Citizens urged to speak out on Newland Sierra Project

The auditorium at San Marcos Civic Center fills up as residents wait for public meeting on the Newland Sierra Project.

By Wayne Dauber, Hidden Meadows Sponsor Group

A proposal to build a huge planned community in the hills northwest of the Deer Springs exit is now working its way through the governmental approval process.  The proposal is a dramatic departure from land use guidelines in the General Plan for the County of San Diego and would bring dramatic changes to Hidden Meadows and neighboring areas.  A number of citizen groups, including the Hidden Meadows Sponsor Group, are urging residents to learn more about the project and make their opinions about the project known to our County officials.

Known as the Newland Sierra Project, the proposed development would include 2,135 residential units on a undeveloped piece of property that is currently zoned for 99 homes. It would also include commercial space and other amenities. A previous developer proposed a 2,600 home development called Merriam Mountain in the same general area.  That project was denied by the county supervisors in a 3-2 vote.

In order to get this new project approved, the development company is asking the County for several amendments and revisions to the County’s General Plan.  Adopted just six years ago, the General Plan took a decade and roughly $18 million to develop.  A major purpose of the plan was to discourage urban sprawl by focusing new housing and infrastructure to areas closer to employment and mass transportation and away from more rural spaces.

A draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) regarding the Newland Sierra Project was released on June 17, 2017 by the County of San Diego’s Department of Planning and Development.  The document — which is over 8,000 pages long — provides information about potential detrimental impacts of the project and possible steps that could be taken to lessen those impacts.  To find it online, do a web search for Newland Sierrra EIR.

The County has given the public 45 days to submit comments or questions about the report to the Planning Department, which will take them into consideration before issuing a final report.  The updated document will then go to the Planning Commission, which will submit it’s recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors.  No date has yet been set for the Supervisors to vote on the project proposal, but it is expected sometime in the second quarter of 2018.

A public hearing on the draft EIR was held on July 18 at the Civic Center in San Marcos.  An estimated 350 individuals turned out, hailing from neighborhoods on both sides of I-15.

The County staff made a very brief presentation, before opening the meeting up for public comment. They did, however, state that the environmental review process revealed “significant and unavoidable” impacts in six areas — aesthetics, air quality, mineral resources, noise, population and housing, and transportation and traffic.  According the EIR, “feasible mitigation would not reduce such impacts to less-than-significant levels.”

Seventy or so individuals signed up to comment at the hearing.  Each was given two minutes to speak.  Many of the comments centered around the serious concerns community members have about the:

• Huge increases in traffic which would compound major problems that already exist on the I-15, Deer Springs/Mountain Meadow exits, and surrounding surface streets.

• Lack of adequate emergency evacuation routes on both sides of the freeway.

• Air and noise pollution that would be produced during the expected 10 years of construction.

• Disruption to wildlife habitat and movement patterns.

Impact on local schools and the area’s water supply, which are already overstretched.

• Public funding that would be required to pay for necessary infrastructure improvements.

• Cumulative impact of other planned and proposed developments in the region.

Speakers also expressed frustration that:

• The General Plan, which was designed to protect rural areas, was being ignored, and that exceptions to the Plan were becoming too common.

• The project creates the same problems as the previously-rejected Merriam Mountain project.

• Some of the EIR’s assumptions about the impacts and possible mitigation strategies seemed flawed or unrealistic.

• The length and organization of the EIR document made it difficult to find information that was needed to have a clear picture of the overall impact of the project.

Although the meeting on the 16th was promoted as an opportunity for public comment on the draft EIR, the County staff told the speakers at the beginning that their statements were not being recorded.  In order for the community’s concerns to be addressed in the next iteration of the EIR, the process requires written statements to be submitted.

The Hidden Meadows Community Sponsor Group is therefore urging all residents to make their opinions know in written form.  We ask that you send your questions and concerns about the Newland Sierra Project to the County by email or letter before the end of the public comment period.  The deadline is August 14 at 4:00 p.m.

Emails are to be sent to  Letters are to be addressed to:

Ashley Smith, Department of Planning and Development, 5510 Overland Ave., Suite 310, San Diego, CA 92123.

The Sponsor group will continue to keep you posted about this important issue through articles in the Hidden Meadows News and postings on NextDoor.  If you have questions, feel free to contact Wayne Dauber at or (760) 809-6898.