Issues of Fallbrook, CA and Neighboring Communities: O-Z

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Old Packing Plant

A "spectacular" fire on 15 August 1990 destroyed a 154,000 square foot citrus packaging plant on Mission Avenue between College and Beech. Unfortunately, the owners allowed the charred remains to stand ever since, with only an unprotected chain link fence surrounding it. The property was transferred in 1995 when the new owners bought the bank note on the property for $717,000.

The property was listed for sale as two separate parcels, both priced at $415,000, in 1996. The total price of $830,000 seems way overpriced, especially considering the estimated cost of $300,000 to demolish the charred remains on the plant.

Apparently, the out-of-town owner has rejected "numerous attempts to purchase the property", making it clear that either the property is not really for sale (since it is listed at an unreasonably high price, as determined by the market), or the owners are a bit out of touch with local real estate values, or the owners are simply waiting for property values to catch up to their asking price. The property entered escrow four times since the fire, but sales have always fallen through until May 1999. In one example, the Village Association tried to buy the plant site in the early 1990s, but that sale fell through because the owner suddenly raised the price at the last moment.

The property is a serious eyesore, and was given an "Onion" derogatory award by the San Diego Architectural Foundation in its annual "Orchids and Onions" awards. If Fallbrook were a city, the property would have been purchased by eminent domain long ago. Pasadena, for example, had a building in the midst of Old Town Pasadena whose owner allowed it to remain an eyesore, and Pasadena eventually forced the sale of the building.

Soil testing was done by the Fallbrook Elementary District, since the property is across the street from two large elementary schools, with lots of children passing by it every day. The testing was paid for by, what else, federal dollars from a Community Development Block Grant. The test results showed a clean bill of health, which isn't surprising to me. But for some reason, "many local leaders believed the run-down site to represent an environmental hazard" (NCT 2/7/98, B5). I suppose it was just the usual reaction that if something doesn't look very good, there must be hazardous something there.

The southern 1.66-acre parcel containing the "charred concrete building" was finally sold in May 1999 to Zdenek Riha, a local metal artist who plans on turning it into a multiuse facility. Hence this eyesore should soon be only a bad memory...

Source: NCT 5/23/99, B1.

Rezoning to allow higher Home Density

One of the defining qualities of Fallbrook and the surrounding area is its rural nature. Essential elements of that rural nature include having large properties (10-1000 acres) coexisting among homes on 1-2 acres.

The issue here is that nothing guarantees that this zoning is forever. The large properties are certain to go away, one by one, as they are converted to housing, since that is already allowed. It will take constant vigilance to make sure that a 2-acre minimum is preserved for those conversions, and remains in the other areas where conversion has already occurred.

All it takes is a vote of 3 people on the County Board of Supervisors to change the zoning. An example of how easy it is is from the 4/10/97 NCT, B2:

Valley Center Project Gains Density Increase

"The county Board of Supervisors approved revisions to the Woods Valley Ranch specific plan that will allow developers to build more units on the 437-acre project northeast of Woods Valley Road and Valley Center Road in southeast Valley Center.

Supervisors on Wednesday approved a change in land-use designation, which allowed density to increase from 0.5 units per acre to 0.62 units per acre. That increases the number of proposed units from 218 to 270."

Also see Fallbrook Village Association's Concept Plan.

Rosemary's Mountain Quarry

On 5 March 1997, the County Board of Supervisor's approved the Rosemary's Mountain Quarry facility planned on land owned by the Pankey family by Palomar Aggregates, Inc., president Hal Jensen. The quarry is planned for 36 acres near the San Luis Rey River in the Fallbrook Planning Area, 1.5 miles east of Interstate 15 and Highway 76.

The quarry would provide an estimated 22 million tons of aggregate over 20 years at a rate of 100,000 tons per month, transported by 452 to 966 trips per day of quarry trucks.

Highway 76 will be widened to four lanes from the quarry to I-15 to accommodate the increased traffic. The highway will be widened into the river's floodplain. Environmental reports on this widening are still due from Caltrans, the state Fish and Game Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corp of Engineers.

River Watch, a North County Citizens' group, filed suit on 7 April 1997 to block the quarry on grounds of a "legally inadequate" environmental impact report. They are concerned about groundwater contamination by the quarry, and the effects on wildlife.

Legal fees were ~$50,000, of which $10,000 was raised by RiverWatch before the group's first meeting. The entire amount was raised through rummage sales and other benefits.

The lawsuit was heard in December 1997 in San Diego Superior Court by Judge Judith McConnell. On 1/23/98 the judge ruled that the environmental impact report was "incomplete and inadequate", and set aside the county's decision. In her opinion, McConnell wrote that the environmental report was improper, or "segmented". "Review of some of the most important elements of the project, such as the effects on the river and wildlife by the widening and realignment of Highway 76, were deferred to a later date." Three bird and one toad endangered species are found in the area of the road widening.

