By Mia Taylor
The controversial 1,700-home Lilac Hills Ranch development, a project fraught with wildlife safety concerns and a long list of environmental challenges, has been officially rejected by the Board of Supervisors by a 4-1 vote, a decision San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action says was long overdue.
"At long last, it's a validation of our club's long-standing concerns about habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and fire risk that the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has denied Lilac Hills Ranch the General Plan Amendment it sought," said Cody Petterson, president of San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action.
The Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday against the master planned Valley Hills project with only District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond, who represents the part of the county where the project would have been located, voting against staff recommendations to deny the project.
"This important, long overdue victory, will hopefully send a message to developers that projects which ignore the county's General Plan are unacceptable," said Petterson.
Proposed by developer Ranch Capital, the Lilac Hills proposal dates back some 15 years, and was soundly rejected by nearly two-thirds of voters in a countywide referendum in 2016. Despite superficial repackaging, the proposal brought before the current Board never fully addressed fire safety concerns, and remained inconsistent with the county's General Plan.
"Lilac Hills has been one of the region's most persistent zombie projects," said founding club president Tommy Hough, who now serves as the club’s director of policy. "County planning denied it in 2009, and then came the colossal defeat of Measure B in 2016. Lilac Hills has been a loser with the courts, voters, and public safety professionals."
"When you have to spend your time trying to convince residents your development won't put their families in mortal danger of dying in a wildfire on a winding two-lane road, you've already lost," said Hough. "Voters figured that out in 2016, but the surprise on Wednesday was a majority of the board similarly came to the realization that Lilac Hills and other loser developments like Newland Sierra are politically indefensible."
Despite the defeat of Lilac Hills, Petterson warns the battle to protect San Diego's fragile environment and open space from harmful, habitat-destroying sprawl proposals is far from over. "This important vote further underscores the critical importance of changing the leadership on the Board of Supervisors in District 3 if San Diego's environment is to be truly protected over the long term," he said.
"In tandem with their abject subservience to land speculators and sprawl developers, there will always be private equity firms like Ranch Capital eager to exploit the Republican Party's disdain for our environment, our climate, and the will of voters," said Petterson. "Make no mistake, so long as the Board remains in Republican hands, this zombie project will continue to haunt us. Wednesday's vote reinforces the importance of flipping the District 3 Board of Supervisors seat in November to secure a durable, reliable Democratic majority on the Board."
San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action opposed the Lilac Hills Measure B ballot initiative in 2016, and stood against backcountry sprawl in our advocacy for countywide Measure A earlier this year. This San Diego County Board of Supervisors' 4-1 rejection of a General Plan Amendment (GPA) for this latest repackaging of the Lilac Hills zombie project marks its third defeat since 2009. Read Tommy's comments for more.
Photo by Diane Means
By Tommy Hough
In a surprise move, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has opted to reject the long-running Lilac Hills Ranch proposal. Called "unsafe" by Cal Fire San Diego Unit Chief Tony Mecham at today's hearing, and recommended for denial by county staff in a highly unusual move, Lilac Hills was one of our region's most persistent and durable "zombie projects."
Initially denied by county planners in 2009, and at the ballot box with the defeat of Measure B in 2016, Lilac Hills was a loser with the courts, voters, and fire safety professionals. Hopefully the cycle of approving reckless sprawl developments in fire-prone areas is, at last, reaching an end.
My remarks today before the Board of Supervisors follow:
My name is Tommy Hough, I live in Mira Mesa. I'm the V.P. for policy and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, and I support the staff recommendation to reject the Lilac Hills development.
In 2016 our organization was active in the effort to defeat what was then Measure B, which was the Lilac Hills ballot measure. As you may recall, it was soundly defeated, as residents throughout the county made it clear, as they did again with Newland Sierra on the primary ballot this March, that sprawl development must not be the future of this county, and is not the highest or best use of the rural areas and open space in our county.
We are not Riverside County, and this county should make it a point of pride to resist the temptation to throw open our wildlands, watersheds, and wildlife corridors to sprawl housing developers as has occurred there. If you take a trip north on the 215 to Perris and head east to Hemet, the signs along the road aren't placed by counties or municipalities, but by sprawl housing developers. You know their names. It's clear who holds sway there. It is not a future we should embrace here.
