REGION — Voters will likely decide the fate of a massive master-planned community near Valley Center, but not before the county receives a report analyzing the citizens initiative that would go before the voters.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to request county staff conduct an independent analysis of the citizens’ initiative before voting on whether it would allow the plan to go before voters Nov. 8.
But the board members indicated they did not want to delay the project, which has been debated for more than a decade, any longer.
“I want voters to go to the polls and be informed,” board Chairman Ron Roberts said.
County staff said the report could be completed by the Aug. 2 board meeting, which would give the county time to place the initiative on the ballot.
Supervisor Bill Horn, whose district is home to the project, recused himself after the Fair Political Practices Commission advised him that he had a conflict of interest due to the proximity of his property to the project.
Lilac Hills Ranch, which is proposed by Del Mar-based Accretive — the same company that developed San Elijo Hills in San Marcos, would build 1,746 homes, retail and other buildings on 600 acres in the largely rural area adjacent to Valley Center and south of Fallbrook. Accretive has spent $3 million in planning fees to this point.
By putting the question to voters, the project would sidestep the county’s normal approval process and likely insulate itself from opposition’s environmental lawsuits.
Supporters have argued that the project is an example of smart growth, and it would help the county ease a growing housing crunch while also preserving open space, developing parks and shopping that will keep motorists from driving long trips for amenities. They have called it “San Elijo Hills on steroids.”
But opponents have argued that the project doesn’t meet the county’s general plan standards, doesn’t have an adequate fire protection plan and doesn’t adequately address the increase in traffic to the area — it is estimated that the project will generate nearly 15 times the traffic that nearby Valley Center sees daily.
Supervisors had three options at the July 19 hearing, which was triggered after the county certified that the developer had collected enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. They could vote to put it on the ballot, approve the initiative with a majority vote or vote for the county study.
The four supervisors said they would not approve the project outright and wanted to give voters a chance to weigh in on it in November, but said that voters deserved to get an impartial analysis of the project to see if it mirrors the one approved by the county Planning Commission and if it meets certain general plan requirements.
But opponents argue that the project sidesteps the county’s recommendation to widen certain roads to accommodate the influx of traffic and to construct a new fire station.
“The question is now what is inside of the current Trojan Horse,” said Sandy Smith, a former member of the Valley Center Community Planning Group and ardent opponent of the project. “This is not a plan that the (Deer Springs) fire district or the (county) planning commission saw or the water district or the community planning boards. It is a completely different plan.”
Smith, who was one of nine people and two groups to speak against the project, said that the project belonged in the heart of the Valley Center community, not along its outskirts.
The overwhelming majority of people — 41 speakers and two groups — were in support of the project, which they said would set the county standard for smart growth.
“It is inevitable that we are going to grow, but we need to grow smartly. This is what we should all be striving for today,” said Michael Turner, one of the members of the Lilac Hills Ranch Citizens Initiative, which supports the project.
Supervisors said they understood the significance of the initiative, which could set a precedent for large-scale development approval in the county.
“This could be the future of large scale projects in the county,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.