By Karen Brainard
The biggest complaint about the proposed emergency evacuation route at the Ramona Community Planning Group (RCPG) meeting was not the route but the proposed lighting and how it could impact wildlife and endangered species in the county Grasslands Preserve.
Beyond that, most residents who either attended the emergency evacuation route open house Thursday morning, Nov. 1, or the planning group meeting that night were supportive.
“I support any means to increase our town’s ability to evacuate,” resident Rick Morgal said at the meeting. He commended the planning group on taking action, but said that, due to energy waste and environmental issues, he was against proposed low pressure sodium lights mounted on utility poles that would remain on at night.
The lights were proposed by a representative of San Diego Gas & Electric in response to concerns about the danger of driving near utility poles and guy wires. SDG&E’s Rick Gardner said they could move the guy wires and suggested installing low pressure sodium amber lights that would be shielded downward on the three poles for better visibility. They would not have the ability to turn the lights on and off, he said.
“Some people said it won’t be safe without lights,”said RCPG Chair Jim Piva, noting the light option is not a done deal.
Vivian Osborn called the lighting ludicrous. She suggested guardrails along the route with reflectors. “That’s all the lighting they would need out there,” she said.
The proposed route begins off Montecito Way, just north of El Paso Street at a gate on the county grasslands.
Those who attended the open house caravaned for a mile on a one-lane, hard-packed dirt road that went past an old rodeo ground, grazing land, and utility poles, and wound around hills on the former Davis-Eagle Ranch until it ended at the property line of the Ramona Municipal Water District.
Piva said that the route would turn right on the low grass of county property and then turn left onto the water district land where it would continue on a 12-foot dirt track that runs alongside a barbed wire fence. SDG&E has utility poles just on the other side of the fence.
The route along the RMWD property would lead to Rangeland Road just outside the entrance to the gated Highland Hills development. Evacuees could follow Rangeland to Highland Valley Road and either take Highland Valley Road north to the 15 freeway or access State Route 67. They could also take Highland Valley Road to Archie Moore Road to Route 67.
Carol Angus, who lost her house in the Highland Hills area in the 2007 Witch fire, was at the open house.
“We evacuated through heavy smoke to Rangeland Road,” she recalled. Angus said lights make visibility worse in heavy smoke and a delineation in the road would work best.
At the RCPG meeting, Angus said her other concern was that a stream of evacuees driving off the water district property onto Rangeland Road could cause a problem for Highland Hills homeowners.
“We have only one way out which is through that gate. How do we get out when there’s a big long line of traffic, and who’s going to let us into the traffic?” she asked. She suggested traffic control at that location.
Mischa Dobrotin said he was in favor of the route although he found it a little “circuitous.” He added that approximately 60 percent of residents say they do not plan to evacuate.
Angus noted all the precautions that were taken to protect her home but they still couldn’t save it. “So my advice to everyone is, when they say evacuate, please evacuate.”
Angus warned that the fire sucks oxygen out of the air. “You pass out or your car quits and you’re stuck, or you pass out and then you die of smoke inhalation.”
Also in favor of the route were Jack and Lynn Brandon, who live in San Diego Country Estates. Jack Brandon said that during the 2007 fire they were stuck on San Vicente Road between Warnock Drive and the Estates. He said they could see a glow on the other side of a hill.
“We learned what fear was,” Brandon told the planning group.
Some residents wondered about improvements to the dirt road or grading.
Mike Robinson, deputy director of the county’s Department of Public Works transportation division, who is also a registered civil and traffic engineer said the route is driveable.
As for grading, he said, “This is all sustainable land so we can’t do anything to it.” Robinson said the county would set out signs to designate the route.
Piva said the sheriff’s department, California Highway Patrol and Ramona Fire Department/Cal Fire will have keys to open the gates that are at the beginning and end of the unpaved route.
The county and the water district are still working on negotiating a draft agreement to utilize the district’s Santa Maria sewer plant spray field property for the route. That property is needed to link the grasslands to Rangeland Road.
Among the cows grazing on the property were spray cannons used by RMWD to spray effluent. If anyone veered off the route and hit a spray cannon, the plant would
probably not be able to treat the sewage, RMWD General Manager David Barnum said.