Planners review evacuation road

“We are here tonight seeking your support and approval of the General Plan Amendment and vacation of Montecito Road,” said Michael Robinson, deputy director of the Transportation Division of the San Diego County Department of Public Land Use (DPLU).

Robinson, with other county representatives, attended the April 2 Ramona Community Planning Group (RCPG) meeting to discuss plans for an emergency access road north of Ramona Airport. At the center of the issue is the community of Ramona’s need for an emergency evacuation route versus Ramona Airport’s need for expansion and future growth.

Montecito Road now ends at the air traffic control tower and a conceptual line on the circulation element map goes to Rangeland Road. The planning group in June 2006 voted to vacate the extension of Montecito Road to Rangeland and the county supervisors in September 2006 supported that vote, according to planning group records. For airport safety reasons, federal agencies require the airport to be gated, county staff has told the planners.

“There are two existing easements along portions of Montecito Road,” said environmental planner Gail Jurgella of the Department of Public Works (DPW). However, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to connect those easements toward Rangeland due to the existence of endangered species and land that has been designated as preserve, she said.

“There are also FAA safety reasons,” said Jurgella.

As an alternative route, Robinson suggested establishing an emergency access road, not open to the public except in an emergency, across land recently purchased by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The county purchased this property from the Nature Conservancy with funds from the county as well as matching funds from the federal government. Due to the presence of endangered species in the purchased area, it was necessary to enter into a grant agreement to obtain those federal funds, Ramona planners were told.

Trish Boaz of the Department of Parks and Recreation explained how the process would work.

“Currently the agreement states that if the grant funds are received, the land will be for the purposes of plant and wildlife preservation and non-motorized trail use,” said Boaz.

Boaz plans to meet with the fire chief and staff members to talk about minimum requirements  needed for a public evacuation route.

“Based upon what the chief says, we will approach the wildlife agencies to seek approval for us putting the road through,” said Boaz.

A plus in the situation is that the acquired land has a ranch road cutting across it, Boaz said.

“At this point, we’re talking about improving a dirt road — this goat trail — to be an accessible road?” asked RCPG member Matt Deskovick.

“Not necessarily,” answered Devon Muto, DPLU advance planning chief. “Many county road standards require wide roads with broad turns. This requires substantial improvements.”

 After county staff meets with Cal Fire Division Chief Kevin O’Leary, they will have a better idea of what improvements, if any, will be required, said Muto.

“We want to try to stay as close as possible to what we have out there right now,” said Muto.

Environmental analysis has already begun for the proposed site. Any changes to the road, by even a few feet in width, would require those studies to start over again.

“Under current restrictions, paving the road will not be allowed,” said Boaz. “An emergency evacuation for the community is sorely needed and we will be doing all we can as county staff, but we do not have control over state and federal agencies,” she said.

“When we go to the county board of supervisors, they need to make the final decision in terms of modifying the location for the proposed route,” said Muto.

The narrower the road, the easier it is to put in,” said Robinson.

“There are environmental issues we would be dealing with if we widen the road,” he said. “We want to deal with those issues in a minimal way. We want to put something up there that is functional, as well as achieves what you want.”

It is critical that Cal Fire is comfortable with a route and that it is safe and environmentally sound, said Robinson.

“Our commitment is that we will work with you toward making this happen,” Robinson said.

From an FAA perspective, it is important to have a road that is maintained, safe, efficient and provides operational support for the airport. Ramona’s airport is an aerial firefighting base and is poised to have additional federal money invested for improvements. By allowing public use of roads considered too close to the airport, there is a risk of rendering useless any future development and value of the airport.

“This airport is the only one you (Ramona) are ever going to have,” said Robinson. “We are land locked due to environmental issues, FAA concerns, and Homeland Security issues. The last area of developmental property is in the north.”

“Mike Robinson has met with me and he is not just saying what we want to hear,” said group member Jim Piva. “He has brought his staff here tonight and they have made a commitment to make this thing happen. We need to work together to accomplish this goal.”

RCPG Chair Chris Anderson asked what the group could do to ensure getting the evacuation route pushed through the system.

“More then anything else we need to take care of the community first,” said Anderson. “I know that, if a fire truck can drive down that road, a truck with a horse trailer should be able to do the same thing. What does the county need to get this done?”

Muto suggested that a motion be passed by RCPG stating its desire for the route.

“We are working on it,” said Muto. “When we eventually go before the planning commission and board of supervisors, it would be good if you (RCPG) have a presence there and remind them again of your position.”

The issue of having the road gated at the east and west ends was a concern for a few RCPG members.

“One of the major reasons for gating is to show the wildlife agencies that we will not be having motorized vehicles accessing the site,” said Boaz. “We need to somehow control that access.”

Homeland Security guidelines state that security must be provided at general aviation airports.

“This security can be done through natural boundaries, electronic means, fencing or access control points,” said Robinson. “Anyplace you have airplanes and taxiways, you have to have security. That is non-negotiable.”

RCPG member Dennis Grimes agreed that the community needed a strong, viable east to west evacuation route.

“I would hope, ideally, that the road would be paved,” Grimes said. “I can’t see large trucks with horse trailers negotiating that road in its current state. I see a lot of mechanical problems and broken axles, and it would be a disaster to have people trapped in that area.”

Grimes felt that voting for a vacation of Montecito Road would be premature without a detailed plan and a guarantee that the community would get the access it would need.

“The county has already given approval to vacate Montecito,” said Deskovick. “Let’s jump on the wagon and hope the folks who came tonight can go back and do what they plan to do to reach our goal.”

“Does a decision need to be made today?” asked member Angus Tobiason. “The county has a legal easement from Rangeland Road to the airport property. They could go 30 feet along the edge of the county property to Aviation Road, then back to Montecito Road without asking anybody. It would be a disservice to the community if the planning group approves just a trail  that will be fenced off.”

Robinson addressed Tobiason’s concerns. “Any future plans for airport expansion will be based on the decisions you make in terms of the road,” said Robinson. “There are timing issues involved regarding funding for airport projects.”

 Robinson said that mixing aircraft, automobiles and how road access is controlled are a major concern to the FAA.

“You can’t have freedom to move through operational areas where you have aircraft,” Robinson said.

A motion was presented by Jim Piva: To approve the proposed GPA amendment and vacation of Montecito Road with the proviso that the planning group accepts a conceptual northern evacuation route with the county’s good faith and support of developing a permanent northern route circulation element in the same vicinity as the northern emergency evacuation route. The motion was passed 8-4, with planning group members Chad Anderson, Torry Brean, Dennis Grimes and Angus Tobiason casting dissenting votes.

In other business, Thomas Blake of Coast Income Properties introduced himself to the planning group. Coast Income Properties has taken over development of a proposed Ramona retail center on Highway 67 that was first presented to the group in November 2008.

“We want to work with you and make a center that the community of Ramona will be proud of,” said Blake.

The San Diego-based company has been in business for 28 years and plans to return to the planning group in May to present ideas and seek RCPG input for the project.

“We think the existing site plan is pretty basic and want to greatly improve upon it,” Blake said.

Coast Income Properties has filed a plan amendment application with the county and hopes with future meetings to engage the community in a discussion about the proposed center.

“We are very interested in the project and look forward to working with you,” Blake said.

   
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