While a long-delayed habitat plan is making progress, sprawl development threatens the General Plan.

For several months, Endangered Habitats League has been serving on the Steering Committee, a stakeholder advisor group, for the North County Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP). This plan would complement the existing MSCP for the South County. Few large “core areas” of habitat remain in the North County, and maintaining connectivity is a key objective.

The Steering Committee is slowly working through issues like the number of species to be conserved, implementation mechanisms to assemble the preserve, and management responsibilities. While much remains to be resolved, including if proposed development projects are compatible with the plan, we cannot lose this opportunity to create an ecological legacy. EHL is encouraged by the County’s commitment to the plan and expects a draft to review later this year.

On a parallel track are development threats to San Diego’s backcountry, with a veritable onslaught of suburban sprawl projects being proposed in rural locations. Voters rejected one project – Lilac Hills Ranch in Valley Center – in a 2016 ballot measure. Given the ability of the General Plan, adopted in 2011, to accommodate anticipated population growth in existing towns and villages, none of these proposals is necessary. Equally worrisome is a massive Board of Supervisors initiative to put more dispersed, fire-prone estate lots in rural areas.

Some of the development projects directly threaten habitat needed for the North County MSCP. Newland Sierra in the Merriam Mountains would cut off north-south connectivity. Yet, irrespective of wildlife agency advice, the County has chosen to place it into the draft plan at the developer’s request. The Warner Ranch project would induce growth into the entire Pauma Valley. Two annexations – San Marcos’s Highlands and Escondido’s Safari Ranch – block a wildlife corridor and fragment a core habitat area, respectively. EHL filed extensive CEQA comments on the Warner Ranch proposal and we will also comment on the other projects as they more forward.

It is time for the County Department of Planning and Development Services to step forward as a voice for the sound planning inherent in the General Plan, and for the Board of Supervisors to assume leadership in defending it.