By Karen Brainard
Negative impacts of environmental restrictions was a recurring subject at County Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s Ramona Revitalization Steering Committee meeting in the Ramona Library Community Room.
Jacob conducts the committee meeting twice a year and residents who serve as subcommittee chairs provide updates on such issues as parks and recreation, economic development and public safety. About 15 additional residents sat in on the May 30 meeting.
While discussing Santa Maria Creek, Ramona Community Planning Group Chair Jim Piva talked about efforts to clean up the creek bed without violating any environmental restrictions. The overgrowth in the creek bed has created concerns for public safety as it provides a place for criminals and drug users to hide and for homeless to live, according to authorities.
Sgt. Brian Hout with the sheriff’s Ramona substation reported that the sheriff’s department conducted two sweeps of the creek bed that netted numerous arrests in the past five weeks, and there appeared to be no more encampments.
Residents fear the heavy brush in the creek bed will cause future flooding and contribute fuel for fires.
Piva said he has been in contact with the Ramona Municipal Water District and it plans to begin cleaning up the creek area behind Ramona Community Park, which it owns, right after bird nesting season ends on Sept. 15, as requested by wildlife agencies. Piva said the planning group can oversee the creek bed cleanup west of Seventh Street.
When Piva was asked how the creek will be cleaned out, he responded, “Let’s just be very, very clear — there will be no tractors going into any sensitive areas at all.”
Volunteers will hand-clear trash and invasive, non-native species, and county staff will flag such plants before the cleanup begins, said Piva.
Both he and Jacob, who has been a supporter of the creek cleanup, noted they are following the guidelines set by wildlife agencies and want to do everything according to law.
“We want this to be an annual or ongoing event. We don’t want the creek to get clogged,” Piva said.
Jacob told the steering committee that the county will not forget the Santa Maria Creek Greenway Park and horse trail plans.
“Ultimately when it’s cleaned up and the trail’s in place, it’s going to reduce the undesirable elements that are making their home in this creek bed,” said Jacob.
Vernal pools in downtown Ramona were a focus of Carol Fowler’s Economic Development report. Environmental agencies have identified endangered or sensitive species inhabiting the seasonal and temporary wetland areas.
“Vernal pools do impact our economic viability,” said Fowler.
She said three areas in Ramona have been identified with a high saturation of vernal pools: behind Ramona High School, on Kalbaugh Street and on Main Street across from Stater Bros. shopping center. The latter location is next to an abandoned building that has been vandalized as illustrated by photos Fowler presented at the meeting. The building has been on the market for several years, she said.
“Everybody who is a developer is afraid of the vernal pools,” said Fowler.
She read a paragraph from the Ramona Vernal Pool Study in the North County Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) that included the statement, “Due to the tremendous threats and continuous development of the surrounding area, conservation of small, piece-meal vernal pool sites in the downtown area is management intensive and costly.”
Fowler said the building is an eyesore and a drug haven “and unless we can address this vernal pool issue within our village core we’ll probably see more of this.”
Jacob said her office has been working on the vernal pool issue and she has met with individuals who want to develop property on Main Street. The supervisor noted that the North County MSCP has not yet been adopted by the county.
“I think when it is adopted, it is going to help, not only with the mitigation for the vernal pools but it will help other people develop their property. There are a lot of benefits,” she said.
“Our biggest problem again, the wildlife agencies,” said Jacob. “I’m not trying to pass the buck or point fingers but it’s a fact. They want like mitigation, more vernal pool mitigation. It has to be in a certain area of Ramona. I mean, impossible to meet. So we’ve got to break through that barrier.”
Fowler suggested contacting elected officials at all levels and seek an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Jacob noted that CEQA is a state law, and seeking an exemption could lead to unintended results such as a lawsuit or project delays.
Fowler said the economy is ripe for development but the community could see more blight due to the restrictions.
“I want this solved, believe me, just as much as you do in this community, for a lot of reasons,” said Jacob. “We’ll keep working at it.”