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Cumming Ranch Tract OK’d; Foes Say Supervisors ‘Liable’ for Route 67 Deaths

Supervisor Dianne Jacob asked property owner Gene Driscoll if he would consider selling his land to be used as open space preserve.

County supervisors unanimously approved the 125-home Cumming Ranch Project Wednesday morning amid a warning they’d be blamed for future deaths on state Route 67.

“This is a problem that will continue to get much worse and potentially disastrous if the county approves this project,” said Darren Kirkpatrick of Save Our Ramona. “If someone dies on Highway 67, you, the board, will be held liable.”

Ramona residents attended the Board of Supervisors meeting in downtown San Diego—some in opposition, others in support of the large housing project.

Ramona Community Planning Group Chair Jim Piva gave the board a simple statement from the local planning group.

“This project complies with the community plan and General Plan,” Piva said. “We approve of the project and ask you to do the same.”

Also showing support for the urban project was Angus Tobiason, a former Ramona Community Planning group member who was recognized last November for his 24 years of service on the planning group.

“I’d like to see this project go through,” Tobiason said. “It’s a thing that’s going to be good for Ramona.”

But other individuals weren’t so sure. Multiple residents spoke in opposition of Cumming Ranch, claiming it has an “inadequate” environmental impact report that should be re-examined.

In August, the Cumming Ranch Project was backed by the County Planning Commission despite public resistance.

“The county Planning Commission approved the project without knowing all the flaws in the EIR,” said Save Our Ramona spokesperson Michiyo Kirkpatrick. “The county cannot make a decision about this without more environmental review.”

Those opposing Cumming Ranch raised these concerns:

Inadequate Environmental Impact Report

“You have an inadequate EIR on many fronts,” said Diane Conklin, representing the Mussey Grade Road Alliance. “You have a problem with fire. You have a problem with evacuation. ... Would you do it to your own neighborhood?”

Preservation of Grassland wildlife

“Golden eagles and bald eagles could be affected by the Cumming Ranch project,” said Wildlife Research Institute Assistant Direct Chris Meader on behalf of Dave Bittner. “But the EIR said no eagles were found on the property. There is an eagle on the ranch every day.”

However, Richard Grunow of the county’s planning division said a study showed the project would result in a golden eagle foraging habit being reduced by 3 percent.

All golden eagle nests were found more than 1.5 miles from planned trails and homes, according to Grunow.

Increased traffic, especially coming up state Route 67 at rush hour

Highway 67 is already known to be a dangerous road, with multiple fatal accidents in recent years, and Darren Kirkpatrick, speaking for Save Our Ramona, said accidents are likely to increase with the housing project.

Evacuation route difficulties

With 125 more houses in town, more cars will be trying to get down the hill in case of an evacuation with only one way out.

“Evacuees from existing houses and future projects will all converge on two lanes on a winding road,” said resident Regina Wilson.

Rural character

Ramona resident Vivian Osborn, who lives near the Cumming Ranch Project site in the south side of town, said “this is so not rural. It will change our community forever.”

Lack of sewer capacity

It’s still unknown whether the Ramona Municipal Water District will be able to expand its Santa Maria Wastewater Treatment Plant enough to adequately supply sewage service to Cumming Ranch.

As of January 2013, RMWD cannot provide services needed, county officials said at the meeting. The water district dropped plans to expand the plant back in June.

Recent upgrades are currently being looked into for Santa Maria.

Ramonan Carol Angus asked Supervisor Dianne Jacob at Wednesday’s meeting to “give Mr. Driscoll an offer he can’t refuse and buy the property.”

Jacob did, in fact, ask Gene Driscoll, the project’s developer, if he was willing to sell his property to the county to be used for open space.

Driscoll bought the 683-acre lot in 1993 and has agreed to keep 457 acres of it as biological open space preserve, increasing the Ramona Grasslands to almost 4,000 acres.

“I don’t think I can make that decision in the light of this,” Driscoll told Jacob of selling the land.

Carol Fowler, Ramona Chamber of Commerce vice president, said she thinks the Cumming Ranch Project is a good fit for the community.

“It could be huge for Ramona,” Fowler said, noting the potential for increased businesses, specifically for custom-housing services.

Planning Commissioner Bryan Woods, a former Ramonan, agreed.

“It is a benefit not only for Ramona, but for the entire county,” he said.

Conditions and improvements to the project have been stipulated over the years to help make the project a better fit for Ramona.

County planners told supervisors Wednesday that Cumming Ranch would also create 2.42 miles of public trails and use “green building” practices to generate power and conserve water, County News Center reported.

A buffer of open space would separate the 1-3-acre lots from the highway, and the developer has agreed to preserve ridgeline views, wooded areas and rock outcroppings, Grunow said.

The county is requiring the developer, 805 Properties, to generate 10 percent of the energy consumed in the development and the homes to be wired for installing solar panels and charging stations for electric vehicles, Grunow said.

805 Properties also must pay for road improvements at the Highland Valley/Dye Road/Route 67 intersection. If another agency makes the improvements first, the company would be required to provide a reimbursement to that agency.

“I do not see any reason to deny this project,” Jacob said, noting her admiration for those who showed up in opposition. “I’m very concerned on the traffic impacts on the 67 and the intersections.”

Jacob said residents and the county could still try to persuade Driscoll to sell the property.

Supervisor Ron Roberts said the Cumming Ranch Project was one of the best the board has viewed.

