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RUDYVILLE: A Suprise 20% Solution


Last updated 7/2/2018 at 9:57am

At least 60 Borregans wearing white golf caps sat in the San Diego County Planning Commission public hearing room June 22 for a few minutes in stunned silence, all momentarily confused about the vote just taken by the seven-member commission.

And then everyone realized the commissioners had just voted 4-3 against the County staff recommendation to reject a zoning density increase on Property Specific Request DS-24, otherwise known as the Rudyville project. But the commissioners were not done voting, and the surprise comes later.

First, a little history. That 4-3 vote was seven years in the making, and the County staff was on record as recommending against an increase in Rudyville housing density. The original County General Plan in 2011 gave approval for one dwelling unit per acre over a project area of 170 acres (170 dwelling units), but then the Plan changed shortly after to allow one dwelling unit per 10 acres (17 units). The developers have wanted to change the Plan back to its original higher density ever since. And coming with that developer-based zoning change request has been significant and persistent local opposition.

That 7-year opposition culminated with a Bill Wright-sponsored, 2-hour charter bus ride for 31 Borregans who showed up at the public hearing in San Diego and joined up with another 30 who drove themselves. They all wore white golf caps, again courtesy of Bill Wright, to provide the commissioners (and fellow Borregans) with a show of community solidarity, but also to make oral arguments and submit written statements against the project.

Included was a petition circulated prior to the hearing that gathered 401 Borregan signatures, this despite a large number of Borregan snowbirds off in cooler climes for the summer. If the hearing had been in January, a crowd of white-capped Borregans in attendance would have overflowed the hearing room and out into the plaza.

Speakers focused mainly on separate topics, and all made Borrego proud in their presentations: Rebecca Falk of the Community Sponsor Group; John Peterson on behalf of the Anza-Borrego Foundation; Past ABDSP Superintendent Mark Jorgenson on the Ocotillo Forest and Environment; Dan Wright reading Tubb Canyon resident Dr. David Garmon’s letter; Honorary Mayor Jim Wilson on our quality of life; Elizabeth Rodriguez on flood plain issues; Diane Johnson on tourism impacts; and last but not least Bill Wright.

Wright was running out of allotted time for the group of speakers, but he definitely hit a high note in his brief statement, citing his many years as a developer and concluding with an emphatic, “This project will never work!”

(Note: Eleanor Schimeall missed the bus, but her comments on Rudyville sand dunes are included in a separate Letter to the Editor in this issue.)

Chamber of Commerce Executive Direct Linda Haddock was the lone Borregan voice in support of the Rudyville density increase. The Chamber rescinded its earlier support for the staff recommendation, replacing it just prior to the hearing with support for density increase. Given the surprise outcome to all of the white-capped Borregans in attendance, however, it was unanimous that our dearly beloved Haddock will not be asked to wear a black cap in public.

The surprise came only a few very brief moments after the 4-3 vote: While Borregans in the hearing room still hadn’t caught their collective breath, the planning commissioners quickly and with little discussion brought up, seconded, and approved a motion by unanimous 7-0 vote on the lone “alternative” presented by the County staff as a third option.

It was nothing short of stunning how fast the commissioners approved what is best described as the “middle ground” alternative between “no-density increase” and “full-density increase.” It should be noted the planning commission vote was advisory only, with the issue to be finally settled when the full Board of Supervisors makes its decision later this year, including the vote of Bill Horn or his successor. They can adopt or vote down or change any of the recommended options.

The upshot of the “alternative” vote was to recommend allowing 34 dwelling units on 34 acres, located on the northeast section of the 160-acre property in question. This represents 21% of what was asked for by developers in the zoning change request.

Developers believed they had, going into the project, a single dwelling unit per acre to work with that they say was improperly changed to 10 units per acre, and that meant less money for them. So the commissioners ended up tossing the developers a financial impact mitigation bone – well, 20% of one, anyway.

But the 4-3 vote plus the vote for the alternative plan seemed to send definite signals to all interested parties: For the Supervisors, Bill Wright observed after the hearing that the final planning commission vote (6-1) in favor of the “alternative” would be a signal to the Supervisors of a potential and realistic compromise, with developers and concerned citizens alike able to claim at least symbolic victories, and put an end to the rancor; it was a positive signal to developers who don’t like changes to plans first approved and then later changed that affect the bottom line; and finally, it was a signal to the staff that their seven years of hard work on the possible Plan change was not being rejected out of hand.

Everyone got a little something out of that “alternative” vote. And as the saying goes, if a compromise displeases everyone a little, it’s probably a good thing.

On the bus ride home, a quick poll of the 30 other passengers showed consensus that “the effort was successful.” A dissenting opinion on the politics of the vote from one Borregan contacted at day’s end who wishes to remain anonymous, for now: “The decision for smaller up-zoning is not remotely a ‘win’ but a ‘loss’ for scientific and sound analytical environmental (and economic) process as manifest in the (Department of Planning Services’) thoughtful and careful (California Environmental Quality Act Environmental Impact Review) process.”

County staff members are not the only ones who have worked hard over the years on what some refer to as the “Zombie Project” - Rudyville never seems to die! Our Community Sponsor Group has been a leader over the years in organizing opposition to the project. And many Borregans, including the Wright family, and other stakeholders and groups have weighed in against it. The latest was our Borrego Water District (and its board of directors), helmed by General Manager Geoff Pool. Poole cited in a letter to the planning commission the probable lack of available water amongst a host of other important issues for the County to consider ahead of implementation of our Groundwater Sustainability Plan; it is now under draft and will become effective in January 2020 after approval (and like Rudyville, after many possible changes) by the Board of Supervisors.

Also included at the public hearing was a Borrego Springs zoning increase request for the Plan on DS-8, located just northwest of Christmas Circle; the planning commissioners rejected the request by a vote of 7-0, no bone for the developers here, and a sign the planning commissioners are not single-minded in recommending higher-density development on projects submitted for consideration.

The DS-8 project would have increased the dwelling unit yield on the 33.8-acre property from 66 to 145 dwelling units.

And so, at least for Rudyville, the score now stands at 80% concerned Borregans, 20% Rudyville developers (or, as Diane Johnson calls them, land “speculators,” because they have not “developed” anything in seven years!)

And now we all await the final vote on the three competing alternatives that include the 20% solution (or any percentage, for that matter) by Bill Horn and the four other County Supervisors.

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