As the Ranch Changes

Following is a note we received last February from resident Greg Lichtenstein. We don’t always have the opportunity to go back and respond to these inquiries and then follow-up right away, but we do our best. It is people such as Greg who make Scripps Ranch such a vibrant, active, wonderful place to live. Our hallmark are people who get involved, roll up their sleeves, and do their best to make a difference. Past SRCA President Wes Danskin’s response to Mr. Lichtenstein follows.

I’ve lived in the Ranch since 1986, and am a member of the SRCA and was actively involved in the Save the Lake group. Watching what has been happening to the north side of Scripps has been upsetting to me and I’d suspect to others as well. I realize that the Civic Association and planning groups have had input, but the developers seem to have a much bigger voice. I appreciate your recent stories on the Gateway project and was heartened by today’s City Council vote.

I’d be interested in a story and accompanying pictures comparing the North Scripps community plan that was negotiated after the “Save the Lakers” became vocal to what was eventually built. I seem to remember idyllic architectural renderings of the lake and environs as viewed from the boat dock area, with low-rise houses carefully masked by tall eucalyptus trees. Quite a contrast to what was built. I also thought there was talk of a ballfield overlooking the lake above the Nob Hill condos, where yet another row of houses is being built. Maybe my old brain is playing tricks on me, and if so, I stand corrected.

Good question Greg. I was heavily involved with all of those negotiations and then was on the MRNPC for eight years as the plans were built. So let me take a crack at answering. It is a little candid, but history should record the facts as best we can state them.

Miramar Ranch North is pretty much like all new residential areas in San Diego, and indeed in much of the United States. The Save the Lake group, and City Councilmember Linda Bernhardt in particular, failed to realize that a development agreement is a binding legal document between the City and the developer. When Linda tried to place a Hillside Restriction on McMillin and restrict their previously approved development rights, McMillin sued the City. McMillin soon after won a judgement against the City.

Well, from then on McMillin had an upper hand in several respects. I know that I often heard their lawyer say “Settlement Agreement” whenever we tried to push for something that we thought was better, but may have cost more or modified their development plans (rights). The recent lawsuit against the City for $94 million by De Feurte is based on similar issues. Ironically, today we used the development agreement between Shea and the City to force a revision to Shea’s plans. So the sword cuts both ways.

So what about the lake? From what I can tell, and I’ve looked pretty carefully, it is exactly what we had planned and agreed to in 1989. There are single-story homes. The same areas are built with the same houses as planned. The only difference is that the new park on Scripps Ranch Blvd.–“Miramar Overlook Park”–has a tot lot, bathrooms, and a small parking lot. It originally was conceptualized as a passive area without tot equipment.

Probably the main difference you see north of the lake is two-fold.

1. The idea of the “viewshed” was not a particularly scientific one. Because of the angle of the hills and the long length of the lake, the views change quite a bit. The homes on the other side of Scripps Ranch Blvd. (Terraza) are plenty obvious now and were on paper to me then, but because they were not on the lake but on the other side of the road, they often were excluded from discussion by both McMillin and the Save the Lake group.

2. The homes that were “removed” from the lakeshore were put into higher density behind the viewshed (since the development agreement specified the total number of homes that McMillin was entitled to build, and the facilities that they would be required to furnish). So you have many more multi-family units and tight, tight neighborhoods like north of Scripps Poway Parkway created in an attempt to recover the 300+ dwelling units that were “lost” in the lake compromise.

And it bothered me, but apparently not others involved in the negotiations, that on the other side of the Miramar Lake viewshed is somebody else’s viewshed. So now the fire station’s viewshed is filled with the homes that were near the lake. Probably a better deal, but it should not have been unanticipated.

The Lago Dorado hill, above Nob Hill, was originally supposed to be industrial (might have ended up as Intel?). But as part of the Save the Lake compromise, McMillin agreed to 300 multi-family units “tucked behind the hill”–actually behind a berm they created in digging the units down into the hill. McMillin actually converted some of the units to single family and I believe is building only 222 units instead of 300.

So be assured that moving Scripps Ranch Blvd. behind most of the hills was a major accomplishment directly attributed to the Save the Lake effort. The occasional one-story homes also were a concession that seemed to matter, as did the curvilinear grading near Lakepoint. The City refused to plant eucalyptus trees since they are not indigenous. And the homes are so large even on the large lots that it seems unlikely that there will ever be any really abundant trees between the homes to screen the hills.

So was it worth the considerable effort, and angst, and splitting the community in two for a few years? I think so, but planning victories seem to be a matter of degree and individual perception.