By Frank Landis
Remarks on the Preserve at Torrey Highlands to San Diego City Council on Aug. 5, 2019.
President Gómez, President Pro Tem Bry, Members of the Council,
Thank you for taking my testimony. I speak for the California Native Plant Society and for myself on this matter. In addition to being a former union member and a PhD botanist, I am also a resident of Rancho Peñasquitos, and I've been a park volunteer caring for the Del Mar Mesa Preserve since 2010, driving three miles a day to clean up trash and weeds. In all these roles, I urge you to vote no on this project.
First, the project will cause significant and unmitigated impacts to greenhouse gas emissions. We all know the city of San Diego is failing to meet its Climate Action Plan goals. This project will only make it worse. On that basis alone, please reject Cisterra, and send a message that you are serious about dealing with climate change.
Second, this project is a fire risk. To my knowledge, Otay Ranch Village 14, Newland Sierra, Valiano and Harmony Grove Village South in the county are all projects that being sued, in part, because they put a few thousand people in danger from fire. We are getting tired of developers putting people in harms' way, and quite honestly, so are the insurance companies.
The Cisterra project puts over 2,000 people in the way of wildfires, on a little peninsula sticking into the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, without an evacuation plan, without a brush management zone, without all the fire-safe features of an up-to-code house, without even properly analyzing the fire threat in the EIR (environmental impact report). The leapfrog sprawl developments I just mentioned at least had a fire hazard analysis in their EIRs. This one does not. On this basis alone, please reject Cisterra, and tell them that you don't want them to put lives and property at risk in their projects.
Third, there is the damage to Del Mar Mesa. As you've heard before, these are old-growth scrub oaks, one of the rarest oak species in California, forming chaparral so tall it's a miniature oak forest that you can walk under. It's the biggest remaining patch of its kind in California, and it's downstream from this project.
And what does Cisterra propose to do? They propose to dump their landscaping effluent into Del Mar Mesa.
They're going to use reclaimed water, which is too salty to drink, put pesticides and fertilizers on their landscaping to drive away the pollinators, then collect the runoff and eventually dump it into a gully, where it will erode an existing trail and flow into Deer Creek. What do you think is going to happen to the oaks around the runoff and those downstream? Del Mar Mesa belongs to the entire city, and the city requires properties surrounding such precious areas to take care of their runoff. Cisterra does not, and on that basis alone, you should reject their proposal.
Fourth, they want to plant large trees that are not native to the mesa next to a vernal pool, in a sad attempt to put green lipstick on a pig of a parking structure. There are two outcomes. Either the trees will die, because the mesa soil has a big layer of hardpan, or the tree roots will rip up the hardpan and destroy the vernal pool 70 feet away from the parking structure on the National Wildlife Refuge. That's a stupid design choice, and you should reject it too.
Fifth, I expected Jim Whalen to point out that the project's chaparral is only chamise, which is a low value chaparral. I agree — if we're talking about the top. If we're talking about the north side of the parcel, it's scrub oak chaparral. If we're talking about the south side, it borders on the National Wildlife Refuge and a vernal pool. If someone tells you this place is low value, ask them to give you a detailed opinion about the entire parcel and its surroundings, not cherry pick one detail.
You have heard from union members saying they support Cisterra because of construction jobs. We support unions too. And their families and children. People worked for months to try to negotiate a land swap so Cisterra could build somewhere else and this problematic parcel could become parkland. Cisterra walked away from this solution.
The Del Mar Mesa Preserve is a public park, open to everybody, including union members and their families. It's the only remaining place in the city where you can walk in the shade and see what the coast looked like when the first European explorers arrived.
I'll ask the room, by applause: How many of you would be happy to join a union member, or their families, on a hike on Del Mar Mesa? How many of you would be happy to take the city councilmembers or their staffers on the same hike? I personally would be thrilled. We want you to build, but we don't want your buildings to destroy their neighbors, and we don't want your buildings to put their occupants at risk from fire. Please join us in rejecting this project.
This project is not infill development. Everyone in Carmel Valley has a job, either in their spare bedroom like me, or commuting from somewhere else. This project won't magically cause mid-career professionals to change their jobs just to fill an empty office building. All it's going to do is force employees to commute from somewhere else. This will generate more traffic on Highway 56, which is not scheduled to be widened anytime soon, and will increase demand for public transit in an area that has none. Councilmember Bry has waxed eloquent on this problem many times, and I agree with her. It's unsustainable. On this basis alone, reject it.
Finally, there's the business case. There's over a million square feet of unbuilt office space already sitting in the immediate vicinity. It's been permitted, and it's sat unbuilt since before 2004. If there was a need for offices or industrial parks in that area, it would be trivial for a company to get a complex built to suit, with fewer environmental problems and less hassle. But there's no demand.
On this basis, and on all these bases, please reject the Preserve at Torrey Highlands and support Del Mar Mesa. Thank you for taking my comments.
Frank Landis serves as the conservation chair and council delegate with the California Native Plant Society, San Diego Chapter. He lives in Rancho Peñasquitos.
Photos by Renée Owens (top) and Tommy Hough (bottom).
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