When I ran for San Diego City Council in 2018, I often spoke about our housing crisis, and cited areas within the district I was running in (District 6) where denser housing is a functional option that would require some tweaks to zoning laws, but would enable residents to live within our already-established urbanized footprint, near transit, and the abundant employment centers in our district in Sorrento Valley, Mira Mesa, and Kearny Mesa.
Furthermore, to claim that any of these homes or housing are truly affordable for average San Diegans, is a gross distortion. Unless we're talking about developer-subsidized, or government-subsidized housing, it will NOT be affordable for the majority of working San Diegans. And housing should not be predicated, anywhere, on the false premise that "affordable" housing at the level this area clearly needs can be achieved by setting aside a required percentage of homes that developers can simply buy their way out of. This is to say nothing of the wildfire danger, and significant greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) for new miles traveled to and from manufactured cities in our backcountry like that proposed with Lilac Hills.
It is no longer 1980, and the cycle of approving these reckless developments in fire-prone areas must end. Stop putting citizens in harm's way. There is nothing safe or responsible about this project. Please approve the motion and support the recommendations of staff and county fire in opposition to the Lilac Hills zombie project that was so soundly defeated when it was on the ballot four years ago.
By Chris Pearson
Thank you for visiting the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action website, and thank you for your efforts and interest in furthering the mission of the San Diego County Democratic Party.
As successful as Democrats have been the last two election cycles in San Diego County, the reality is we need candidates. A lot more in fact, to contest and run in seats that otherwise go without any competitor against a GOP incumbent. Do you think that's the right way to carry on in a democracy? By letting seats go unchallenged? Then help us recruit candidates to run throughout San Diego County.
This Excel spreadsheet lists offices currently held by Republicans unopposed by Democrats. It's not secret information, it's all quite public, but we've pulled it all together for you in one handy document.
The takeaway? We need candidates, and we especially need them in East County.
Most of these seats have governing majorities recruited by Trump Republican-supporting megachurches like Skyline, Foothills, and Shadow Mountain that deny climate change, are anti-labor, support gay conversion therapy, and purchase school science books that teach creationism and evolution as equal theories.
For the most part, Democrats have never run for these seats – ever. We need to change that. The filing period is Monday, July 13, to Friday, Aug. 7. There is no primary for these races, and it's winner take all in November.
We've never done a data dive like this into these races, i.e. "who's in the moderate to high propensity universe," or "where do their eyes go," or "what messaging works for persuasion and turnout," but a lot of these seats can be won with a few hundred or a few thousand votes. They're winnable. But first, we need candidates to run.
Please share this post on any platform you deem appropriate, and forward this to anyone you know who may be interested in running or helping to recruit candidates. A list of Democratic Party candidates currently running for seats in November is available on-line at the San Diego County Democratic Party website.
Chris Pearson is a long-time Democratic activist who served as community development manager to San Diego City Councilmember Marti Emerald, and as a training coordinator with the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. He currently serves as V.P. for political action with the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club, and can be reached at (619) 889-9257.
By Tommy Hough
Maxim One: Everything that Trump comes in contact with, good or bad, innocent or guilty, dies an early death in reputation, career, conscience, or lifespan.
Maxim Two: If Trump touches or meddles with anything you love or cherish, like our environment or our democratic heritage or humanity in general, it too will die an early, ugly death (see maxim one).
Maxim Three: Donald Trump is President of the United States, and will continue to inflict maxims one and two on all of us until he is driven from office.
When Ryan Zinke, the most corrupt Secretary of the Interior of our modern era, moved to redraw the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah in 2017, it was an unprecedented act of desecration, and a terrible harbinger for our nation's conservation heritage that will only become more pronounced and destructive should Donald Trump win re-election in November.