“We see plans all over the county,” Roberts said. “This really is the best plan we’ve seen.”

The project’s backers originally sought permission in 2001 to submit a project that would have built 166 homes and an 18-hole golf course on 515 acres and dedicate 104 acres to open space. Supervisors rejected that request and the proponent worked with Ramona’s community planning advisory group and the County to propose a project with fewer homes and significantly more open space.

Wilson told Patch she's disappointed with the vote, but was expecting it. However, that doesn't mean she's finished fighting.

"It's not over til it's over," she said.

—City News Service contributed to this report

Andrea Nodal January 31, 2013 at 02:10 AM
This is a disaster for Ramona! Keep Ramona small!
Wolf Paulus January 31, 2013 at 02:15 AM
We did have a choice during the November election. The "Rural Ramona" candidates didn't do all that well. Just remember the names of the Supervisors and others who speak your interest and more importantly, remember those who do not. So that next time you know who needs to be elected and who must not be re-elected.
Joe Minervini January 31, 2013 at 03:42 AM
Andrea, please look up the website.... citizensforaruralromona.info Along from the local residents fighting the Ramona St. Bypass, the website will offer true understanding of what is really happening to destroy the Rural character of our little town.... the "South Bypass", the Dye Rd. Extension, the Solar Farm, the quest for new traffic lights (10th St and H St.), the past approval of 417 new homes called the "Montecito Ranch." ....phew, I'm out of breath. What the County does is...if you want to build hundreds of homes in a cluster (which makes infrastructure cheaper) , you have to grant many acres of property to the County which they will call "open space." The truth is the County will many years from now, somehow sell the property for quite a profit. Its their hedge against spending too much with not having enough revenue....sound familar ? There may be others who say this is not true, but there are those that say it is true. If you want to know more, call me, I'm in the phone book.....Joe Minervini
Joe Minervini January 31, 2013 at 03:57 AM
Wolf, Please be sure to read the comment I left above. If I lived on a 5 acre parcel next to a housing development that wantred to build on 3/4 acres or less, I would be just as against it as the ones who fought against the Cumming Ranch. Your assessment of who voted in the last election included some members being elected who approveed the 417 new homes (Montecito Ranch) ...part of a previous plannig group headed by Real Estate interests. Call me, I'm in the ephone book. Joe Minervini
Jill Vincent January 31, 2013 at 04:41 AM
Ramona's beauty is deteriorating before our eyes thanks to money hungry businesses and individuals who want to profit from this project. So thankful we were able to enjoy the amazing picturesque views of Highland Valley Rd from our home these past 30 years. Goodbye peace and quiet, hello noise and traffic!!!!
D. Hall January 31, 2013 at 05:32 AM
This makes me sick to my stomach. We don't need more people in Ramona. Certainly, we cannot support more traffic. 25 years ago this was a lovely rural area with one stoplight on Main St. Now, look at it. If I wanted to live in the city I would have bought in a crowded city area. I pray that this project gets stopped. And shame on Piva and Tobiasson for putting their greed before the good of our community.
Rich Stone January 31, 2013 at 01:25 PM
Let's see who wants vs who needs this growth, people with no jobs, all the local buisiness, lumber, water, fuel, food, taxes, permits, schools, on and on, what shame should anybody have , wanting to make a return on thier investments, the fat cats that developed the already ruined rural area are rich and moved on.If you live in the same place I have for 38 years, you know what is and has happened to this town. Let growth be positive and done in a proper manner, safe roads, more lights, better access to what we have in this town. If you don't want progress, Move to a area without what we have here, a thriving , fun town, which needs some changing to keep up with the damand of supply and demand. You can't turn the clock back,enjoy what we have and will have, regardless on the spin the people who are against put on this. The town will always be 1,000 times better than down the hill, just drive down the crowded one lane road and go anywhere else to see what they have to live in. Why do all the people drive these roads? To get to the jobs, there are no jobs up here. We can grow and enjoy. We can be part of a planned community with our future resting right here. Get in, buckle up, shut up and hold on, enjoy the ride.
Doug Lake January 31, 2013 at 03:04 PM
You really can spin the hypocrisy. You said it yourself, "just drive down the crowded one lane road and go anywhere else to see what they have to live in" Now put hundreds of more cars on that "crowded one lane road" and guess what: we now live in that place that "they have to live in".
Horse Theraphy January 31, 2013 at 09:32 PM
As a long time resident I wanted to learn more about Cummings Ranch so I took my first trip to the County for this meeting. I was neutral on the thing and wanted to hear the pros and cons first hand. There were a few people that supported the project. Mostly real estate agents looking for work, a local property owner adjacent to Cummings and jim piva from the planning group. Mr Piva got up and sheepishly told the Supervisors that this project meets all of the requirements, Ramona approves of the project and the County should approve it. He than ran back to his seat as the people in the audience began to snicker and grumble. There were far more people in opposition. These people said the planning documents the County was considering are incomplete and do not reflect the additional traffic congestion, emergency evacuation, fire preparedness, loss of habitiat, lose of rural character and they presented the County with a petition with 4,000 names opposing the project! It does not seem that Ramona supports this project at all and I have to admit, after listening to them, I have serious concerns about what it will do to my Ramona. It does not seem tha the people of Ramona have a voice at the County.
Joe Minervini February 02, 2013 at 04:58 PM
In all fairness to Jim Piva, a majority of the Planning Group approx 2 yrs ago approved the Cumming Ranch. It wasn't just Jim. Joe Minervini

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