Planners postpone Salvation Army vote

   After listening to a presentation on the proposed expansion of the Salvation Army Camp and Retreat on Mussey Grade Road, followed by over a dozen residents speaking in opposition, the Ramona Community Planning Group (RCPG) voted to postpone a decision on the camp until certain documents are received for review.

   The planning group voted Jan. 7 to schedule a special meeting before Jan. 22 to discuss the fire protection plan and final environmental impact report (EIR) regarding the site. Those documents were not available to the  group members at their meeting.  Information last week was that the San Diego County Planning Commission had scheduled a hearing for Jan. 22 on the expansion, but the county has since delayed the planning commissioners’ hearing until the document can be provided. Chris Anderson, planning group chair, said this week that the county will provide the document to Ramona planners before Jan. 28 so they can review the information before the group’s meeting on Feb. 4.

   Matthew Peterson of Peterson and Price, the attorney representing Salvation Army, said he heard that the fire protection plan was being fine-tuned and the final EIR was almost completed. Although he noted that a fire protection summary was included in his prepared documents, Anderson said that is Peterson’s summary and she needed to see the actual fire protection plan. She said the planning group specifically requested the fire protection plan in 2008 but still hasn’t seen it.

   “We need to see that,” said Anderson. “In my opinion, personally I can’t make a decision to vote in favor or against this, either way.”

   The Salvation Army has been trying to expand the Sierra Del Mar Divisional Camp and Retreat for almost 11 years, during which time concerns by community agencies and area residents on such issues as fire hazards, density and traffic have caused the organization to revamp their plans.

   In an effort to compromise with residents, Salvation Army has revised plans to include decreasing the maximum occupancy from 1,000 down to 615 with an alternative to further decrease it to 513, building a 650,000-gallon public water tank that would be expandable up to 800,000 gallons, and adding a “Shelter in Place” to accommodate 1,300 people in the event of a fire.

   With fire safety a hot issue for residents along Mussey Grade Road, many of whom were victims in the Cedar fire in 2003 and the Witch fire in 2007, those speaking at the meeting said that a camp with several hundred people would impact their safety should another wildfire occur.

   Louis Wolfsheimer, an attorney representing the McGuire family, which owns 300 acres of land abutting the Salvation Army site on the south, said 100 of the 190 homes burned in Ramona during the Cedar fire were on Mussey Grade. He said there are roughly 160 families on Mussey Grade Road who depend upon that road to get to Highway 67.

   Wolfsheimer said that, when former Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) Board President Robert Krysak wrote a lengthy history of governmental failures during the 2003 fire, the remarks ended by saying everyone knows that Mussey Grade Road is “a tunnel of death.”

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