Prior to the sheer awfulness of the Trump administration, no president or administration had ever moved, erased, altered, or so violated the set boundaries of parks or monuments, certainly not to facilitate oil and gas interests, thereby undoing the very reason they were established as monuments in the first place: to protect them from environmental destruction and exploitation. Certainly no one has ever even attempted to do so in a manner as transparent and craven as Trump.
But this is an administration that, in three short years, has:
That's a partial list, of course.
Dating back to the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and even Abraham Lincoln, the idea of erasing the boundaries of protected places was considered cowardly, reckless, needless, and defiant of well-worn American traditions of conservation, however imperfect they may be from time to time.
One of the more notable, and uglier, exceptions to this was the construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam along the Tuolumne River at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park, from 1919 to 1923. Abhorrent as it was, it was voted on in broad daylight as an Act of Congress for maximum culpability, and didn't physically alter the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. But there's no doubt the stress of the Hetch Hetchy tragedy is what killed John Muir.
The lesson was crystal clear: Parks and monuments, intended for the benefit of all Americans, are not placeholders until some other project comes along. The resources protected within them are sacrosanct.
Previously, presidents and politicians understood that areas protected for conservation had often been the subject of frequently intense, long-term campaigns by communities and generations of activists. After all, National Parks and National Monuments don't fall out of the clear blue sky. They are established because committed citizens demand these areas be saved. Long before and long after John Muir, careers and lifetimes have been spent to preserve such places.
Notable instances in California include the campaigns to save surviving ancient Redwoods and end old-growth logging on federal public land, the lengthy effort to preserve the Stanislaus River, the decades-long fight to preserve the wildest expanses of the Mojave Desert, and more recently, the campaign to Save Trestles and stop repeated efforts to build a toll road through the backcountry of San Onofre State Beach along the length of San Mateo Creek.
In erasing the intent, meaning, and boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in 2017, the Trump administration deliberately set a terrible, dangerous precedent, and now they're at it in California as oil exploration (!), i.e. the precursor to drilling, begins at Carrizo Plain National Monument along the border of Kern and San Luis Obispo counties, on the southwestern edge of the San Joaquin Valley.
Established by President Bill Clinton in 2001, the monument was intended to preserve the native grasslands of this otherwise unusual depression along the San Andreas Fault in a "land that time forgot" that explodes into extraordinary springtime wildflower shows, and prevent the same kind destruction wrought by the oil extraction that goes on around it for 50 miles in each direction in a network of Chevron and Shell oil and fracking fields, some of which are the size of cities. Now, like other affected National Monuments, Carrizo Plain faces an uncertain future.
Further north in the Central Valley, Giant Sequoia National Monument in Tulare County was similarly put on notice in 2017, and sold out by that county's own board of supervisors, who applauded the move (!) and even asked Trump to shrink the monument. Sickening.
If we hope to preserve our nation's natural heritage and spirit of preservation – to say nothing of the nation itself – then Donald Trump and his destructive anti-leadership must be soundly defeated and driven from office like the environmental and Constitutional criminal he is.
To use an oil and water example, this president and a healthier planet are simply incompatible. As he has demonstrated on far too many occasions when he has turned American against American and neighbor against neighbor, from his Central Park Five accusations to Charlottesville and Lafayette Square, Trump's lifetime of toxic words, deeds, and destructive rhetoric have revealed zero interest or capable curiosity in crafting a more perfect union or bringing our nation together.
Trump is the toxic darkness that seeks to divide, conquer, and pillage. No amount of light or empty riches will ever satisfy his corrupt heart. In any ordinary era, he would've been a disaster. In the midst of actual crises like a pandemic and unchecked foreign interference in our elections, to say nothing of our nation's social reckoning in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of police, Trump is anathema to democratic traditions (see maxim one).
Staring out into the emptiness from the steps of St. John's Church on June 1st, shortly after he and his pack of jackals followed White House security forces that literally gassed and beat the shit out of citizens gathered along the route, waving a Bible around as a cheap prop for all to see, Trump became the living embodiment of Vishnu in his cruelest form. From the Hindu text of the Bhagavad Gita, it was Trump revealing his soulless, blackened heart to our nation and its people: "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds."
