Last night the Escondido City Council heard from several local residents who expressed ongoing concerns about the Safari Highlands Ranch project. Speakers reiterated concerns about water availability & quality, pollution, density, land use rights of existing landowners to the north, as well as the ongoing lack of responsiveness to conflict of interest questions related to any past & future business dealings between the EIR consultant hired, Michael Baker International, and the applicant, Concordia. City Council members listened but did not respond to any specific points. They voted 4:1 (Olga Diaz – no) to approve the selection of the EIR consultant and proceed with that contract. ?
It is worth noting that this same City Council meeting addressed Escondido’s significant deficit in meeting established goals for the creation of new, low-income/affordable housing in Escondido. Last year there were less than 20 units built towards the goal of 4,000+ by 2020. In approving the EIR consultant for SHR, the City Council was authorizing $604,000 to be spent by the applicant/developer to proceed with this EIR. Before casting their votes, Councilmember Masson expressed feelings about the applicant/developer being required to spend $600,000+ to complete an EIR and comply with CEQA regulations, given the previous discussion of lack of affordable housing in the City. It’s unclear if that statement was meant to suggest that $600,000 would be better spent on building affordable housing than studying the environmental impact of SHR. However, since Safari Highlands Ranch is not low-income/affordable housing in the San Pasqual Valley and environmental issues related to large scale development on that same plot of land was the the tipping point in last development effort failing in the early 2000’s, it seems that money is being appropriately spent to complete the EIR and comply with CEQA regulations. As always, entire City Council meetings are available for viewing online: https://escondido.12milesout.com/.