The opposition to the plans to close the San Luis Rey Downs golf course and turn the land into a mitigation bank will include a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers from Bonsall Unified School District superintendent Justin Cunningham.
Although the topic was a non-voting agenda item at the March 13 BUSD board meeting, the board members orally directed Cunningham to write a letter in opposition. The areas of concern included community sentiment, fire risk, and property values.
“It’s a fantastic community and this is something that seems to be pretty overwhelming that they don’t want this to occur,” Cunningham said.
Conservation Land Group, Inc., has an option to buy approximately 185 acres, including the golf course, from the Vessels family. CLG is a mitigation bank management company and has filed an application with the Army Corps of Engineers to create the Moosa Creek Mitigation Bank. The property includes approximately 38 acres of wetlands and 5.75 acres of non-wetland waters, and CLG would rehabilitate and re-establish riverline and depressional wetlands and restore wetland and non-wetland riparian habitat.
If the Army Corps of Engineers approves the land as a mitigation bank, developers of property elsewhere could purchase mitigation credits which would be used to fulfill those projects’ off-site mitigation requirements. The Army Corps of Engineers will evaluate impacts to the public interest during its decision whether to authorize the land as a mitigation bank.
Cunningham once lived in the Scripps Ranch area of San Diego. Although he moved from Scripps Ranch prior to the October 2003 Cedar Fire, his former home burned to the ground during that fire. “I worry every time a Santa Ana comes along,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham feels more comfortable with the golf course than with a mitigation bank. “It’s a beautiful golf course. It’s something that would be a fire buffer,” he said.
The school district’s costs as well as the risk of fire to families was one of the district’s concerns. “If it does get overgrown and becomes a fire hazard, what does that do to our fire insurance?” Cunningham said.
Although some residents value open space in a natural state, the desire of nearby residents not to have the risk of fire or transients and the desire to have nearby amenities such as a golf course or tennis courts could lead to a reduction in property values of homes in the nearby area. Since the school district receives revenue from property taxes, if the mitigation bank leads to a decline in property values the school district could also be adversely affected. “Bonded indebtedness becomes an issue if property values go down,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham compared Bonsall to Poway in the 1970s. The Poway Unified School District includes Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, and 4-S Ranch. “It’s got a reputation for having good schools,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham noted that families often buy more expensive homes due to the school district’s reputation. “When people move in because they want good schools they get good schools,” he said.