North County Report: North River Farms and More Big Politifest Convos - Voice of San Diego

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North County Report: North River Farms and More Big Politifest Convos

We’re talking Oceanside and Encinitas elections and youth activism at this year’s annual public affairs summit. Some schools are reopening, and more in our biweekly roundup of North County news.

A rendering of North River Farms / Image courtesy of Integral Communities

One of the most contentious ballot measures in North County this election is undoubtedly Measure L in Oceanside.

In a few weeks, voters in the region’s most populous city will decide the fate of North River Farms, a 585-home, agriculture-themed, mixed use development proposed for the rural neighborhood of Morro Hills. The Oceanside City Council decided to place the measure on the ballot after a hard-fought effort by residents to collect enough signatures for a referendum.

The development, one of many recently proposed in the region’s backcountry to increase housing supply, is highly contested by many residents who pushed for the referendum, most of the 12 mayoral candidates and other groups. It’s supported by the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, Oceanside Firefighters Association, the North San Diego Association of REALTORS, the San Diego North Economic Development Council, the San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, among others.

The official ballot language asks whether Oceanside residents want to rezone approximately 176.6 acres for the development. The change would allow, in addition to hundreds of new homes, for a 24.9-acre commercial village, 68.1 acres of agriculture and 17 acres of parks/open space.

Tanya Castaneda, a spokeswoman for the Yes on L campaign, said the project will allow for the creation of San Diego County’s first farming community, help Oceanside meet its housing goals, create jobs and economic investments as well as make road improvements and provide better infrastructure.

Integral Communities, the developer behind the project, is putting big dollars into its campaign. It contributed more than $200,000 in August to the Yes campaign and spent more than $500,000 in total on campaign consultants, surveys and other campaign material show, the Union-Tribune reported in September.

“These days, any residential project is going to attract opposition from those who don’t see the value of diverse housing and forward planning,” Integral Communities project manager Ninia Hammond wrote in an email late last year. “We are not surprised by anti-growth sentiment and remain focused on developing a community that provides a holistic life to the neighbors, farms and diverse community members who will call us home.”

Meanwhile, opponents like Oceanside resident Dennis Martinek, a retired professor of business, economic and urban planning,  told the Coast News that the project represents “really poor planning,” especially because the city hasn’t finalized its neighborhood vision for South Morro Hills. Planning staff at the city are strongly opposed to it and recommended the project be rejected, he pointed out. Martinek also said he believes there is enough space for infill development throughout the city that will help Oceanside meet its housing requirements rather than a project that contributes to urban sprawl.

Oceanside residents Arleen Hammerschmidt and Joan Bockman, who gathered signatures for the referendum on North River Farms, told Voice of San Diego in December that they oppose the project because it will create sprawl and ruin the agricultural land at the site. Hammerschmidt also had an issue with the Oceanside City Council’s approval of the project, and said it was “more and more egregious decisions in the developers’ favor and discounting the residents.” She said the North River Farms decision was “just like the final straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Opponents also argue the location of the development is a fire hazard, and that there’s not a proper evacuation strategy in place.

I’ll be talking to stakeholders on both sides, including Castaneda and Martinek, about the project on Thursday night as part of Voice of San Diego’s annual public affairs summit, and welcome any questions for the panelists.

Speaking of North County at Politifest …

It’s a busy week for us here, with debates and discussions on topics relevant across the county running through Saturday. In addition to the panel on North River Farms, I’ll be moderating two other North County-related panels. Register and tune in here if you want to get caught up before the November election and learn how local government works.

On Friday, you’ll hear from eight of the candidates for Oceanside mayor about their plans for the future of the city. I’ll talk to Christopher Rodriguez, Fernando Garcia, Fabio Marchi and Esther Sanchez at 5 p.m. and Rob Howard, Rocky Chavez, Lou Uridel and Ruben Major at 6 p.m. If you’re interested in the Encinitas mayor’s race, Caitlin Steinburg from the Coast News will talk to incumbent Catherine Blakespear and her opponent Julie Thunder at 5 p.m. about their plans for the future of Encinitas.

On Saturday at 11 a.m., you’ll hear directly from some of the young local activists who are taking to social media and the streets calling for an end to racial injustice, the defunding of local police departments and changes in local school curriculum. Many of the young people who organized police brutality protests over the summer said they were motivated not just by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis but by their communities’ long histories of silence on racial justice issues.

And keep up with our live blog for highlights throughout the entire event and use #Politifest2020 to follow along over Twitter.

What We’re Working On

  • I wrote about how Gavin Newsom’s decision to sign SB 145 into law – a measure addressing discrimination of LGBTQ youth and the state’s sex offender registry – has ignited Republican fury and fueled misinformation.

In Other News

Correction: An earlier version misstated the Oceanside planning commission’s latest position on North River Farms. It is neutral.

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