Representatives from San Diego County Department of Public Works (DPLU) and the County Operations Center presented a proposed General Plan amendment to the Ramona Community Planning Group (RCPG) for possible restricted access on Montecito Road.
The area in question starts at the beginning of the Ramona Airport and extends west to Rangeland Road.
“What the amendment is proposing is to remove approximately 1.6 miles of Montecito Road from the Circulation Element,” said Gail Jurgella, a DPLU environmental planner. “By doing this, it will allow the Ramona Airport to meet the required safety regulations established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).”
Jurgella was joined during the Jan. 8 RCPG meeting by Thomas Harrington, senior land surveyor for the County Operations Center, and DPLU Project Manager Robert Goralka.
“What we’re proposing is to vacate public access to this road in order to meet FAA requirements,” said Harrington. “My standard of care in preforming a vacation of an easement is to gather your input.”
The proposed project would remove from the General Plan’s Circulation Element an improved section of the road within the Ramona Airport and an unimproved portion that extends west to Rangeland Road.
“The road would still have some degree of public access,” said Harrington. “But, it would need to be gated to meet FAA requirements.”
Several RCPG members expressed concern that emergency public access would be essential in the event of a fire in the area.
“The people of Ramona do not want to drive through your airport,” said RCPG member Angus Tobiason. “But, we are not going to let you take away that access unless you give us another route to Rangeland Road.”
An airport development project with 42 buildings for aircraft and office space is planned at the airport. The proposed gated access on Montecito Road is a federal security measure set by the FAA.
“All airports are going through this same situation,” said Harrington. “It is unfortunate, but these are the types of security issues we are dealing with.”
A county map shows an unbuilt road, SA 603, connects Cedar Street with Highland Valley Road. Land located south of this is either owned by the county, or traverses a biologically sensitive area called the Ramona Grasslands Preserve, which is habitat for sensitive, threatened, and endangered species under local, state and federal law.
“Long before the grassland was established, we begged the county for access across Montecito Road,” said Tobiason. “The county has stood by twiddling their thumbs.”
The Montecito Road issue was presented to the RCPG in June 2006, when the planners voted to delete the western, unimproved section of the road from the Circulation Element, making it consistent with the County General Plan Update.
Updates to the County General Plan 2020 began 10 years ago. Last year, after a change in DPLU leadership, the county reassessed the General Plan and scheduled completion of updates for the end of 2010.
“I have to make a finding that the vacation of a public road is in conformance with the General Plan,” said Harrington. “Since this road is in the Circulation Element, we have to present a General Plan Amendment.”
According to Harrington, making Montecito Road an ‘open public road’ is not going to happen with the current FAA safety concerns.
“It won’t go through now, and the FAA is not going to let it go through in the future,” stated Harrington.
The Ramona Airport needs to have a master plan that is certified by the FAA to maintain its operations.
“County airports are dependent on funding from federal sources,” said Jurgella. “In order to get those funds, the airports must be in compliance with FAA regulations.”
“We all lived through the fires,” said RCPG member Jim Piva. “With all due respect, there are a lot of people in this community who we must answer to.”
Piva suggested that the DPLU try to work out a deal with the county to give residents access through the area.
“You know our needs and that we have fires here,” said Piva. “There has got to be an access for the community.”
Montecito Road is currently a public access easement.
“You, I, and everybody has a right to this road,” said Harrington. “You (RCPG) need to consolidate your desires. If you want a public road through there, you will be bucking the security system. If you want emergency access down that road, then I can take that back to the county for consideration.”
Dennis Grimes, RCPG acting chair, presented a motion to the members that the issue be referred to RCPG’s Trails and Transportation Subcommittee for study and recommendations. The motion states that, due to recent wildfires, security issues, and a long-standing need for public access, the RCPG feels it is necessary to revisit previous actions taken.
“What you have proposed will provide additional information to bring to the county and help us come back with some options for the community,” Harrington said.
Jurgella told the RCPG that issues pertaining to the project are a direct result of FAA safety regulations.
“We want the airport to be safe for the community as well as everyone who uses the airport,” said Jurgella. “I want to be clear that this does not preclude the RCPG from coming up with what you would like to see for an emergency access. We want your opinions.”
“I think this ‘security thing’ has been overblown for the past six years,” said RCPG member Kathy L. Finley.
She presented a motion that the County staff provide Trails and Transportation Subcommittees a detailed presentation on FAA security requirements as they pertain to the Montecito Road vacation request. RCPG members voted unanimously in favor of the motion.
“There are all kinds of airport safety zones,” said Jurgella, who made it clear she was not speaking on behalf of the airport. “I don’t know if there are ‘specific’ safety regulations applied to Ramona’s airport, but the airport does need to be in compliance in order to get funding.”
In other business:
• RCPG member Chris Anderson was elected group chair for 2009.
• The group learned that newly elected RCPG member Beverly Maes has resigned, leaving a vacancy. Following RCPG’s standing rules, Torry Brean is next in line for the seat. Planners are expected to discuss the vacancy at their next meeting.
• Ramona resident Kenneth Brennecke addressed the RCPG regarding the issue of the proposed extension of Ramona Street. It was Brennecke’s desire to update newly elected members of the RCPG to the proposed plan.
“The county produced a road design that violated their own standards, particularly in the areas of wastewater diversion, slopes, line of site issues and driveway placement,” said Brennecke. “If the current design were to be built, it would open the county to litigation should anyone get hurt on that roadway.”
The RCPG had previously approved the proposed extension to Ramona Street as a capital improvement project. The project, drafted and planned by the San Diego County Department of Public Works, proposes to improve a 1,300-foot section of Ramona Street that has never been graded or paved. Last month, the RCPG approved a resolution requesting a different design to be submitted by the county.
“Certainly the current road design has a lot of issues,” said Grimes.
The proposed extension will be an RCPG agenda item at the Feb. 9 meeting. It is expected that representatives from Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s staff, as well as Ed Zielanski from county DPW will make a presentation to the RCPG members.
“I believe we should look to see if this project should be placed on the back burner, and other projects be brought to the forefront,” said Grimes.