Accretive’s Political Gamble On Lilac Hills Ranch

by Patsy Fritz

Just because Accretive Investments optioned cheap farmland, with a price that reflects its lack of infrastructure and limited access to County roads, it cannot make Lilac Hills Ranch into a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and fill that silk purse with millions in profits.

“One picture is worth a thousand words,” so Accretive Investments is staking its future on a gauzy, romantic sketch they hope wins a mega-buck vote from the County Board of Supervisors.

The artist’s conception that Accretive touts (see Union-Tribune Opinion, “Rumble in the Hills,” September 19) bears no relationship to the grim realities of the maps of inadequate road networks and high fire hazard of the West Lilac Triangle in Valley Center.

Accretive is asking the Board of Supervisors for the right to put 1,746 houses and 90,000 sq. ft. of commercial buildings on rugged farmland zoned for 110 homes.

These are the same Supervisors who voted four years ago for the County’s “Smart Growth” General Plan that took 13 years to craft and cost more than $18 million in taxpayer funds. Except for Supervisor Bill Horn, representing District Five where the project is located, who voted against the General Plan.

Horn has long supported Accretive, going back to his first vote in its interests in 2006, and in return, Accretive has supported Horn’s re-elections. “The company donated $40,000 to a political action committee that supported Horn, as part of more than $100,000 the company has spent on local elections since it started pushing the project,” reported Andrew Keatts and Maya Srikrishnan of Voice of San Diego on August 17.

While nobody can predict how the Supervisors will vote, the County’s planning staff has been consistently sunny about this “walkable community” with its “Town Center.” However, the Planning Commission’s narrow 4-3 vote on September 11 to recommend approval included a “condition of development” that construction of the Town Center’s commercial amenities be required only after the first 1,000 homes are built.

There would be no jobs and no public transportation. To pay the mortgage, everybody commutes. Where’s the “walkable community?” It’s a “commuter community!”

The first 4,000 residents get to breathe freeway vapors with nothing to walk to – not even a gas station – the first item these commuters would surely need.

  1. This dearth of the Town Center could extend for decades – perhaps forever, once potential buyers see “there’s no there there,” as Gertrude Stein once commented. What they WOULD face is gridlock as commuters wait, single file, engines idling, trying to exit the development onto West Lilac Road, hoping to access the freeway and head to work. Once on the I-15 freeway, with its “level F” congestion during commuting hours (“F” means “worst possible”), their frustration can only increase.

Studies show that, at buildout, emergency evacuation would take TWO HOURS from the high fire hazard zone that Lilac Hills Ranch hopes to build on. Thus, commuters can hope non-emergency days get them out of the project in only ONE hour. What’s the advantage to living near a freeway if you can’t get to it in reasonable time?

This is the kind of scenario the Board of Supervisors hoped to avoid with its new General Plan. In fact, commuter communities are loathed. They increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT), greenhouse gas (GHG) and fly in the face of AB 32, the State mandate to control global warming.

If you’re retired, the southern sector of the development, separated entirely from the elusive “Town Center” and family housing, is gated and fenced exclusively for senior citizens. Want to stroll this “walkable community?” There are no pathways whatsoever linked to the Town Center’s promised amenities. Ominously, many seniors’ homes would lack an approved secondary access road, required by the fire code for emergency evacuation. Accretive has failed to negotiate access to the narrow private road south of Lilac Hills Ranch that it hoped to use to connect to a County public road to get those people out.

The 30 owners of the private road have no other way out, and the hilly terrain offers them no other option. Those owners refuse to endanger the lives of their families. In an emergency they would be trapped in their own driveways, unable to escape, with thousands of Lilac Hills vehicles streaming by. They are not willing to assist the developer’s lust for profits by putting their own families in harm’s way. Accretive needs to buy land and build its own road to protect that senior housing, or drop that phase of its development entirely.

Scott Marquart (Union-Tribune Opinion, September 19) may relish the opportunity to sell his land for Accretive’s needs but others are not willing to imperil their families’ safety.

And Marquart is dead wrong when he states, “The new county general plan wisely urges the creation of compact villages.” Here’s the truth:

The General Plan’s EIR received a sharp rebuke from then-Attorney General Jerry Brown. In the August 31, 2009 letter, Deputy AG Sarah Morrison objected to the possible inclusion of “new villages.” County staff corrected these assumptions, clearly stating, “A core tenet of the General Plan update is not to create new communities but to concentrate future growth around the cores of existing communities.” (See correspondence on the County website.)

  1. The County’s prohibition of Leapfrog Development (General Plan Policy LU1.2) still stands as the law of the land. Lilac Hills Ranch fails to meet the one narrow exemption permitted. You cannot stick 4,000 to 6,000 people in a remote rural area for decades – perhaps forever – without jobs, public transportation, basic medical services, food, household needs, adequate fire protection and emergency evacuation, on narrow, winding rural roads with a record of fatalities.

The two “smart growth locations” cited by SANDAG, with high-density zoning already approved by the General Plan, have been bypassed because that land reasonably commands a higher price, with infrastructure already in place.

Accretive’s gamble on Lilac Hills Ranch is that it can “buy low, sell high” through the political process.

It is interesting that two of the four votes of the Planning Commission’s 4-3 recommendation to approve Lilac Hills Ranch were made by Supervisor Bill Horn’s appointees. Horn owns 36.79 acres – just 1.3 miles east of the project, also fronting on West Lilac Road. His land received an “upzone” for development purposes during the General Plan Update.

Prior to 2011, Horn could subdivide for a total of four lots. Now, he can subdivide to a maximum of 18 lots – and still retain the bulk of his avocado and tangelo production through a “conservation subdivision,” a new development process also approved during the Update.

Horn reported a minimum of $200,000 income from his ranch operations for 2014. So a conservation subdivision is like “selling your farm and keeping it, too.”

Attachment C to the project’s Environmental Impact Statement has this to say:

There are no commercial uses within the immediate vicinity of Lilac Hills Ranch. The project will provide 90,000 square feet of commercial space which can incorporate a variety of diverse retail opportunities. The commercial uses within the project are designed to serve the needs of the residents and the immediately surrounding areas and will enhance the commercial viability of the Valley Center region by diversifying the type of retail in the area.”

At the Planning Commission Hearing on September 11, County staff’s PowerPoint graphic stated that Lilac Hills Ranch’s “approximately 90,000 SF [of] Commercial supported by project could serve housing within a 2 – 5 mile radius … existing, planned or proposed residents need services in this location.”

Thus, Supervisor Bill Horn’s subdividable property, 36.79 acres just 1.3 miles from Lilac Hills Ranch, will be a direct beneficiary of this project if it is approved. 4. So…will Accretive’s Lilac Hills Ranch be the direct beneficiary of Supervisor Bill Horn’s vote? We expect the answer later this year when the Board of Supervisors votes on Lilac Hills Ranch. You can also expect those pretty “artists conceptions” to be up on the screen. As a former County Planning Commissioner who has followed this project since 2006, I’m wondering: “Will traffic gridlock and fire hazard maps also be displayed? “Along with the road map to Bill Horn’s land holdings?”

So…we shall see.

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