Urgent Appeal to Save Our Quality of Life: Deadline September 12!

An huge increase in zoning is currently being proposed that, if approved, will permanently change San Elijo Hills, Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove.  The 69-acre property is just west of the closed San Marcos Landfill, south of San Elijo Road.  This project is called SD15 in the County and Copper Hills in the City of San Marcos.

The developer could have named this project “Toxic Hills” as this land never produced copper and County reports document (1) onsite signs of landfill leachate and/or landfill gas intrusion and (2) possible health risks to future residents and tenants.

This will change the community forever by

  • harming the character of the community;
  • dramatically increasing traffic;
  • impeding emergency evacuation and diverting fire resources; and
  • causing environmental harm to Copper Creek and neighboring habitat preserves.
  • Right now, this property is in the unincorporated County.  An amendment to the County General Plan proposes increasing SD15’s maximum density almost six-fold from 61 dwelling units (SR-1 zoning) to 362 dwelling units plus a large amount of commercial space (C-1, SR-0.5, VR-10.9 zoning).

This project will be heard at a Board of Supervisors meeting on September 12and will be approved unless citizens vocally protest. While the San Dieguito Planning Group voted against this project, County staff and the Planning Commission are recommending approval.  Nonetheless, this project can be stopped by our elected representatives if residents speak up.

Traffic Increases

If this property is rezoned, County studies report there will be an additional 16,231 average daily trips.  That is approximately a 27-fold increaseover the number of trips allowed under current zoning.  This will negatively affect quality of life.

Impedes Emergency Evacuation

Existing roads and connectors are already inadequate to provide safe exit from San Elijo Hills, Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove.  In the 2014 Cocos fire, there was traffic gridlock causing people to wait hour(s) to evacuate.  The proposed residential and commercial density will make this problem much worse.

Diversion of Fire Resources

This property will primarily rely on the San Marcos Fire Department and will divert fire protection resources from San Elijo Hills.  This property will be very difficult to defend on up to three sides from fire.  Because of the proposed density concentration, fire departments would likely prioritize this property over single family homes.

Harms to Copper Creek/Escondido Creek/San Elijo Lagoon

Copper Creek (leading to Escondido Creek and San Elijo Lagoon) is already suffering from siltation, sedimentation, scouring and flooding from projects such as this that did not adequately mitigate the impacts.  The intensity of this proposed development/hardscape will only increase the harms to the Creek and property downstream.

This project is opposed by the Escondido Creek Conservancy.

This Project Is Harmful to Habitat, Including Nearby Preserved Lands

This property serves as an important connector/corridor from the County Core to the San Marcos habitat areas.  Development of this property as proposed will fragment the habitat and decrease habitat connectivity between the County and San Marcos.  Edge effects will harm neighboring habitats and fuel modification arrangements will cut into habitat.  Light and glare effects will affect neighboring preserves and decrease resident’s quality of life.

This project is opposed by neighboring land managers, including the Center for Natural Lands Management.

County Neighbors were Held to a Double Standard

Before the County’s 2020 General Plan Update, this property and its neighbors were all zoned 1 dwelling unit per 2 acres.  As a result of General Plan 2020, this property was already doubled in density to 1 dwelling unit per 1 acre while its County neighbors lost their density and are now zoned 1 dwelling unit per 10 acres.  That means this project will have 52.5 timesthe density of its County neighbors.  This just isn’t fair!

Landfill Dangers

There have long been concerns with the San Marcos landfill.  The landfill is mostly unlined and took 18.75 million tons of material between 1979 and 1997.  The landfill reportedly accepted residential, commercial and agricultural waste including paint and paint thinners, oil, treated sewage sludge and medical waste. No laws prevented “certain types of low level radioactive waste, known as decommissioned materials” from disposal in the San Marcos Landfill.

A 2017 letter from the County about SD15 states, “While the San Marcos Landfill has closed, it can be expected to remain biologically active and generate landfill gas and leachate for more than 30-50 years after closure.”  Monitoring may need to continue forever.

The County writes that “Landfill gas represents a health and safety issue” and gas can “migrate off site.”  Landfill gases “can pose an explosion and human health threat.”

SD15’s onsite groundwater monitoring wells are detecting toxic chemicals of concern (“COCs”).  According to the County, there are two likely sources: landfill leachate and landfill gases. Per County documents, “[t]he source of COCs outside the waste area is likely due to migration of [landfill gas] and, to a lesser degree, leachate.”  County letters concerning SD15 state that “Landfill gas has been documented to travel in the subsurface 1,000 feet or more from the source.  The underlying geology of [SD15] is fractured rock, which adds another layer of complexity to potential gas migration.”

County maps show that most of the groundwater from the landfill flows towards the west, towards SD15/Copper Hills.

News articlesreport that the San Marcos landfill “is leaching chemicals known to cause cancer, reproductive harm and other health problems.”  It continues, “officials said that because these chemicals don’t occur naturally, any leak exceeds standards set for those sites” and “[a]ny volatile (organic compound) that’s detected in groundwater is an indication of release from the landfills” (emphasis added).

