By Karen Brainard
If all goes as discussed at a Sept. 27 meeting at County Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s office, an agreement for an emergency evacuation route for Ramona could be finalized by the second week of October.
Ramona Community Planning Group Chair Jim Piva, who has pushed for the route, said it will be the first emergency evacuation route established in the county since before the 2003 Cedar Fire.
“So we’re pretty groundbreaking,” Piva said at the Sept. 27 meeting.
With residents forced to flee town during the 2003 and 2007 wildfires, Piva stressed that the route is a safety issue.
“There isn’t anyone opposing this,” Piva said. “Now’s the time to do it. We’re right around the corner with fire season.”
The proposed route, to be used only for emergencies, would cut across land north of Ramona Airport and through part of the county Grassland Preserve to connect with the north property line of Ramona Municipal Water District’s Santa Maria sewer plant. From RMWD’s property it would connect to Rangeland Road, then head south to Highland Valley Road, west to Archie Moore Road and lead evacuees to State Route 67.
Although plans for the route began after the 2007 Witch wildfire, discussions stalled when the Ramona water district raised concerns about utility poles and guy wires that ran close to the designated route on district property. The water district suggested SDG&E underground its lines for safety.
Attending the Sept. 27 meeting were representatives from SDG&E, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Ramona Fire Department, Ramona Municipal Water District, Red Cross, and the county’s Office of Emergency Services, Department of Public Works, and Department of Parks and Recreation. Attending with Piva was RCPG Secretary Kristi Mansolf.
Rick Gardner, project management manager with SDG&E, said the utility has transformers at the RMWD site, and to underground the lines could cause more impediments because “green boxes” would be added. He suggested that the guy wires could be moved and reflectors or lights could be mounted on the utility poles for better visibility. Gardner said SDG&E would not be able to shut the lights off at night, but many lighting options are available so that they will not be bright.
Piva said the lighting option would be a great idea and no houses would be directly affected.
Other concerns, however, were mentioned by RMWD Engineer Mike Metts and Administrative Services Manager Mike Callahan. Metts noted that there are a couple of rock out-croppings in the area, and Callahan said the land drops off alongside the route, down to a spray field that could be wet during an evacuation.
Battalion Chief Saul Villagomez noted that safety of the residents is important, whether day or night.
“We can’t just let people run out there and not think of safety,” he said.
He suggested the route be delineated so no driver veers off.
One solution was to add reflectors on a fence that would separate the drop-off from the 12-foot designated route.
Jacob said the technical items can be worked out.
“We’re all together. We all agree there’s a solution here,” she said.
She asked that RMWD’s legal counsel and county counsel work together as soon as possible on the agreement, and said she would add it to the Oct. 9 Board of Supervisors agenda. She also asked RMWD to put the item on its Oct. 9 meeting agenda. Final sign-off on safety should be addressed by Cal Fire, DPW, the sheriff’s department, and CHP, she noted.
Mike Robinson with DPW said the route will not be graded, but will remain natural. The route will include a dirt road on the grasslands property, but only grass fields exist on the water district land.