Her final decision also rules that the entire 800 acre Pankey parcel must be included in the environmental report. Also, instead of only evaluating the effect of granite mining itself, the effects of dust created by the operation and by loading the trucks must be considered.

Jensen and the County appealed the decision to Division 1 of the state's 4th Appellate District in San Diego. Oral arguments are scheduled to begin sometime after 4/5/99.

Rosemary's Mountain itself is about 0.25 square mile, using just the area centered on the 992' peak. That area is about 200 acres, so 36 acres will take away about 20% of the mountain, although it isn't clear from the newspapers whether the quarry will actually be in the area immediately east of Rosemary's Mountain at the corner of Rice Canyon and SR76. The original plan would have lopped off the top of the Mountain, but the plan as approved by the county does not do that.

There is an existing quarry on the Pala Indian Reservation a few miles upstream.

Sources: NCT 4/10/97, B3; NCT 5/13/97, B3; NCT 6/14/97, B1, B2; NCT 1/23/98, A1, A10; NCT 11/28/98, B4; NCT 3/5/99, B3.

Valley Center sewage problem

High groundwater caused septic systems to "fail" in Valley Center, and in 1980 the County placed a building moratorium on buildings without sewer connections in an area of about 5,000 acres in the central part of town along Valley Center Road. Installing a sewer line has been discussed ever since then, with no resolution in sight, for the usual reason: it costs a lot of money.

A 300 unit controversial project that will include high-density "affordable housing" was approved by the county Planning Commission on 9 May 1997, and the developer is pursuing a privately-owned sewer-treatment plant. But since the developer doesn't expect the project to be complete for 15 years, the private plant might be supplanted by a more general solution. The Orchard Run project is proposed for Valley Center Road, just south of Lilac Road.

A $275,000, extensive hydrological study released in November, 1998 supports the lifting of the moratorium. It concludes that high groundwater recharge now comes 68% from rainfall, 22% from irrigation, and only 10% from existing septic tanks.

The report will be presented to the County Board of Supervisors on 9 December 1998, and it is likely that the moratorium will be lifted. That will allow property owners who live at higher elevations to build septic tanks, which still must pass the county's percolation test. Those in low-lying areas probably will not be able to meet that test.

Preliminary findings from the report showed that the number of septic tanks could be increased from 775 to 1,885 in the areas where the water table is between 5 and 15' below the surface.

Sources: NCT 5/10/97, B3; NCT 11/24/98, B4; SDUT 11/21/98, B3.

Fallbrook Water Supply

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One of the biggest long-term problems facing Fallbrook and most of San Diego County is our water supply. Currently, over 90% of the water of Fallbrook comes from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), as compared to less than 50% for many of the cities in L.A. County.

Restrictions on water deliveries from the MWD inevitably occur on a regular basis, and due to our dependence on the MWD, we suffer the full cutback everytime. In comparison, the cities of L.A. County often can ignore the MWD cutbacks for a given year, making up the shortfall by their local supplies.

San Diego County is just waking up to the problems that will result from this. It is currently negotiating directly with the Imperial Valley to buy their water and "wheel" it through the MWD pipeline. Furious negotiations are ongoing with the MWD in order to obtain transportation rates that will not kill the deal.

Fallbrook needs to develop local supplies as well. It is surrounded by significant rivers whose underground aquifers could be tapped to provide local supplies. Our local water agencies should immediately pursue those sources, as Oceanside is currently doing.

From SDUT 5/23/97, A3:

As an aside, apparently the Fallbrook area is one of the few left in the state where the use of underground water is not regulated (except for the Santa Margarita River Watershed), meaning that anyone can put it a water well. That may be about to change for the Pauma and Pala Valleys. A hearing will be held on 15-16 October, 1997 that will review the use of underground water in those basins, prior to any regulation. Contact Melanie Collins at 916 657 0442 to obtain a Notice of Hearing and Notice of Intent to Appear form, which must be filed with the State Water Resources Control Board by June 27, 1997.

Fallbrook is served by two water companies. The Fallbrook Public Utilities District (FPUD) and the Rainbow Municipal Water District. Rainbow provides water to about 5,900 customers within a 78-square-mile radius encompassing 48,900 acres of unincorporated land in Rainbow, Bonsall and parts of Fallbrook. Approximately 85% of the water is provided to agricultural users and 15% for domestic purposes. (NCT 9/17/98, B6)

See also Water Quality of Fallbrook.

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Copyright © 1997-1999 by Tom Chester.
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Last update: 30 May 1999.