Unfortunately, the County has limited ability to protect residents/tenants from landfill gases and landfill gases.  The County has stated that the Solid Waste Local Enforcement Agency “has no regulatory authorityto require [this] Project to be constructed with measures to mitigate the effects of the landfill” (emphasis added).

The County has only the power to requestDepartment of Environmental Health monitoring of residents, resident notification of landfill proximity, and installation of landfill gas mitigation measures such as explosion-proof conduits/sealing, use of a gas migration barrier with passive venting and hard-wired methane detectors.  Will this developer follow the County’s requests?

In 1999, eighty acres of San Elijo Hills was condemned by the County as a landfill buffer.  News reportsstate the condemned land was located 1000 feet to 1.5 miles away from the landfill.  SD15/Copper Hills is within 1000 feet of the landfill.

This property should not be aggressively developed and this project should be stopped.

Doesn’t this project include a Boys and Girls Club?

As the property is currently zoned for 61 homes only, with no commercial zoning, it is highly unlikely that there is any definite plan for any specific commercial tenant. I have seen real estate developers frequently make big promises to push through their projects.  Often these promises are not kept and communities disappointed.

Real Estate Speculators Should Not Benefit at the Expense of Neighbors

This property was purchased by the developer, Steven A. Bieri, for only $48,755 per acre.  That price reflects that this land is not suitable for intensive development.  Now, these real estate speculators want to benefit themselves at the expense of the San Elijo Hills, Harmony Grove and Elfin Forest communities.

Take Action:

We can build a better world for our families and children by speaking up because every voice matters in local politics.  The more public input, using different communications methods, the greater likelihood that we can preserve the community:

  • Oppose this in person at the Board of Supervisors Meetingon September 12, 2018at County Administration Center (CAC), Room 310 (Board Chambers), 1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego;
  • Contact all five County Supervisorsvia Email, Facebook and Twitter opposing the project;
Supervisor’s email address Supervisor’s Chief of Staff email address Facebook Twitter
greg.cox@sdcounty.ca.gov danny.melgoza@sdcounty.ca.gov Gcoxsdcounty @SupervisorCox
dianne.jacob@sdcounty.ca.gov jeff.collins@sdcounty.ca.gov dianne.jacob.58 @dianne_jacob
kristin.gaspar@sdcounty.ca.gov dustin.steiner@sdcounty.ca.gov SupervisorKristinGaspar @kristindgaspar
ron-roberts@sdcounty.ca.gov salvatore.giametta@sdcounty.ca.gov SupervisorRonRoberts @RonRobertsSD
bill.horn@sdcounty.ca.gov Darren.Gretler@sdcounty.ca.gov SupervisorHorn @SupervisorHorn
  • Sign a petition;
  • Share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to take action;
  • Read moreand sign up to the mailing list.The developer is also processing this project in the City of San Marcos that will also need public input.




Planning Commission Approved SD15 Based on Misunderstanding

This County Planning Commission made a motion to advance the SD15 project.  However, the Planning Commission did not understand what they approved.

SD15 is a 69-acre property. The SD15 Property Specific Request General Plan Amendment would increase zoning from 61 dwelling units (existing) to 362 dwelling units plus commercial space. The Planning Commission approved SD15 on the basis that it was a 550-acre parcel. Commissioner Edwards made the motion and mentioned the 550-acre parcel size twice.

The Planning Commission was confused because the 69-acre parcel is within a 550-acre “County island” between the cities of San Marcos, Carlsbad and Encinitas. Other County island properties, including adjacent land, lost zoning earlier in the County General Plan 2020 process to 1 dwelling unit per ten acres. No wonder the Planning Commission got it wrong:  it makes no sense for one property to have 52.5 times the residential density of its next door neighbors (not including the additional commercial density).

Our democracy requires governmental planning decisions be based on facts.

Please see video snippets of the Planning Commission Meeting. These were taken just after the 5:00 mark of the publicly available video.

See 1-minute video excerpt where the reference to a 550-acre parcel is mentioned.


SD15/Copper Hills’ density shouldn’t be increased due to significant problems

Did you know you could buy land in North County land adjacent to San Marcos in 2004, just miles from the Pacific Ocean, for $48,755 per acre? In 2004, at a peak point in the real estate market, a 68.84 acre parcel that abuts San Elijo Road was sold for $3,356,298.  More recently, the assessed value was $59,731 per acre ($4,111,940).

Why is this price so low?

