The Lilac Hills Ranch development project was recently approved by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors for public vote on the November ballot, to the dismay of many rural residents — particularly the subtly named San Diegans Against Lilac Hills Ranch.

The Lilac Hills Ranch Specific Plan Initiative for an Eco-Smart Village Providing Housing Opportunities for San Diego Families — economically abbreviated as the LHR-SP — seeks to rezone the project site from rural, agricultural use to single family residential (SFR) and commercial use. The proposed site for the project is the western portion of the Valley Center Community Plan Area in San Diego County, about seven miles north of Escondido along I-15.

The LHR-SP includes plans for:

  • 903 single-family detached units;
  • 164 single-family attached units;
  • 211 mixed-use units; and
  • 468 single-family detached units designated for senior residents.

This total housing addition of 1,746 units will increase the rural Valley Center area’s population by a full 22%, according to the initiative. Thus, the development requires significant extension of public resources, such as fire safety personnel, a school and widened roads — responsibilities from which the developer requests exception.

Opponents to the LHR-SP claim the developer will not ultimately deliver on its promise of a new school within the development, and view its sought exception from county road and fire safety standards as a mark of negligence. The San Diegans Against Lilac Hills Ranch align themselves with traditional not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) protests, citing agricultural preservation as the main reason the development ought not be passed by voters.

Rural and urban development in San Diego

Despite opposition to the LHR-SP, the additional housing the project promises for San Diego County is critical to sustaining current employment levels and businesses, in the greater metropolitan area. Urban housing in San Diego proper and neighboring coastal cities is increasingly scarce, and thus artificially more expensive due to lack of zoning that permits more housing. San Diego ranked high in lists of metropolitan areas with the least housing inventory and worst starter-home conditions in 2016, emphasizing the lack of housing within reach for local low- and middle-income buyers and renters.

Although most homebuyer and renter traffic aims for housing within reach of urban workplaces, insatiable demand often prevents hopefuls from securing housing in their ideal locations. Instead, San Diegans who are able need to consider alternatives like the LHR-SP development project as less central but more readily available housing options. The entire Valley Center area holds a population of approximately 19,000 across 94 miles — mere pocket change compared to nearby Escondido’s 143,900 city residents.

Editor’s note — U.S. Census data shows a population of 9,872 in the Valley Center Census-Designated Place (CDP). However, this data covers only about 27 miles of the total 94-mile Valley Center Community Plan Area.

However, building in rural areas does little to alleviate urban housing problems caused by business growth encouraged by local agencies. The LHR-SP may ultimately have little effect on San Diego urbanites seeking homes, unless buyers and renters are willing to commute from the project site to their jobs in various surrounding cities.

Regardless, adding new housing to the inventory is a forward step in California’s employee-impacted markets. San Diego County particularly suffers a lack of SFRs, cultivating instead more multi-family construction. The addition of 1,746 total SFRs in the Valley Center area might provide the first bit of wiggle room San Diego County has seen since the Millennium Boom.