Update: Hear our interviews with Stephen Houlahan and Preserve Wild Santee leader Van Collinsworth on environmental issues in Santee by clicking the audio link above.
Photo: Councilman Jack Dale moderated meeting on Castlerock project November 29 with elected officials, city workers, and representatives from developer Pardee Homes.
December 3, 2016 (Santee) -- Angry residents near the Castlerock housing project lashed out at Santee city officials and representatives from developer Pardee Homes during a public meeting November 29, saying the way the project is unfolding is nothing like the plans they saw earlier this year.
In a packed Santee City Council chambers, about a dozen speakers, mostly residents who live near the 415-unit residential development now under construction, complained about issues involving water drainage, slope heights, dirt and dust caused by trucks, and concerns over future traffic congestion.
Several said they were upset with the Council for not doing more to prevent the project from being built and for Santee annexing the 204-acre site three years ago.
“I know we’re not going to undo it, but we’re just tired of this….This was simply stuffed down our throats,” said Roslind Vardrese who lives near Castlerock.
Plans for Castlerock go back more than a decade, but were vetted entirely by the city of San Diego, where the property was previously located. After Pardee obtained approval for the project from San Diego, that city and Santee brokered an agreement for the latter to annex the land.
The rationale was that Santee was going to provide all the required services such as fire, police, and water to Castlerock residents, so Santee might as well collect all the property taxes to help pay for those services rather than letting those taxes flow back to San Diego.
“We would be providing all the services without getting any of the property taxes. We decided it would be better to annex it,” said Santee Councilman Jack Dale, who acted as moderator for the two and half hour meeting.
Several residents said the grading taking place behind their homes on Medina Drive is nothing like the plans the developer laid out to them in earlier meetings. They said the elevations for the project are far higher than anything they were led to believe.
“Ten feet I can handle,” said Jean Toscano, whose home abuts the development. “But they keep building it and building it. It’s not a gentle slope. We all feel like we’ve been lied to.”
Plans highlighted by Pardee officials show elevations above the existing homes at 55 feet, which some residents referred to as a “mountain,” effectively eliminating their privacy.
Toscano and others said the impending traffic from Castlerock will essentially lead to massive gridlock on Mast Boulevard, which is already overburdened at peak commute times.
“You have 415 homes times a minimum of two cars so that’s 800 plus cars,” she said. “I can’t get off Medina Drive in the morning.”
While developers noted an additional lane on Mast Boulevard will be added, that won’t occur until the project is almost completed next summer. Dale noted that a possible widening of Highway 52 to relieve congestion won’t happen until 2050.
Alan Kashani, director of project management for Pardee Homes, explained that the plans presented to the city and residents in earlier sessions are the same and haven’t changed.
He said while the current grading has caused some slides from the recent heavy rains, when the project is completed it will do a much better job of removing storm water than what is currently in place. A series of drainage ditches installed at various elevations will ultimately deliver runoff down the slopes and greatly reduce potential flooding, he said.
He noted that Pardee had to post bonds to ensure that the project is done correctly, and it would forfeit those funds if it’s not in compliance.
Several residents said heavy trucks traveling to and from the neighborhood were creating dust storms and speeding, endangering children. One resident said his solar panels were in constant need of cleaning because of all the dust, and that Pardee should pay for the cleaning.
Pardee officials said they want to address any complaints about the project and that residents can call them at any time if they feel there is any problems involving construction. The number is 858-737-7956; the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Houlahan, who was elected to the council this month after an aggressive campaign emphasizing limiting new development, raised the possibility of future housing in the area next to Castlerock inside the city of San Diego borders.
Barrett Tetlow, chief of staff for San Diego Councilman Scott Sherman whose district abuts Santee’s western border, said while there are a few homeowners in the area, nobody has submitted any development plans. Even if they do, the land is constrained by an open space zoning that limits building to no more than 25 percent of the land, Tetlow said.
“No one’s planning a new Tierrasanta in the East Elliot area,” he said, referring to the land around Mission Trails Park.
Dale asked Tetlow if San Diego would consider letting Santee annex some of the nearby land to avoid a similar possible controversy as Castlerock, to which Tetlow said the city would be open to that conversation.
Dale closed the meeting with pointing out the obvious to the assembled developer representatives and city workers. “I have to be honest with you. We don’t dig this thing.”