Water board hesitant to allow property for evacuation use

By Karen Brainard

It’s the county versus Ramona Municipal Water District in the final stage of designating an emergency evacuation route, and the Ramona Community Planning Group appears to be caught in the middle.

An open house will be held for the public to view and drive on the county’s segment of the route on Nov. 1 at 10:30 a.m., beginning on Montecito Way.

At its Oct. 23 meeting, the water board was asked by staff how it wants to proceed with the county’s draft agreement to use a portion of RMWD property for the evacuation route. Amid concerns of liability, indemnification, and environmental issues, the directors suggested possible negotiating points with the county. A land swap or removal of the county’s lien on RMWD’s San Vicente Wastewater Reclamation Plant site were two points mentioned.

Ramona Community Planning Group Chair Jim Piva, who said he has been working to establish this route for four years, appealed to the board.

“What’s important is not to get lost in the weeds, if you will,” he said. “There’s no harm in establishing this evacuation route.”

Piva called the route a relief valve in case Main Street is clogged during an emergency.

RMWD Director Darrell Beck noted that the portion of the route proposed for the district’s Santa Maria sewer plant property is pasture and is used for sprayfields.

“This idea is well intended, but it doesn’t make much sense to me,” he said.

The proposed route would start on Montecito Way just north of El Paso Street and take drivers on an existing dirt ranch road across county grasslands, then through a strip of RMWD property to reach Rangeland Road. From Rangeland, evacuees could take Highland Valley Road and continue to the 15 freeway or turn on Archie Moore Road to head to State Route 67.

Beck said the county abandoned two road plans on the north end that would have been much better suited for evacuation routes. Montecito Road could have connected with Rangeland Road, he said, but was vacated in 2009 because of the grasslands and the airport. A proposed SA 603, which was on the county circulation element, would have headed down into the San Pasqual Valley and come out near the Westfield shopping center mall, he said. That route disappeared from the map when the San Dieguito River Park was established, Beck said.

RMWD General Manager David Barnum noted that the board recognizes the route is a top priority for the community, but it has a fiduciary responsibility to utilize the district’s assets appropriately.

“Your role certainly is colored through the glasses of your position,” he told the board.

Director Joe Zenovic asked whether the district could be fined if people drive over the federally-protected Stephens’ kangaroo rats that have been found in that area.

Legal Counsel Brooke Miller with Best Best & Krieger said the county has waived the environmental regulations. Miller also said she approves of the county’s request to use a self-insurance option instead of third-party insurance for liability, and gave her recommendations on the indemnification clause in the draft agreement.

The board agreed to have the ad hoc committee of Beck and Bryan Wadlington, board president, review the draft agreement. Barnum said it will be brought back to the board for public review and discussion.

   
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