Between September of 2000, and December of 2002, my husband’s work brought us to live in Billericay, Essex, England—about 30 miles northeast of London. We could catch the train, and be in London in half an hour. I got to know London better than I know San Diego.
When I came home, I felt I should become more involved in my community. With that end in view, I attended a meeting of the Escondido Planning Commission on January 28, 2003. It was well attended by citizens of Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove/Eden Valley who were handing out buttons with a red slash over SOI—meaning no sphere of influence. They were there to convince the Escondido Planning Commission to vote to take their communities out of Escondido’s sphere of influence. As I entered the meeting, they convinced me to sport one of their buttons, because, they said, it would protect their rural lifestyle. I’m always one to support preserving rural lifestyles, because that also tends to protect native habitat for wildlife.
I listened to the citizens speak. Their anger with Escondido was palpable. As the night wore on, I began to pick up on two facts. First, if governed by the County’s rules, 730 homes could be built. Second, if brought into Escondido, and governed by the 1990 General Plan, the homes would be limited to around 350. When those facts sunk into my understanding, I took off the button. The Planning Commission voted, I think unanimously, to keep the communities within Escondido’s sphere of influence.
So why were the good folks of Harmony Grove et al. so insistent upon leaving Escondido’s sphere of influence? In part because of the threat of industrial development, and in part due to the masterful public relations strategy of New Urban West.
First, a little history. Up until September of 2012, Eden Valley was a very rural area, with two large egg ranches, housing over 100,000 chickens. Here is a satellite view of the area, taken in 2003:
Now, chicken farming isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It involves a lot of hard work, and market prices vary from day to day. It’s hard to plan ahead. So, if you were such a farmer, the idea of selling your property to a developer to build industrial buildings or houses is fairly appealing—could provide you with a nice retirement. The Escondido City Councils of the 1970s and 1980s (well, today’s Council too, for that matter,) were in sync with the chicken farmers, they too felt industrial zoning in the area would be a great idea. In 1980, the Council wanted to expand their industrial zone to include the Eden Valley, and also their sewer system.
Here is a satellite picture showing the proximity of the Eden Valley to Escondido’s industrial area:
(You will note that the area looks much browner—more on that in another blog.) Just due east of the Rd. in the Harmony Grove Rd. label is the Hale Ave. Resource Recovery Facility (sewer plant). You can also see that Escondido’s old industrial area is not far frm the nice flat area west of Country Club Dr., and the Council was eager to add more industrial area to Escondido.
The residents of Eden Valley didn’t think this was such a good idea, successfully sued the City, and stopped the project.
The egg ranchers et al. did not give up.They tried again, and again. In the 1990s they considered starting a composting operation, but were turned down by the County after their neighbors rebelled against the notion of a giant compost heap next door. Then along came a game changer. In 1998 Escondido’s Prop. S passed, which meant that changing the zoning in Eden Valley from rural to industrial would require approval from the voters of Escondido. Some did try. On the November, 2000, ballot there were two propositions K and P that would have changed the zoning in the Harmony Grove area from single family residential—which would have allowed 46 homes—to industrial allowing 147,200 sq. feet of industrial development. Props. K and P failed to pass, and failed rather spectacularly. http://www.smartvoter.org/2000/11/07/ca/sd/meas/K/ and http://www.smartvoter.org/2000/11/07/ca/sd/meas/P/ .
Enter New Urban West (NUW). NUW also eyed that lovely flatland under the egg ranches for development, not industrial development, but residential, some 730 homes. Now, as I mentioned, at that time the 1990 Escondido General Plan would have allowed some 350 homes in the area, while the County, then developing their 2020 plan, was proposing some 7 homes per acre throughout the Eden Valley, Harmony Grove, Elfin Forrest area. So NUW had a problem. If they proposed annexing the area into Escondido, (which would allow them access to Escondido’s sewer treatment facility,) they would either be limited to 350 homes, or take their chances with another zone change proposition put to the voters. If they chose to stay in the County, they might have to build their own sewer system. (The explanation of that “might” will follow in another blog.) NUW though it best to stay in the County. So the NUW PR team got to work. They met with neighbors, and asked what sort of development they would like. Horse trails. All the equestrian types wanted more places to ride. So horse trails it was. NUW developed a plan that was to be a a community complete with a “small village center with a fire house, general store, shops, a few offices and a nine-acre equestrian park.” Also, “[a] six-acre park for kids…near the heart of the development.” http://legacy.utsandiego.com/news/northcounty/20030827-9999_1mi27grove.html Brilliant, as my British friends would say.
Many of the neighbors were convinced by NUW that the 730 would be it. All the lands surrounding this new “village” would be left alone. The community would be most densely developed near the “village center” and become less and less dense the greater the distance from that center, phasing into the semi-rural neighborhood that already existed. There were dissenting voices among the neighbors. Some pointed out that if the area stayed within Escondido’s sphere of influence the number of homes that could be built would be significantly less than that allowed in the county—and that number would be pretty well ensured by Prop. S. Those disssenters also pointed out that there was no guarantee that the 730 homes would be “it”. But those dissenting voices were hard to hear on January 28, 2003. It was the NUW fans who monopolized that Planning Commission meeting. It was those fans that convinced the state agency, the Local Agency Formation Commission, to rule in September, 2003, to remove the area from Escondido’s sphere of influence. http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2003/sep/19/harmony-grove-freed-from-city/
To be continued…