Tucked in the middle of farm country in rural North County, the proposed 600-acre Lilac Hills Ranch development would be relatively far from established communities. The 5,000 or so future residents there would have to travel 15 to 16 miles just to reach the nearest urban centers in San Marcos or Escondido.

San Diego County’s general plan forbids the kind of “leapfrog” development the project represents (though an exception may help the project), and county planners have been saying it’s a bad idea for years. Last month, however, county staff changed their tune and recommended approving the project. Why? Andrew Keatts and Maya Srikrishnan explore the answer in our latest investigation.

One interesting aspect of this story: Accretive didn’t buy those 600 acres in bulk. It took years to persuade dozens of individual landowners to sell more than 60 separate properties that could then be patched together into one mega-development. Accretive didn’t want the landowners to know what it was up to, though, or else they might use that knowledge as leverage to demand a higher price. So Accretive disguised itself by setting up subsidiaries with more than 20 different names, such as Birdsong Hills LP or Covey Creek LP, to handle the transactions. The practice is perfectly legal, experts told us.

If you don’t have time for a long read, we also put together a cheat sheet version that distills how Lilac Hills Ranch got this far and what precedents its approval might set.

Carlsbad Mall Development Scores Two Wins

City staffers in Carlsbad released a report that was largely favorable toward the controversial Caruso shopping center project at Agua Hedionda Lagoon. The staff analysis found that the project would yield an additional $2.575 million in tax and fee revenues to the city. The analysis also suggested that compared with the status quo, the plan would actually improve traffic conditions at seven intersections. (Coast News)

The County Registrar of Voters last week confirmed that Caruso collected enough valid signatures to force the Carlsbad City Council to either approve Caruso’s development plan or put it to a public vote. The Council is expected to make a decision at its Aug. 25 meeting. (Seaside Courier)

The Race to Improve the Del Mar Fairgrounds

The Surfside Race Place, an offsite betting venue at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, has never quite lived up to expectations. It was built in 1991 with a capacity to serve up to 5,000 betters, but has only ever attracted 2,700 at one time. These days, about 350 people show up on an average race day. The facility’s overseers now have a new plan: Replace the betting hall with a concert venue that can hold audiences of up to 2,000 people. (Coast News)

The Del Mar Fairgrounds has about $25 million in “new money” after refinancing a bond. The Coast News reports that most of the money will be spent on horse racing projects, such as converting the synthetic track back to a conventional dirt track. Some of the money is also earmarked for improvements to the grandstand and luxury boxes.

Turf Luck

Several Rancho Santa Fe water customers cashed in big on turf-replacement rebates offered by the Metropolitan Water District. All of the top five largest rebates in Southern California — ranging from $48,000 to $70,000 per customer — went to customers in the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which serves Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach, the Union Tribune reports. The rules have now been modified so that the maximum rebate is $6,000.

Looks like the San Diego County Water Authority wasn’t far off when it raised the alarm earlier this summer that the turf rebates are mostly just subsidies for people who don’t need subsidies.

Still, the fact that Rancho Santa Fe residents are taking steps to reduce their water use might mean we’ll see fewer national outlets trying to shame them like this, or this.

More North County News

A developer’s proposal to build 550 luxury homes on 350 acres in the unincorporated San Pasqual Valley has Escondido officials dreaming of expanding the city limits. Before the city can annex any land, however, it must update the planning document that outlines the city’s sphere of influence. (Union-Tribune)

The region’s long-term transportation plan says it’ll take another 25 years before we have enough money to make major changes to the State Route 56 corridor, which connects San Diego’s northern neighborhoods of Rancho Penasquitos, Carmel Valley and Del Mar Heights. Commuters who get stuck in severe bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic say they can’t wait that long. Now, Caltrans and the city of San Diego are exploring the possibility of widening the highway sooner. (Del Mar Times)

A Carlsbad man is facing felony vandalism charges for damaging a quad-copter drone that was flying over Moonlight Beach in Encinitas on Sunday. The man says he threw his shirt at the drone, causing it to crash, because he felt like he was being watched by a peeping Tom and was concerned about the safety of the children in his group. (NBC San Diego)

 Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have given Oceanside’s full-time lifeguards the same disability benefits that San Diego lifeguards already enjoy. Brown said the Oceanside lifeguard union can still use collective bargaining to try to win the benefit. (Union-Tribune)

Oceanside officials expect a new solar energy project to cut the city’s electric bill by $8 million over the next 25 years. Photovoltaic panels will be installed on city buildings and on new shade structures in city parking lots. (Union-Tribune)

A new mural of Cecil the Lion on a restaurant building in the Carlsbad Village is designed to draw attention to the plight of wild animals in Africa. (Union-Tribune)

Rep. Darrell Issa presented the Bronze Star to an 89-year-old Del Mar Army veteran who, during World War II, cleared mines from the beaches of France after D-Day and survived a machine gun battle in Frankfurt. (NBC San Diego)

Hotels in Del Mar, Oceanside and Poway were among the top hotel sales in San Diego County in the first half of this year. (Union-Tribune)

Jeremy Ogul

Jeremy Ogul is a freelance writer and editor in San Diego. Drop him a line at jsogul@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter...

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