Plenty of us already knew, of course, long before Trump took the oath of office. That toll continues to be played out on our nation, our people, and our future. On refugees jammed into coronavirus-ridden concentration camps, kept in cages on freezing concrete floors. On families willfully and deliberately separated, tossed into the wind for maximum angst and emotional trauma. On black men and women harassed and murdered by police who turn off body cameras and use chemical weapons not even used in warfare.
And on our wild refuges of America, heretofore and hopefully left untouched by today's daily Washington psychodramas. Our long national nightmare of Trump continues.
By JP Theberge with Tommy Hough
As we get closer to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors hearing on Lilac Hills Ranch on Wednesday, June 24, I wanted to share a few thoughts, including details on the recent approval given to Lilac Hills by the San Diego County Planning Commission on June 12, in spite of the county fire chief and county staff recommending against it.
The Lilac Hills project is quintessential sprawl: a housing subdivision in a remote, rural area of the county near Valley Center, accessible via narrow, winding roads surrounded by highly flammable habitat that has burned repeatedly over the years.
You may recall Lilac Hills was previously presented as Measure B on the countywide ballot in 2016. San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action were a key component of the coalition that opposed Measure B four years ago. At the time, the developer chose to bypass the Board of Supervisors to take the project straight to the voters, but county voters soundly rejected it on Election Day by a two-to-one margin with 730,000 votes against the development.
This time around, the developer is hoping to get a simple majority on the Board of Supervisors to approve it, despite county staff and even Chief Tony Mecham, the director of the San Diego County Fire Authority, recommending that supervisors deny approval of Lilac Hills. The gravity of this is unprecedented, as the county fire authority has typically been notorious for rubber-stamping similar projects.
Similarly, the main objection of county staff is the project is inherently unsafe due to wildfire concerns, compounded by an inability to secure easements for vegetation management along the main egress on West Lilac Rd. While the developer is offering $2 million for "brush abatement," the expectation is the Lilac Hills HOA, or other management entity, would manage the actual clearance on West Lilac Rd. in perpetuity, even though there's no legally-binding mechanism requiring it. In addition, the exisiting road is simply not designed, and was never intended, to evacuate a community the size of Lilac Hills safely and quickly during a wildfire.
So why did county staff suddenly reverse themselves after years of saying Lilac Hills was safe? One reason is that since 2016, wildfires in Northern California, including massive conflagrations in Santa Rosa (Sonoma County) in 2017 and Paradise (Butte County) in 2018, have put renewed focus on evacuation infrastructure. Two lawsuits filed against San Diego County by the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council also prevailed for the plaintiffs, due to unsafe conditions and faulty analysis of evacuations.
In fact, the county conducted its own studies on Lilac Hills fire safety, independent of the developers' fire consultants, and found the project would, indeed, create a fire entrapment risk.
So let's pause for a moment. At this stage, a county commissioner voting in favor of the Lilac Hills project would essentially be saying, "There is no amount of danger to the public bad enough for me to vote against development in the backcountry."
June 12th Planning Commission Meeting
Nevertheless, planning commissioners steamrolled county staff earlier this month by forcing a motion counter to two alternate options presented by staff. According to the motion proposed by Commission Chair Douglas Barnhart (representing Jim Desmond), "Recommend board not deny project based on fire safety issue. Board director should propose that applicant's project be conditioned to ensure funding for vegetation funding in perpetuity without the need for easements."
The motion passed 5 to 2, with commissioners Yolanda Calvo (Fletcher) and Michael Beck (Jacob) opposed. As per usual, Commissioner Michael Seiler (Cox) seemed as if he was going to vote against it, only to vote for the motion when Vice Chair Bryan Woods (Jacob) and Barnhart added the motion to recommend a condition of approval, i.e. the ongoing "brush abatement" funding.
This may not be a particularly difficult obstacle to overcome before the full Board of Supervisors, especially since other wildfire issues not addressed by the planning commission appear to be far bigger and of far greater concern, like the overall lack of evacuation routes. It's likely the pro-sprawl supervisors will not see this condition of approval as particularly problematic. Desmond, Gaspar, and Cox will vote for approval of the Lilac Hills development unless significant pressure is put on them to do otherwise.