This property has problems and should not be aggressively developed:

  • This property is located next to a closed landfill known to be releasing harmful gases and/or landfill leachate
    • Landfill gases and/or leaking leachate have caused San Marcos Landfill groundwater wells to test positive for “Constituents of Concern”
      • This parcel has an onsite groundwater monitoring well
    • Landfill gases may be released from the fractured rock onto this property according to a County of San Diego letter dated March 14, 2017
  • It is a Key habitat area
    • County maps show sensitive and endangered plant and animal communities onsite
    • This is a property that is mapped as a pre-approved preserve/mitigation area
    • It is surrounded by habitat preserves and provides both a connection and buffer zone to existing habitat areas

The developers bought this property at habitat prices knowing that it had issues that could prevent full development. The property currently is zoned to allow 61 homes.  The developer has applied to the City of San Marcos requesting 138,710 sq. ft. commercial/light industrial, 189 residential apartments and 120 attached condos. The developer is hedging its bets and simultaneously pursuing a zoning change in the County of San Diego requesting zoning that allows an estimated 362 dwelling units plus commercial space.

Upzoning this property is completely inappropriate given the habitat and landfill related issues of this property.

Learn more about SD15/Copper Hills’ significant risks

For a deep dive into items mentioned in the urgent appeal above, please see our IER response letter. It contains significant additional information about the San Marcos landfill

A recent water monitoring report is available here. Per the attached maps, groundwater monitoring well SMGW-40 is located on SD15/Copper Hills.  Groundwater monitoring well SMGW-39 appears to be located immediately adjacent to SD15/Copper Hills.

San Marcos landfill documents, and additional monitoring reports, can be accessed on the Regional Water Quality Control Board website. Most applicable documents are under the Site Maps / Documents tab.

Zoning requests have been published online by the County of San Diego (under San Dieguito 15/SD15) and City of San Marcos. The County link also contains the Environmental Impact Report which is required to articulate all impacts to the community.  This describes neighborhood impacts including the number of estimated additional daily vehicle trips, new light and glare effects, habitat loss and others.

Is Copper Hills Contaminated by the San Marcos Landfill?

In a letter to the City of San Marcos, the County of San Diego has raised concerns that there may be health impacts to future residents and tenants of Copper Hills from landfill gas. According to the County, “[t]hese gases can pose an explosion and human health threat.” They have requested for the Department of Environmental Health to monitor residents for health impacts and also to monitor the presence of landfill gases inside the buildings.

In 2017, the County of San Diego wrote about Copper Hills:

“The proposed project is located less than 1,000 feet from the disposal area of the closed San Marcos landfill. While the San Marcos Landfill has closed, it can be expected to remain biologically active and generate landfill gas and leachate for more than 30-50 years after closure. Landfill gas has been documented to travel in the subsurface 1,000 feet or more from the source. The underlying geology of the area is fractured rock, which adds another layer of complexity to potential gas migration.”

“Landfill gas consists of approximately 50% methane and 50% carbon dioxide. Trace amounts of non-methane organics and air toxics are also found in landfill gas. These gases can pose an explosion and human health threat. The lower explosive limit for methane is 5% methane in air.”

Because SD15 is not located “on” the Landfill property, the Solid Waste Local Enforcement Agency “has no regulatory authority to require the Project to be constructed with measures to mitigate the effects of the landfill” (emphasis added).

The County has only the power to request the following:

  • Enrollment into the Department of Environment Health’s Voluntary Assessment Program “for evaluation of the health risks associated with a project in such close proximity to a closed landfill”; and
  • Notification to residents and purchasers of proximity to the San Marcos Landfill.
  • To mitigate landfill gas migration, within 1000 feet,
    • Explosion proof conduits/sealing;
    • Trench dams in utility trenches;
    • Use of a gas migration barrier with passive venting; and
    • Hard-wired methane detectors.

Read the full County letter here.

We believe that land that is potentially contaminated should not be massively upzoned from a maximum of 61 dwellings (current zoning) to 351 dwellings plus 138,710 square foot of commercial space (as proposed).

Will the developer, Stephen A. Bieri, follow County staff advice? Or will he put his financial interests in front of the health and safety of future tenants and residents? Stay tuned!

Help us oppose this project!

Help stop aggressive Copper Hills development

Have you heard about the newly proposed Copper Hills project?

Copper Hills is highly aggressive and will permanently harm the quality of life in our neighborhood.

The project developer, Stephen A. Bieri, is seeking to aggressively upzone the property from a County Semi-Rural Residential (SR-1), which allows for a maximum of 61 homes, to a new zoning that would allow up to 138,000 sq. ft. of commercial space and 350+ dwelling units!

There are many problems with this aggressive project, including:

  • impacts from a neighboring unlined landfill where the County of San Diego has asked to monitor possible health effects to residents/tenants;
  • harm to the environment, fauna and flora and to surrounding habitat preserves;
  • significant disruption to our quality of life, due to increases in traffic, noise and dirt.

These issues will be covered in details in future posts.

Our community needs your help to stop this bad project! We can stop this project by critical and factual public involvement with the County of San Diego and the City of San Marcos. Each step in this process allows for significant public comment and involvement, so there is an opportunity to get our voice heard.

A community is coming together to oppose these projects. Please join our mailing list to learn more about the problems with this project and how these changes will harm your day-to-day quality of life. We will also help you ensure your voice is heard on these important issues.

Contact us for me information.