May 23rd, 2000
We're at a crossroads. On the one hand, every indication is that the EIR for the USDRIP project is totally indefensible because it failed to address the impact heavy or light industrial zoning would have on the Santee/El Monte water reservoir in general and on drinking water specifically.
Legally, the county will have to postpone the zoning decision, reopen the EIR, do the additional analysis, circulate the changes, and take public comment on the changes. After that, no doubt, the issue of zoning would head back to the planning commission, maybe all the way back to the Lakeside Planning Group, and then on to the Board of Supervisors. The process would take months. The outcome is, of course, uncertain. The experts could say that heavy industrial zoning, or industrial zoning of any type, is impermissible; the report could say only that certain mitigation measures are required.
We are currently trying to find an expert who could give us all some insight on this.
Sounds great, doesn't it? But then there are the threats, which go something like this: if we challenge the EIR the county will kill the whole project and the land would revert back to general zoning. The landowners, then, would have the right to petition the county using only the minor use permit process and could ask the county for any type of zoning or land use that they could prove the land was once used for. In other words, using a relatively simple process they could ask for M-54 zoning on the grounds at some point in the past the land was put to an M-54 use. Apparantly the decision would be made by county staff and there'd be limited or no public comment-- the same county staff which we "embarassed" by pointing out their EIR was deficient.
Is this just an idle threat or do we have a significant downside risk? That is exactly where we are weak: we don't know how valid this threat is. If it's real, we'd have a helluva battle on our hands, and we'd have to fight it parcel by parcel. If it's an idle threat, then we should go ahead and make damn certain our drinking water is protected.
Here's one other fact to consider: the envelope factory zoning was obtained via the minor use process identified above. The land was, apparantly, zoned C-36. The owner approached the county using the minor use process, stated their claim to M-52 or M-54 zoning on the grounds it was once used in that way, the county approved it and we awoke one morning to the sound of foundation trenchers.
I have put in calls to Diane Jacob's office, Duncan Hunter's, Steve Baldwin's, Diane Feinstein's and Bill Horn asking for their help in obtaining help from all relevant state and federal water quality regulatory agencies to advise us on whether the county's process and mitigation recommendations meet or exceed all applicable state, federal and local water protection acts. I've received no help. In fact, I've received no response.
Without expert help, we will have a very difficult time indeed fully analyzing the depth and breadth of our downside risk. With this fully analyzed we could make a much better decision on whether to challenge the EIR. We must make a decision soon.