By Karen Brainard
Before voting to appeal San Diego County Planning Commission’s approval to expand Hidden Valley Ranch rehabilitation center, Ramona Community Planning Group blasted the commission for ignoring local concerns.
RCPG Chair Jim Piva, Vice Chair Bob Hailey and Secretary Kristi Mansolf, along with neighbors of the residential care facility on Highland Valley Road, attended the July 22 county commission meeting and spoke against the expansion because of its scope, potential for an increase in walk-away patients and in traffic, and possible impact on emergency services.
Hailey said the county commissioners approved the expansion “without hesitation.”
“I think we were all in shock when they said, ‘OK, ready, vote.’ It was boom, 7-0,” said Piva.
Some of the neighbors formed the Highland Valley Road Alliance and paid $500 to file an appeal against the decision.
Sandee Salvatore, speaking for herself and the Highland Valley Road Alliance, said: “I have never seen a more blatant display of good ‘ole boy politics than what I watched down there. It is a fact that we don’t trust any of them down there.”
She added that the alliance is in the process of interviewing an attorney for professional representation, “because I think we were all blown off by the planning commission.”
Hidden Valley Ranch Rehabilitation Services Inc. provides residential treatment for brain-injured adults. Owner Kevin O’Connor is seeking a major use permit modification to expand his operation on Highland Valley Road. The expansion would increase the number of residents from 13 to 52 and staff members from 8 to 25, and allow construction of five new buildings totaling 23,252 square feet on his 25 acres. The construction would be phased over 10 years.
On July 7, the Ramona planning group, an elected advisory group to the county, rejected the expansion after listening to the neighbors’ complaints and concerns about the growth of the operation. The county commission voted 7-0 in favor, and went against recommendations from the county Department of Planning and Land Use by allowing an on-site package treatment plant for sewer. DPLU had recommended O’Connor pay for a sewer line extension and connection to Ramona’s Santa Maria wastewater treatment plant.
Mansolf said the county commission approved the major use permit modification with a few conditions including annual meetings with a select number of nearby residents to resolve issues, stating on advertisements that highly aggressive patients are not allowed, and allowing a package treatment plant until sewer service is expanded to that area.
“We all feel bad about the folks that are there,” said Piva.
He noted that neighbors have shown they care by returning patients who have walked off the ranch property. But, he added, what should have been a neighborly situation has turned adversarial because of the way it was handled.
Before voting on the appeal, RCPG member Dennis Sprong said he was not opposed to some construction at the Highland Valley property but the proposed size and scope was too much.
Mansolf said she had already filed the appeal, but to make it official a vote of approval was necessary.
The appeal passed with 10 votes. Eb Hogervorst abstained because of conflict of interest. Members Angus Tobiason, Richard Tomlinson, Carl Hickman and Matt Deskovick were absent.
In other business at the meeting:
•Hailey announced that the planning group will conduct a workshop to identify flooding issues in the community on Oct. 13 or 20 with county representation.
•The planning group unanimously approved an administrative permit request for Milagro Farm Vineyard and Winery on Littlepage Road so it can hold events and weddings at the site.
•A request from Dyocore to construct four wind turbines and one inverter to be mounted on a roof on the Locke property on Tombill Road did not receive enough votes from the planning group. One resident spoke out against the project, saying it would be an eyesore. Voting yes were Hogervorst, Piva, Chad Anderson, Torry Brean, and Chris Anderson. Voting against were Hailey, Mansolf, Sprong and Paul Stykel. Kevin Wallace and Scotty Ensign abstained. Eight votes are needed for a recommendation to be sent to the county.