Jim Desmond's Valley Center Pledge
During the D-5 supervisor race in 2018, then-candidate Jim Desmond stated he would not support Lilac Hills if it didn't have adequate emergency infrastructure. At the D-5 candidates forum in Valley Center on May 4, 2018, Desmond said "Unless it has the infrastructure that's necessary for their emergency access, ingress and egress and it provides that for the rest of VC. I would not support it. Unless it comes with that infrastructure and brings you that extra benefit of emergency access. If it is adequate and the fire department signs off on it, then I would approve it."
It will be politically problematic for Jim Desmond, with plenty of bad optics, to approve Lilac Hills when the fire chief says it's not safe, especially after he explicitly stated he would not do so if county fire was not in approval. Desmond would do we to remember that 80 percent of the voters in his district (D-5) voted against Lilac Hills in 2016 – Republicans and Democrats.
So while it may seem out of the purview of a partisan Democratic club, one action item you may want to consider is to convince Republican or right-leaning friends, family, or colleagues in D-5 to write comment letters calling on Supervisor Desmond to "keep his word" on Lilac Hills. In fact, this might be the ONLY thing that forces Jim Desmond to vote against it.
This is also problematic for Supervisor Kristen Gaspar, even though Lilac Hills isn't in her district. Voting against fire safety can and will come back to haunt her in the all-important D-3 race against Terra Lawson-Remer this fall. But despite the electoral risk, there is absolutely no reason to expect Gaspar will do anything but vote to approve Lilac Hills. She has always voted in developers' interest, even against county staff recommendations, and received close to one million dollars' worth of support via industry-related PACs during the 2016 election. This is one moment when they will expect to collect.
What Can You Do? Take ACTION Today!
Submit a comment via the county's e-comment system by 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, June 24. You'll want to support the agenda item, because the agenda item is to DENY the project. Support staff's recommendation to deny.
You can also send a longer letter to the Board of Supervisors via e-mail, but you'll want to do so by Sunday night in order for it to be considered:
Please be sure to "attend" the San Diego County Board of Supervisors hearing virtually this Wednesday, June 24, and call in a comment (maximum of three minutes). Instructions do so are here.
Make sure you register by 8:30 a.m. the morning of June 24 or you won't be able to comment. Remember: We want to support the agenda item because the agenda item is to DENY the project. Support staff's recommendation to deny.
You can also tag your supervisor on social media via Twitter:
And via Facebook:
JP Theberge runs a public opinion and market research firm and serves as the director of Grow the San Diego Way, providing data and analysis on housing issues in San Diego County. JP also serves on the board of San Diegans for Managed Growth. He lives in Elfin Forest.
By Tommy Hough and Mark Jackson
San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action were part of the coalition that opposed, and defeated, the Lilac Hills Measure B proposal in 2016, and we similarly stood fast against backcountry sprawl in our advocacy for Measure A earlier this year.
But being a zombie project, the proposed Lilac Hills development near Valley Center has never really gone away – it's just been repackaged, even as county staff and the county fire authority have "determined the project is unsafe and is recommending denial of the project."
This Friday, June 12, at 9 a.m. the Planning Commission will hold what our friends at San Diegans Against Lilac Hills Ranch describe as an "unprecedented" hearing on the Lilac Hills Ranch proposal, with it being the single item on Friday's Planning Commission agenda.
Take a moment now to submit your comments to the Planning Commission, and be sure they're in by 7:30 a.m. Friday morning to be considered.
According to the San Diegans Against Lilac Hills Ranch team, the protocol to speak at the Planning Commission hearing is as follows:
BE AWARE: The hearing is live while on the phone, but if you're watching the video streaming it will be delayed by 45 seconds. Utilize the phone audio, not the streaming audio.
Click here to review Friday's agenda and the relevant county documents.
By Mia Taylor with Tommy Hough
The Trump administration has unleashed a new series of assaults on the environment, public health, and wildlife over the past 48 hours, announcing four actions that will result in dramatic curbs on long-standing, effective environmental regulations, threaten recovering marine areas, and endanger millions of wild birds.
