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The Vista City Council on Dec. 6 approved the Camino Largo project, a development consisting of 46 single-family homes. Graphic courtesy of California West
The Vista City Council on Dec. 6 approved the Camino Largo project, a development consisting of 46 single-family homes. Graphic courtesy of California West
CitiesCommunityNewsPolitics & GovernmentRegionVista

Vista approves controversial development in heated meeting

VISTA — The Vista City Council approved a controversial housing development during a Dec. 6 special meeting.

Mayor Judy Ritter and council members John Franklin and Joe Green supported California West Communities’ proposal, known as the Camino Largo project, to build 46 single-family homes at 2123 N. Santa Fe Avenue.

The council’s action also included a zoning change of the parcel, located east of Guajome Regional Park, from agricultural to residential.

But the meeting turned contentious after council members Corinna Contreras and Katie Melendez questioned Franklin’s motivations for approving the project by pointing to donations from the developer applicant to the newly-elected mayor’s campaign. 

“I’m not surprised I’m receiving information that this project has campaign financing motivations related to it,” Melendez said. “I’m a community-based representative. It’s not an appropriate change to our general plan.”

In March, Robert Thorne, CEO of California West Communities, and his wife Marcia donated a total of $1,000 to Franklin’s campaign, according to city records. Franklin, who said he had known Thorne on a “personal level” for at least a decade, explained this is the first project Thorne’s company has brought forward in Vista.

Examples of the types of homes in the Camino Largo project. Graphic courtesy of California West

Examples of the types of homes in the Camino Largo project. Graphic courtesy of California West
Examples of the types of homes in the Camino Largo project. Graphics courtesy of California West

These comments came on the heels of Contreras’ remarks about California Senate Bill 1439, which expands the 1982 Levine Act by prohibiting local officials from voting on contracts 12 months before and after accepting a donation of more than $250 from an involved party.

The new state law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

“This vote should not be happening today,” Contreras said. “This meeting should’ve happened on Dec. 13. I’ll leave it to the public why this meeting was rushed.”

Contreras and Melendez also questioned whether Ritter and Green, who both work in real estate, have ever taken advantage of their positions on the council to sell homes based on council-approved projects.

When Contreras asked the outgoing mayor how many homes she had sold, Ritter responded sharply, “zero.”

Franklin responded to the allegations across the dais by pointing out that Contreras’ and Melendez’s campaigns had received tens of thousands of dollars from independent expenditures, which serve to assist a candidate without their knowledge through advertising, mailers, social media posts and other forms of courting votes.

“It is absolutely the opposite of respect to impute motives that are others than stated by your colleagues, which is what you and others have done,” Franklin said. “I do not go to the lengths of bringing campaign statements. You’ve received tens of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures from a single industry trying to change the law.”

Melendez said she received money from independent expenditures related to marijuana but has never been in contact with those groups or individuals. 

Residents living near the proposed development echoed Contreras’ and Melendez’s displeasure and contempt for the project, and by extension, Ritter, Franklin and Green, noting the city’s Planning Commission had unanimously voted against the project. Opponents also cited concerns about negative impacts on riparian habitats, loss of agriculture, open space, and increased traffic.

Contreras and Melendez also stressed their opposition to sprawl development, suggesting higher-density projects with more stories would create more green spaces.

But Ritter and Franklin stressed the city is in a housing crisis, and these homes can help with inventory. Additionally, the project comes with a down payment assistance program for lower-income residents.

Green said the project is next to Sandalwood, which is twice the density and has worked well for the city.

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