The Lilac Hills Ranch project – a sprawling, 1,700-home development in rural Valley Center – would add a bunch of people where there currently aren’t many.
All those new people will need amenities to accommodate them – wider roads, emergency crews who can reach them when they’re in trouble and a school for their children to attend.
Back in September 2015, the county Planning Commission told Accretive Investments, the developer behind the proposal, that if it wanted approval from the County Board of Supervisors, it would need to provide all of those things. When it came to building a new school, Accretive agreed.
Now, however, Accretive is asking voters – not the Board of Supervisors – to approve Lilac Hills. It’s written the ballot initiative in a way that would exempt the development from many of the conditions county officials wanted to place on it.
It’s no longer clear whether Accretive plans to build a school.
The development sits within two school districts, Bonsall Unified and Valley-Center Pauma Unified. A former superintendent for Valley-Center Pauma Unified said a few years ago the project would bring 800 elementary school kids and over 300 high schoolers to the district, enough to require a new school.
But the two school districts have very different feelings about whether the project should go forward.
Bonsall’s superintendent, Justin Cunningham, strongly supports it. Valley Center-Pauma Unified Superintendent Mary Gorsuch has stayed neutral, but has expressed concern at public hearings and in letters to the county that nothing about the new school is legally binding and the district simply doesn’t have the money – even with the fees generated from the project – to build the school on its own.
Cunningham said he supports Lilac Hills for multiple reasons. On a personal level, he likes the project and what the developer previously did with San Elijo Hills, a master-planned community near San Marcos.
Accretive and Bonsall have a written agreement that the developer will provide a K-8 school for the district.
“No other developers that we’ve talked to – and there’s a lot of development expected to happen around here – have offered to build a school,” Cunningham said.
The agreement with Accretive isn’t legally binding, but that doesn’t worry Cunningham.
“The last thing you’d want to do is tell people you’re trying to sell homes to that you backed out of a deal and there’s no school,” he said.
It worries Gorsuch, though.
“Regardless of which school district the school will be in, it’s more important in our opinion to ensure that if this project goes forward, the people who live there have a school there,” she said. “And again, a mitigation agreement ensures that occurs. That’s how these things are done, because people come and go, so it’s important in the future that this be in a legally binding document.”
The two districts also have different plans for the immediate future.
Bonsall separated from Fallbrook Unified in 2012. The district is planning to put a bond measure on the November ballot to raise funds for its new high school, which focuses on project- and team-based learning and the use of technology. Having another 1,700 homes paying new property taxes would help them do that.
In a letter to County Supervisor Greg Cox before a board meeting last week, Cunningham pressed this point.
If Lilac Hills Ranch had been approved outright by the board, the school district could have increased the assessed value of its planned November bond measure from about $55 million to roughly $75 million, he wrote in the letter.
“As you know, timing is everything,” Cunningham wrote. “Because of the timing of the district-wide Bond, our District critically needs the Board of Supervisors to adopt the LHR initiative outright on July 19, which will provide enough [assessed value] for us to pursue the full $75 million Bond. Our Board will vote on which bond to pursue based upon whether Lilac Hills Ranch is approved by the Board of Supervisors prior to the August 12th filing deadline for the November ballot.”
Less than 20 percent of the students living in the development will be located in the Valley-Center Pauma district boundaries, according to Accretive.
The development is also on the edge of the district boundaries, meaning students there would have to travel 40-50 minutes each way to get to school if they are part of Valley Center-Pauma without a district school in the development, Gorsuch said.
Accretive spokesperson Jeff Powers said in a written response that the Bonsall Unified School District offered to adjust district boundaries, so Valley Center-Pauma wouldn’t be impacted at all by Lilac Hills Ranch.
“VCPUSD has not accepted this offer stating that they want to collect fees and property taxes from homes built in Lilac Hills Ranch,” Powers wrote. “If VCPUSD continues to be concerned about impacts from Lilac Hills Ranch they have an option to accept the offer to process a boundary adjustment at no cost to either district and thus avoid any obligation to serve students from the community.”
Gorsuch said that adjusting the boundary is an option, but it would still need to be a part of a comprehensive, legally binding mitigation agreement. It would require approval from both school boards and need to go through the California Department of Education, she said.
“You can’t just redraw the lines on a map,” she said. “Down the road, when it’s time for those children to go to school, they have to have somewhere to go. Which district it’s in is irrelevant to me.”