"It's impossible to overstate just how cruel and pernicious Trump's presidency is for our environment and our climate," said club president Cody Petterson. "Every day he unravels protections that took decades of struggle and effort to achieve."
The latest attacks on the environment cap an end-of-the-week assault unleashed by the Trump administration. "With the nation's attention on COVID-19 and the protests sweeping our nation, the Trump administration is accelerating its headlong race to the bottom to dismantle our nation's post-war legacy of environmental protection," said Petterson.
Club co-founder and former president Tommy Hough was equally blunt. "This administration's environmental nihilism and hostility to conservation knows no bounds," said Hough. "If it grows, this administration will kill it. If it is preserved, they seek to exploit it. This is an administration that just enabled trophy hunters to murder bears and other wildlife in their wintertime dens. It is cruelty incarnate."
Hough also noted the timing and petty returns. "With the attack on MPAs, Trump is hoping to dial in Maine's electoral votes in November. With his assault on clean air he's again looking out for his Big Oil and Big Gas benefactors. And cowardly using the biggest pandemic in 100 years and greatest civil unrest in 50 years to give 'cover' to these rollbacks is pure political swamp cynicism."
All of these moves come as Trump's poll numbers decline and his chances of re-election dim. Faced with the demise of his administration, Trump is dramatically stepping up his attacks on our nation’s conservation heritage, and decimation of wildlife and the environment.
"The extractive industries that dictate Trump's environmental policy will try to destroy as many of our regulations and wild spaces as they can," said Petterson. "It's essential we not only fight tooth and nail against these efforts, but loudly impress upon our elected officials and candidates the central importance of quickly repairing our ravaged environmental regulations and protections if we are able to liberate our nation's capital from the corporations that have looted it over the last four years."
Photo by Tommy Hough
By Cody Petterson
Since its inception, the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action have been committed to protecting our environment, confronting the climate emergency, and advancing environmental justice.
The core of the environmental movement is a belief in the oneness of life, in the fundamental interconnectedness and interdependence of all living things, and of our value and entitlement to life, dignity, and freedom. We are also Americans who believe in the equality before the law that our Constitution guarantees us, and in the dependence of our government on the consent of the governed.
We categorically stand with communities of color in their demands not only for justice, but for an equitable share of this nation's wealth, health, and opportunity.
We stand likewise with those who have taken to the streets to demand genuine remedy, and we condemn the egregious, militarized, disproportionate use of force against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters.
We encourage our members to participate in whatever ways they believe appropriate. The struggle for sustainability is inextricable from the struggle for equity.
By Mia Taylor and Tommy Hough
This week marks the inaugural #BlackBirdersWeek, an occasion borne from a racist incident that occurred over Memorial Day Weekend in New York's Central Park, involving New York City Audubon board member Christian Cooper.
Four days after that incident, which sparked national outrage and highlighted the inequities and potentially dangerous challenges persons of color face even when enjoying the outdoors, a coalition of scientists, birders, and outdoor advocates launched a campaign to encourage birding and related outdoor activities among persons and communities of color under the name and hashtag #BlackBirdersWeek.
Co-organizer Corina Newsome, a graduate student at Georgia Southern University studying the Seaside Sparrow, took to Twitter with a video to announce the event, and said African-American outdoor advocates shouldn't be deterred by those who have attempted to make public outdoor spaces hostile.
"This effort was borne out of a large friend group of black scientists and outdoor explorers who want to make sure the world knows black birders belong here," said Newsome. "We are thriving, and our community is growing. We want members of our community who might be interested in birding and outdoor exploration to know they are welcome here."
Newsome went on to add, "For far too long, black people in the United States have been shown that outdoor activities are not for us. Whether it's the way the media chooses to present who is the 'outdoorsy' type, or the racism black people experience when we do explore the outdoors, as we saw recently in Central Park. We've decided to change that narrative."
As reported in Audubon Magazine, the week-long event kicked off on Sunday and runs through Friday, with five days of virtual happenings each with a unique theme and hashtag.
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.