OCEANSIDE — Thanks to the 11,000 residents who signed a petition to allow it on the ballot, Oceanside voters will be able to vote on the SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources) Initiative on Nov. 6. The initiative requires voter approval of proposals to change the land-use designation or zoning of agricultural or open space land to any other use.
Dennis Martinek, one of the initiative’s drafters, has a PhD in urban planning, so he says he understands the concept of smart growth as opposed to development that would negatively impact agricultural and open space land.
“We must treat these areas as the precious resources they are,” said Martinek, a 40-year Oceanside resident who grows avocados and macadamia nuts on his property in South Morro Hills. “The city has a general plan that we realize can be amended over time, but it’s important that any changes result in the least amount of impact to the community. The average citizen is pretty positive; people want to see reasonable growth.”
The grassroots group came about when Integral Communities, a real estate developer in Orange County, proposed building nearly 1,000 homes in South Morro Hills. Integral, the 12th largest homebuilder in the country, has built other developments in Oceanside, but not on land that was agriculturally rich.
“We’re in a perfect location,” said Mike Cobas, who for the past two years has planted grapes on his parcel adjacent to Martinek. “We get the breeze from the ocean, we don’t experience freezing and our soil is the richest imaginable. I’ve never had to add any amendments to my soil, no chemicals of any kind.”
Cobas went on to say: “ … given the opportunity, I believe South Morro Hills could become one of the most productive wine producers in the area. That a real estate developer would want to turn this area into concrete isn’t right.”
Integral presented the 177- acre development called North River Farms, which would include apartments, single family homes, a boutique hotel and restaurants as being a win for the city, Martinek, Cobas and other SOAR supporters say otherwise.
“This development will be more costly to citizens in the long run. The infrastructure needed to support it will be expensive: roads, sewers and water service,” Martinek said.
Besides the loss of rich farmland, SOAR proponents are concerned about traffic as well as safe evacuation routes during fire season. Cobas, who spent many hours standing outside grocery stores asking people to sign the petition, said: “A lot of times people would say that they were busy, didn’t have time to talk, but as soon as I mentioned traffic congestion, they’d stop and listen.”
Both Martinek and Cobas were evacuated during the most recent fires and they expressed their concern over limited routes to escape encroaching flames. “There are only two roads leading in and out of here,” said Cobas, who said that the plan to build hundreds of homes in an area with limited access and egress is “… just plain dangerous.”
Although Martinek and Cobas feel confident that the initiative will pass, they’re not resting on their laurels. “Prior to the election we’ll have volunteers out at grocery stores and going door-to-door, explaining to people what SOAR is about and encouraging them to vote for it,” Martinek said. Both made it clear that they understand business and are not discouraging development. “This is not a dollar issue,” Cobas said. “If this land wasn’t conducive to agriculture, it would be an entirely different story.”
For more information on SOAR, visit oceanside-soar.org.