More on Lilac Hills

The following in an essay I wrote, hoping that it would be printed as a community opinion for the San Diego Union Tribune. I have just heard that they cannot use it, so am posting it to this blog. The UT has a rule that they will not publish pieces like this, unless it is an exclusive piece for the UT.

Around 400 AD, Easter Island was colonized by Polynesians who found an island covered by palm forest, abundantly supplied with fresh water, large seabird colonies, and many land mammals. Huge palm trees provided fruit, and wood. The population grew and flourished; huge statues were carved from the volcanic rock. Palms were cut down for fields, and to roll and lift the huge statues. The forests were gone by 1400. The delicate tropical soil eroded. With no forest to absorb the rain, springs and streams dried up. Population peaked at some 10,000 in 1600, then crashed to less than 2,000 when island was “discovered” in 1722. It is still a barren island, an ecosystem devastated beyond recovery.

On June 7, 2012, Barnosky et al. published “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere” in the prestigious journal Nature. They suggest that the entire planet may be reaching a tipping point that will make it impossible to keep our planet’s existing wondrous web of life. Their prognosis has received less attention than the carcinogenic properties of tobacco did 60 years ago.

In 2011 San Diego County adopted a new General Plan after some 13 years and $18.6 million. This plan: “reflects the County’s commitment to a sustainable growth model that facilitates efficient development near infrastructure and services, while respecting sensitive natural resources and protection of existing community character…”

The new General Plan requires new villages to meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Neighborhood Development (LEED ND) or “equivalent” standards, requiring new communities be located near to existing infrastructure, not in the middle of farms and natural habitat like the 15 or so General Plan Amendment (GPA) projects now wending their way through the County’s planning process. The first of these GPA’s to come before the Planning Commission on August 7, The Lilac Hills Ranch project, would level farms and chaparral for some 1,700 homes—far from schools, public transportation, sewer, etc.

Lilac Hills’ developers, Accretive Investments, wish to evade LEED ND standards by providing “equivalent” standards drawn up by the Home Innovation Research Labs (HIRL), a subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders. This “equivalency” may require “green” construction, but a development in the middle of open country would never meet LEED ND standards—LEED ND standards are about location, location, location.

Shockingly, the staff at the County of San Diego Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) have not ensured this project adheres to the General Plan. Their “global response” to public comments objecting to the proposal, encompasses the analysis by HIRL, rather than a professional, impartial response written by DPLU staff. This response claims “equivalency” where none exists.

The County’s General Plan now calls for over 72,000 housing units in the unincorporated county—no need for the homes added by GPA’s. There is a need to preserve as much habitat as we can. Building of Lilac Hills probably won’t push the earth’s biomass into oblivion, but it will set a precedent. A precedent that will allow the same urban sprawl that has lowered the quality of life for all species, including Homo sapiens.

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