features of scenic value, the developers check “no.”

Noting that the sand dune in question is shown on the Boyle Flood Plain map and was likely formed under optimum conditions of sediment transportation, retired geologist Clark Shimeall has contacted the county about the importance of the sand dune. Also a neighbor of the property and a CSG member, Shimeall said “the dune is now stable, in part due to the covering vegetation, and any disturbance of the dune will result in destabilization resulting in continued movement of the sand, which in turn will destroy the habitat for the desert fauna which depend on the dune for existence.”

In her role as CSG chair, King said she’s keeping close tabs on Borrego Country Club Estates. She said while the county process is complicated and difficult to understand, she truly believes that the county wants to hear from the public and that the planners will listen to what people have to say about the proposal.

“The county does have a good system of checks and balances,” King said, noting that the CSG is reviewing dozens of projects proposed for Borrego Springs. She said Rudyville is of particular interest to her. “To me, that’s the one that’s really worth fighting for. It’s an area that is so unique to Borrego.”

Not all public feedback on Rudyville has been negative. Borregan Tom Lowe wrote to Stocks in April of 2006 in support of Country Club Estates. Lowe’s letter states that the sponsor group doesn’t speak for him.

“... What I see going on here with the (Sponsor Group) is an attempt to shape Borrego Springs in a manner that pleases a few who have been here for a while now whilst ignoring the rights and dreams of all others who in my opinion have every right to build a home in Borrego Springs,” ... Lowe wrote. He also said, “Borrego will grow no matter what and I think it is entirely reasonable in every way to allow these homes to be built on their very sizable one-acre lots, or if not, then I am sure the county will decide for the best.”

Paul said one developer’s hopes shouldn’t make the pending 2020 moot.

“I have no sympathy for Rudy Monica, he knows darn well what the intention of the county is in 2020,” Paul said.

Just because the county may be “understaffed and overworked” doesn’t mean that Rudyville shouldn’t have to complete a full environmental impact report, she said. A decision such as that is likely to get an overwhelming response from Borregans, Paul predicted.

“The natives are restless. If I were the county, I wouldn’t go whacking this hornet’s nest,” she said.

At the same time, Paul said it’s up to the people who know and love Borrego to speak up for the issues that matter to them. Waiting for the county to act, she said, won’t cut it. “You can’t wait for the calvary to come over the hill and save you,” Paul said. “We are the calvary.”

She’s not the only neighbor staying abreast of the topic. Victor White of Wagon Road has made several trips to Ruffin Road in San Diego to check on the status of the project. As a neighbor, he said he’s concerned about the impacts to his own property. He’s opposed to the two-story homes the developer originally proposed for the site. But a far-reaching impact is what really bothers White.

“What about the impact on our scarce water resources?” White asked. “If they add another 140 homes, it will only further compound the problem.”

Some Borregans say they hope that conservationists might be able to offer Monica and Davis enough money to walk away from the land. The preliminary environmental studies required by the county aren’t cheap and the acreage in question was purchased for more than $900,000, according to county records. Add to that the price paid for the additional 200-plus acres proposed for creosote mitigation and agricultural lands purchased for water mitigation and it’s easy to see that the developer’s tab is quite high.

“The developer is spending so much money jumping through county hoops that it makes it really hard for the county to then come back and say ‘no,’ ” Paul pointed out. “By the time the bulldozers rev, it’s way too late. People need to get involved early.”

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