The Castlerock Project, with its yet to be built 283 single-family homes, 147 multi-family homes, four-acre public park, and about 1,000 residents, is one step closer to being part of Santee when constructed.
The land isn't part of Santee yet. The next step in order to complete the annexation is for the city and Padre Dam Water District to file an application with the Local Agency Formation Commission.
Under the annexation scenario the developed portion would be detached from the City of San Diego and become part of Santee, with most of the open space areas remaining with San Diego as part of Mission Trails Regional Park.
Many opponents to the project spoke before the council with complaints including flooding and landslide issues that they fear would be exacerbated by the project, wildfire and emergency access issues, traffic problems that already impact commutes along Mast Boulevard and more. Many speakers said they felt Santee was being held hostage in this situation because the project was already approved by the City of San Diego and the only clear choice before the Santee City Council was whether to make the development part of Santee.
"How is it possible that one city can force a sub-par project on another?" Teresa McCarthy asked the council.
In response to speaker concerns, a representative with the Padre Dam Water District said that current water management plans account for this project and that previous drainage concerns have been dealt with by the developer runoff by project would be at or below current conditions.
Jimmy Ayala, a Pardee Homes representative, added that residents below the project will see an improvement in the water runoff situation and that the project includes a 100-foot brush management area on the west and north side that doesn't exist now.
"The hillsides in Santee are part of what makes it a special place," said Collinsworth.
On that note, City staff confirmed that "ridge lines will be preserved, but slopes may be altered" along part of that hillside.
Councilmember Jack Dale bluntly asked Steve Houlahan, an opponent to the project, what he proposes the city do.
"They've got an approved project," said Dale. "If Pardee wants to build it, they can build it. There's nothing we can do to stop them."
Santee City Attorney Sean Haggerty confirmed that fact numerous times.Santee City Manager Keith Till said the city has gone on record formally opposed to this project and the council has exercised every method available to prevent the project from impacting the city negatively, but that annexation is the best option now that San Diego has approved the project.
"If we annex and the project stalls, we lose nothing," said Till. "Preserving the right to annex is the overwhelmingly best option for residents and business owners in Santee."Till said that Santee is the only entity that can provide emergency response and practically all other services to Castlerock.
When the project is constructed the city stands to receive $6.7 million in developer fees and a net increase of $102,584 annually to the general fund from property and utility taxes, according to city staff. Those benefits would go to San Diego if Santee didn't choose to annex.
"We support this because Santee must control it's own destiny," said Phil Conner, president of the Sunset Greens Homeowners Association in Santee.
Mayor Randy Voepel concluded the council's discussion on the matter by asking if the city attorney, manager or anyone in the public could think of anything the council could do to delay or kill the project, or "cry out in the dark." The few ideas that had already been suggested were shot down by the city attorney.
The council said they lamented the idea of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on another court battle, like the fight against the Las Colinas expansion, that they probably wouldn't win. Voepel said he didn't think a judge in the county would rule against San Diego in Santee's favor.
"If we vote against the annexation, trust me, San Diego's long knives will come out," Voepel said.
During the hearing public speakers asked why the raw land wasn't annexed to Santee first, so that Pardee Home could work directly with city of Santee planners to approve a project. In fact, Councilmember Jack Dale said meetings with Pardee throughout the ten years the project has been in planning led him to believe the developer specifically chose not to do that.
A defeated looking city council voted 3-2 to approve the annexation, with John Ryan and John Minto voting no.
But, the Mayor kept up a bit of hope for the many opponents to the project in the room, referring to the "unpredictable" courtroom tactics of local activists that have been successful in the past.
"I recommend Pardee not underestimate Collinsworth and his group (Preserve Wild Santee)," he said.
Voepel's last word on the subject to the audience: "I'd like to remind everyone- this isn't over yet."