Monday, Oct. 12, 2009 | The community of Pacific Highlands Ranch is at an important crossroads, where decisions made now can direct it towards success or failure. Now is a crucial time to review its history and use it as a guide of how the community must move forward. We call on Mayor Jerry Sanders, District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, and Pardee Homes to make the bold moves necessary to make Pacific Highlands Ranch a success. We highlight some of the issues and possible solutions below.

In 1998 the voters in the city of San Diego passed Proposition M, which allowed development on the land that would be called Pacific Highlands Ranch. Members of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, along with Pardee Homes and the Sierra Club, were members of the working group that drafted the proposition. The vision for Pacific Highlands Ranch was for a development of smart growth with a main street in a town center that encouraged walking and community interaction.

But beyond the vision, decisions were made by the Carmel Valley contingent that fed on their fears of increasing traffic in their own neighborhood. To Proposition M they added limits that pegged future development of Pacific Highlands Ranch beyond its initial phase to the completion of ramps from SR-56 to I-5. To them, this would save Carmel Valley from being used by Pacific Highlands Ranch residents to get into and out of the community, along with shoppers coming from outside the area to get to the Pacific Highlands Ranch village center.

While made with good intentions, the linking of PHR to the SR-56/ I-5 freeway connectors has backfired on the community of Carmel Valley and caused some of the largest deficiencies in Pacific Highlands Ranch. Pacific Highlands Ranch residents now have to drive into Carmel Valley to do everything from shopping, to getting gas. The freeway connectors have been delayed in a myriad of issues. Pacific Highlands Ranch has become a collection of homes with no services, a suburb to the suburb next door, Carmel Valley. Proposition M must be amended to disconnect Pacific Highlands Ranch future growth from the SR-56/I-5 freeway connector issue in order for the community to be able to move forward.

Pacific Highlands Ranch residents bought into the concept of a walkable village that was sold to them by Pardee Homes. This was emphasized by the many large signs still placed in dirt lots, now looking old and faded touting “Proposed Community Library”, “Proposed Community Park”, and so on. In response to the sales pitch, Pacific Highlands Ranch has been filled with wonderful families all ready to fulfill this dream. Besides being able to get together at the separate HOA community pools, they cannot meet at a park for community events or for children to play.

Pacific Highlands Ranch does not have a single park. Not that there aren’t funds already allotted to build a park. There are, and Gonzales Canyon Neighborhood Park was originally scheduled for construction this year. The city of San Diego sits on $5.8 million that was raised by special assessments levied on homes in Pacific Highlands Ranch. But due to the bad financial situation that the city has gotten itself into, it does not want to build the park because then the city will have to spend money in the future on yearly maintenance. So the children of Pacific Highlands Ranch remain park-less. The city of San Diego must honor promises of services to its residents and use the money already paid to build the park system.

The lack of services available to residents does not just hurt affluent homeowners of Pacific Highlands Ranch, but also the hundreds of families that live here as part of the San Diego Housing Commission’s Affordable Housing Program. Pacific Highlands Ranch includes three apartment communities and 60 owner-occupied units in the Airoso Townhomes that are part of this program. This dwarfs the affordable housing in the rest of the communities that make up the zip code of 92130. Carmel Valley has one Affordable Housing apartment community, and Torrey Hills has zero. There are no Boys and Girls Clubs, no recreation center or park, no public transportation or shopping. This is particularly a shame for the children. One immediate step towards the solution would be for Canyon Crest Academy to open up its fields and sports courts, which it so far has refused to do, unlike its sister school in Carmel Valley, Torrey Pines High School.

The center of Pacific Highlands Ranch will eventually be the “Pacific Highlands Ranch Village.” Pardee Homes has been working on the plans for this village for years. They tried to push plans for it through the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board in 2007, with no Pacific Highlands Ranch community input. Luckily a group of Pacific Highlands Ranch residents got wind of the plans and checked them out. Instead of the village they were promised, the plan was for a hastily pieced together patchwork of standard suburban shopping centers. Through a year of community protest and input, the residents of Pacific Highlands Ranch were able to enact small changes on the plan for the village. The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board passed it in 2008, without a single voting member on the board representing Pacific Highlands Ranch (this has since been amended and two board members from Pacific Highlands Ranch have been added to the original board of fifteen members). But the result is a substandard shopping center that will not live up to the vision of Proposition M.

The village is owned by at least four separate land owners, and unfortunately once the construction is complete, the separate portions of land will not be fully integrated together. The interconnections and walkability between them are not good. Even within the one largest piece of land, that owned by Pardee Homes, the village is two distinct shopping areas. One is a standard suburban sprawl grocery store with large surface lot that does not conform to the smart growth walkable village concept. The second is a small one-block main street that tries to live up to the Proposition M vision, with outdoor dining and shopping. Unfortunately even this section lacks the areas for community open space that was required by the city, and Pardee Homes counts the fire lanes towards this requirement. Pardee Homes is bringing their Pacific Highlands Ranch Village Plan to the city of San Diego Planning Commission on Oct. 15. The city must demand that developers build to the standards laid out for the community and send Pardee Homes back to the drawing board.

With the large number of interrelated issues at hand, we ask that all parties involved attend a yet-to-be-planned community forum to map out a strategy for Pacific Highland Ranch’s success.

Karen Dubey is the Airoso HOA president and Dean is a Carmel Valley Community Planning board member. They live in Pacific Highlands Ranch.

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