ENCINITAS — City fire officials presented a new fire evacuation study to the Encinitas City Council this week in response to Olivenhain residents’ concerns over a proposed development’s potential to negatively impact the city’s emergency evacuation routes.
The rural community of Olivenhain is home to roughly 15,000 residents, a population facing real environmental hazards in a growing wildfire season. Emergency fire evacuations are not uncommon for some residents, a number of whom own horses or other livestock that must also be evacuated when an order is given.
During public hearings on the Goodson proposal in November 2021, Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development, a community group formed in response to developments like the Goodson project, hired J. Charles Weber, a retired fire captain and fire safety consultant, to conduct a fire evacuation study related to the project.
While Weber’s findings were not favorable to the proposed development, the Encinitas Fire Department later disputed many of the report’s findings.
“Unfortunately, the Weber reports were completed without the Fire Department’s knowledge or input,” the staff report states. “Had there been an attempt by the author to contact the Fire Department, we would have been able to clear up many of the findings in the reports.”
However, in response to numerous resident concerns, the Encinitas City Council asked municipal fire officials to conduct a new fire evacuation study for the rural community of Olivenhain, which was presented to the city this week.
The 200-plus page report, submitted by Fitch & Associates, a consulting firm hired by the city, makes a number of recommendations and updates for the city’s Olivenhain Evacuation Plan, including requiring new developments to design a Wildfire Mitigation Plan and a funding source to support on-going fuels management and developing a comprehensive large-animal evacuation/rescue program.
Dan Vaughn, vice president of the Olivenhain Town Council board of directors and member of Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development, hopes for further discussions with the city on expanded fire evacuation plans.
“I think I see the evacuation plan as not sort of turn the page and we’re done idea, but something where we really should have a back and forth with the community and the professionals in order to help educate the community,” Vaughn said. “But really I think the next step here should be an ongoing discussion.”
Fire Chief Mike Stein described the report as a first step.
“We are looking at all of these recommendations and some of them can be implemented very quickly and we intend to do so,” Stein said. “It would be appropriate for the fire department to come back and check in to the council and see exactly where we are.”
City Manager Pam Antil told the council it would be bringing an item in relation to continuing the effort to update the fire evacuation plan as part of the upcoming budget discussions.
Vaughn says one of the shortcomings of the Fitch report is that it fails to consider co-evacuating communities.
“Parts of Harmony Grove, Elfin Forest and the Crosby Estates evacuate westbound on Del Dios Road and will also evacuate through Olivenhain,” Vaughn said. “So as we think about a Santa Ana-driven condition, and that’s really the core focus of most of the concern in our community, those Santa Ana wind-driven fire events really affect us regionally and they need to be considered holistically.”
If the recommendations from the Fitch report are implemented, it is unclear how it would effect Olivenhain developments already in process or how it would affect the future of the Goodson project or similar developments.
In November 2021, the City Council denied the Goodson project. However, developer Randy Goodson strongly intimated taking legal action to get his development completed. Goodson has until the end of January to make any legal filings related to the project.