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De Luz oversight issue discussed further


Last updated 4/24/2008 at Noon

Fears over bringing a swath of De Luz under the wing of the Fallbrook Community Planning Group seemed to fade at a packed-house meeting Monday night, April 21.

The hour-long information session, which was prefaced by a sharply-worded letter from a De Luz community leader, ended with a show of hands from audience members who seemed largely in favor of the concept.

Even Mike Manchor, chief of the volunteer De Luz Fire Department, at the end said he recognized the value of joining forces with the 15-member elected panel that advises San Diego County supervisors on key regional issues.

“I see your point,” Manchor, an avocado farmer and 18-year resident of the rugged, rural area split by two counties, said during the discussion.

Manchor had set the stage for a showdown by sending a searing letter to Jim Russell, chairman of the advisory panel, stating that the proposal had “stirred up a hornets nest” and that a “very vocal and abrasive De Luz crowd” could be expected at the meeting.

In Manchor’s letter and remarks, as well as comments from some other De Luz residents, their concerns center on the possibility that a new layer of oversight might fuel increased development in their hilly, agricultural area.

De Luz residents were the majority of the 75-person audience at the session held at Live Oak Elementary School. About 15 De Luz residents commented on the proposal, some of them identifying themselves, with most of the remarks of a questioning nature rather than a hostile tone.

Tim O’Brien, a 25-year resident of De Luz who does land grading work, noted that many audience members over the years have split lots or built homes in the community. He questioned whether planning group oversight would add “one more hoop of fire” for them to jump through in winning building approvals.

“I’ve seen people suffer,” he said.

In the end, any underlying audience rancor seemed to be defused by Russell’s gruff, point-blank assessment of the proposal and the options available to the sprawling 21-square-mile area that flanks Fallbrook’s northern boundary.

Russell flatly told De Luz residents that the planning group still hasn’t decided whether to stretch itself and its six committees by studying and making land use, circulation, parks and recreation services, design review and other recommendations for that area.

Ten members of the group seem to be undecided and the rest are split in favor or against taking on the added responsibility, Russell noted. The issue will be discussed further by the panel at 7 p.m. May 19 at the school and afterward voted upon, Russell said.

“There will be no rush to judgment,” Russell told the audience. “I hope you go home and discuss this among yourselves and then come back next month and tell us what you think.”

In his presentation, Russell said county officials, as part of an ongoing general plan update, asked the Fallbrook group to decide whether to bring De Luz under its wing. Unincorporated communities throughout the county are divided into 27 distinct areas with De Luz possibly the only one that does not have a planning group or sponsor group, according to a county analysis.

If De Luz joins Fallbrook, that union would occur after the new general plan is adopted, possibly in 2010. That would allow De Luz residents to seek election to the Fallbrook planning group, where members serve four-year terms.

Split into two jurisdictions, De Luz residents who live in Riverside County must typically travel about 60 miles north to comment on development plans and other proposals in their area. De Luz residents who live in San Diego County must travel an equal distance to Kearney Mesa to review development documents or attend Planning Commission meetings.

In Fallbrook, the group holds meetings on key community issues as a prelude to formal public hearings held by county planning commissioners and supervisors. That gives residents closer review and input on local issues within the planning group’s approximately 50-square-mile jurisdiction, Russell said.

And while the planning group has no actual decision-making powers, it wields solid influence in winning developer concessions and shaping final votes by county leaders, Russell and other members said.

“It’s a strong voice. Right now you have no [nearby] representation,” planning group member Eileen Delaney said at one point in the discussion.

Primarily due to the need for costly staff resources, county Supervisor Bill Horn does not want to form a separate planning group for the De Luz area, Russell said. But Russell encouraged De Luz residents to pursue that approach if they believe it’s best for their community.

The Fallbrook group’s oversight does not necessarily slow growth plans, Russell noted. But in some cases, such as a presentation held Monday night on a proposal to expand the Pala Mesa Resort, developers report in periodically to keep local residents informed and maintain a rapport with neighbors and planning group members.

Saying he preferred to wait until May 19, Russell initially resisted an audience member’s suggestion to seek a show of hands aimed at gauging the sentiment of De Luz residents. After Russell gave in, about 10 people indicated they favor the merger.

O’Brien was among the three people who raised their hands in opposition, an unofficial tally that caught him off-guard.

“I’m really surprised to hear all my neighbors wanting to jump on board,” he mused aloud as the session wound down.


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