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North County Report: The (Lilac) Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Conflict

One of the more intriguing figures in the Lilac Hills Ranch debate is Michael Beck, a longtime member of the county Planning Commission who also directs the San Diego activities of the Endangered Habitats League.

Developers hate Beck because he and his environmental group often stand in the way of big projects in the region. Environmentalists hate Beck because of his propensity to compromise with developers. So whose side is Beck on, really? VOSD’s Ry Rivard explores that question in a profile that explores Beck’s long history in the local politics of habitat conservation.

Not surprisingly, the developers of Lilac Hills Ranch, Accretive Investments, targeted Beck when the Planning Commission voted on the issue earlier this year. Accretive’s lawyer asked the state ethics watchdog to disqualify Beck from voting, arguing that his environmental organization would be financially affected by the outcome of the vote. The state panel rejected that argument this month.

But as VOSD’s Andy Keatts points out, Accretive’s argument puts it in an awkward position. On the one hand, they argued that building Lilac Hills Ranch would increase the value of rural land nearby, making it more expensive for conservation groups (like Beck’s) to acquire. On the other hand, Accretive’s likely ally, county Supervisor Bill Horn, is arguing that Lilac Hills Ranch won’t increase the value of nearby agricultural land, such as the 30 acres he owns nearby.

The Board of Supervisors vote on the project is on hold until Horn has exhausted his options.

Caruso Hits a Speed Bump in Carlsbad

Opponents of a plan to build a high-end shopping mall on the south shore of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon collected enough signatures to force the Carlsbad City Council to reconsider its approval. The Council will now have to decide whether to repeal its approval of the plan or to place the issue on the ballot. Insiders believe the Council will put the question on a special election ballot in February, according to the Seaside Courier.

Voice of San Diego and NBC San Diego got together last week to explain the legal strategies driving the debate in Carlsbad. In short: Developers have figured out they can skirt the expensive, time-consuming process of environmental review by simply getting enough voters to sign on the dotted line — but that end-run is not bulletproof.

A separate group, North County Advocates, has sued to stop Caruso Affiliated from building on the lagoon. In court filings, the group argues that the so-called 85/15 Plan is “illegally vague” and violates the city charter. (Union-Tribune)

Around the County With Cop Cams

Local news coverage has focused heavily on the San Diego Police Department’s adoption and use of body-worn cameras for its officers, but the Escondido Police Department has actually been using the technology since 2010, VOSD’s Liam Dillon found in a countywide review of police agencies’ policies on body cameras.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department — which polices the North County cities of Vista, San Marcos, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar and Poway as well as unincorporated areas — has been developing a policy for the cameras and may launch a 90-day test in early 2016.

Police departments in Carlsbad and Oceanside are also considering body cams for cops.

Related: District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis will not prosecute the Oceanside police sergeant who shot and killed a man who brandished an unloaded pistol in 2014. (Union-Tribune)

Poway Consultants Might Be Conflicted

A recent court ruling may jeopardize Poway Unified’s multimillion-dollar relationship with Dolinka Group, a financial consultant. VOSD’s Ashly McGlone reports on the potential conflict of interest: As the administrator of Poway’s Mello-Roos financing district, Dolinka tells the district when it’s time to sell more bonds. Poway Unified then pays Dolinka to help design and manage the bond sales. This appears to put Dolinka in the position of self-dealing, but the legal issues are complex and far from settled.

New Opposition to Gregory Canyon Landfill

The California Coastal Commission is butting into the debate over the proposed Gregory Canyon landfill, even though the dump site would be some 20 miles from the beach. The commission wants the federal government’s permission to review and possibly veto the project. A spokesperson for the landfill developer told the Union-Tribune that “the Palas” are using the Coastal Commission to make a last-ditch political move against the landfill.

The Oceanside City Council and Oceanside Utilities Commission are officially opposing the landfill project with letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They say they landfill threatens Oceanside’s water supply. “You don’t put a trash dump on a riverbed,” Mayor Jim Wood said. (The Coast News)

Also in the News

• Residents near the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve are organizing to fight future development of the rural area west of Escondido and south of San Marcos. A development with 750 homes is already under construction in the area, and some residents argue that’s more than enough. Another developer has applied to build another 450 homes in the same area. (KPBS)

• Families near Jefferson Middle School in Oceanside are protesting the school district’s decision to turn the campus into a charter school operated by the Orange County School of the Arts. They say the charter school’s admission requirements — maintaining a minimum 2.0 GPA and auditioning for one of the school’s arts programs — will create unequal access to education among neighborhood children. (Union-Tribune)

• Construction will begin soon on the next phase of the Inland Rail Trail, the paved path for bicycles and pedestrians that will eventually stretch 21 miles between Escondido and Oceanside. Right now, the trail ends near Mission and Las Posas roads in San Marcos. The upcoming construction will extend the trail another seven miles west into Vista. Regional planners have also begun work on another bike route between Oceanside and Downtown San Diego as part of a $200 million package of improvements funded by the county’s half-cent sales tax. (Union-Tribune)

• Carlsbad and Escondido are preparing for El Niño flooding. Escondido will host an emergency preparedness workshop for residents Wednesday night. (The Coast News)

• ViaSat, the satellite internet company that employs nearly 2,000 people at its Carlsbad headquarters, acquired 23 acres of vacant land across the street from its existing campus. The new property gives ViaSat enough room to double its local workforce. (Union-Tribune)

• Escondido’s city manager is on his way out. (Union-Tribune)

• A county airport committee voted to endorse a $100 million plan to improve Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport and expand the runway by 800 feet. The Board of Supervisors will consider the issue in December. (KPBS)

• Encinitas is looking at a ban on glyphosate, the main active ingredient in the popular Roundup weed killer. A research unit of the World Health Organization has warned that the chemical may cause cancer. (Encinitas Advocate)

• A group of North County leaders wants to promote the area’s vibrant arts culture in an effort to attract employers and differentiate the area from the city of San Diego. (Seaside Courier)

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