Last-minute letter forces Highland Valley Ranch continuance

By Joe Naiman

San Diego County Board of Supervisors heard public testimony March 14 on the proposed expansion of the Highland Valley Ranch group care facility for adults with traumatic brain injuries, but a letter challenging the adequacy of the project’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance wasn’t received by the county until March 12. As a result, the supervisors continued their discussion until March 28 to allow time to analyze the letter.

The unanimous vote for the continuance also included a directive to county staff to return to the supervisors with responses to issues raised during the public comment session including information on potential groundwater contamination and stormwater runoff, additional details on the cost to connect to the Ramona Municipal Water District sewer system, whether the facility is in compliance with its original major use permit, whether all alternatives have been evaluated, and whether a registered sex offender has ever been among the facility’s residents.

“I think we’ll have all the information on the table,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

Although the supervisors are required to allow public testimony to address new information, they have the right to preclude testimony on previous issues. The supervisors also have the right to close the public record, which does not prevent members of the public from contacting individual supervisors about their concerns but does ensure that no further documents will go into the public record and prevents the possibility of another delay due to a last-minute claim.

Highland Valley Ranch is on a 25-acre site comprised of three contiguous lots with A70 limited agriculture zoning. The current major use permit, issued in October 1987, allows for 13 medically stable persons, eight non-resident staff, and the existing structures which total 13,040 square feet.

The proposed change would increase the site’s maximums to 52 residents and 25 staff members and would construct five new buildings totaling 23,252 square feet. A new entry gate, additional parking, and relocation of the main driveway access are also included in the proposal. The expansion would be conducted in three phases over 10 years.

The permit modification was approved July 22, 2011, by a 7-0 vote of the county’s Planning Commission. On Aug. 5, the Ramona Community Planning Group voted 10-0 to appeal that decision to the supervisors.

The commission placed conditions on the permit modification including annual meetings with neighbors and elimination of publicity that the facility will accept clients who are verbally or physically aggressive. Commissioners also made findings to allow an on-site wastewater treatment plant rather than connection to the water district, although the conditions include connection to the water district if the public agency ever provides sewer service to the area.

“We came to understand the good work of this facility and also the various concerns of the neighborhood,” Commissioner David Pallinger told the county supervisors.

The commission also approved the environmental Mitigated Negative Declaration. “In order to approve that we have to show substantial evidence on the record to support the findings,” said chief deputy county counsel Claudia Anzures.

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