Looking for More Volunteers

By Frank Landis, Conservation Committee Chair

Yes, it’s Fall, the busiest time of year for volunteering for CNPS-SD. In addition to volunteering to help with the Native Gardening workshop and the Fall Native Plant Sale, I’m going to ask for your help with conservation.

But first, the news. To no one’s surprise, on July 25 the Board of Supervisors passed the first General Plan Amendment (GPA), approving in a single item of three projects: Valiano, Harmony Grove Village South, and Otay 250. Almost no one protested against Otay 250, but quite a few people protested against the Harmony Grove developments, as you might expect. The supervisors even spoke of a threat to litigate. Since CEQA lawsuits have to be filed within 30 days of when an EIR is certified, by the time you read this, we will know if anyone actually sued over it or not.

That GPA was an interesting legal situation. What the Board of Supervisors voted on wasn’t each development, it was a single project comprised of the three disparate developments. By law, every project (like a general plan amendment) is supposed to have a CEQA document analyzing its impacts. With the GPA the Supervisors approved, there was no CEQA document that covered the cumulative effects that the developments had on the County. Since two of the three are in Elfin Forest, and I do not recall that they analyzed the cumulative impacts they had on the area, that may be a problem, although the County assertsthat everything’s fine and proper.

In other news, the Save Our San Diego initiative drive delivered their signatures to the County for verification.They’re assuming that, between the County taking its mandated 30 days to verify the signatures and the Board of Supervisors taking a 10 day study window, that the initiative will miss the deadline to qualify for the November ballot, and will be placed on the March 2020 ballot instead. That’s the year that Kristen Gaspar willbe up for reelection, and we will be voting on the successors to Dianne Jacob and Greg Cox (Bill Horn and Ron Roberts leave office this year).

Since the SOS initiative was putatively what was pushing the rush to bundle developments into GPAs, I’m notsure whether they will continue to bundle or not. Prudence would dictate that they do not, but prudence would also dictate that the Supervisors would abide by the existing general plan and by deals (like the MSCP, the Baldwin Agreement, and with Elfin Forest) that they made in the past. And they are not.

The hearings for the rest of the projects have not yet been set. I am assuming that they will continue on the original course, which means that Newland Sierra may well go to the Supervisors on September 25, while the rest of the projects (Lilac Hills Ranch and Otay Ranch Village 14) go to the Supervisors on Halloween.

That brings me to my request for volunteers. What I’m asking for are volunteers to show up at these meetings.

Yes, it’s a big ask, but we need bodies in the seats and people talking. Partially it’s for the cameras, partially it’s because developers (like Newland) are busing people in to fill the seats, and we need to do the same. After all, if the pro side has experts, people with placards and t-shirts, and an organized message, they tend to overwhelm the environmental community, who not only show up in lower numbers, but tend to each have their own message, messages that conflict with each other. In that environment, the politicians have all the cover they need to favor developments.

That’s why we need to get out in force for these things. We’re promoting the idea that plans are worth following, deals are worth keeping, and it’s bad to put houses in wildlife corridors, especially where they’re predictably vulnerable to fires.

There are multiple ways of participating:

  • You can show up and register your point without speaking.

  • You can show up and speak as an individual, in which case you have 2-3 minutes (about one sheet of typed paper). The more people there are, the less time you have to speak.

  • You can be part of an organized presentation, in which case you have five minutes per person and everyone has to speak. Normally, one person does most of the talking, and the others say “what he said,” or add a brief point at the end.

  • Since speaker slips may need to be submitted before 9 am, but you may be speaking at 5 pm, if I know you want to speak, I can submit a slip on your behalf and you can show up at the appropriate time—if we have coordinated in advance. That will save you waiting around all day to speak.

For most meetings, I’m there by myself, so I am limited to 2 minutes and talk really fast. Having people who are willing to back me up and allow me to organize a presentation would enormously extend what I could say, and that would be very, very useful, especially on Otay Ranch Village 14.

The goal of showing up isn’t just to persuade the Supervisors to vote these projects down, although we can certainly hope that they decide to do so. These presentations are also part of the official record that groups (possibly including CNPS) will use to litigate to stop these projects if they are approved. If we bring up serious problems in the EIRs and they are not corrected, we can sue to decertify the EIRs. Typically, it’s very hard to bring all that up in two minutes, which is why being able to organize a presentation is so important.

That’s my ask, and I do ask that you volunteer in advance. Showing up at the meeting is great, but organizing in advance is powerful. If you want to get involved even for just one meeting, contact me at conservation@cnpssd.org.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has contacted their supervisors on the Lilac Hills Ranch development. Supposedly it is going to be heard on Halloween, so there’s still time to contact your supervisor. If you haven’t called your supervisor yet to ask them to vote against it, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Go to https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/general/bos.html

  2. Click on the link to your supervisor, and when you get to their homepage, click on the "Contact" link.

  3. Either call or email and tell them politely that you are one of their constituents, that you are troubled by the new proposed Lilac Hills Ranch Project, that this is effectively the same project that was rejected 64%-36% by a bipartisan majority of the County voters in 2016, and that you expect them to respect the will of the voters and to not approve this project when it comes before them. Ask for updates on this project, and thank them for their attention to this issue and the time they've spent on it.

  4. Contact me (conservation@cnpssd.org) and tell me how it went.

Thank you for helping!