Last Week, I received a piece of mail about the long-proposed Fanita Ranch development in the Northern city limits of Santee.
The mailing addressed me by name, and it should be noted that I am an apartment dweller (the challenges of becoming a homeowner in one of the most expensive counties in the country would be a separate post altogether).
It occurred to me that the Home Fed Corporation knew this, and what they were sending me could only be sent for political or P.R. reasons. With the pricing of the nearby Weston home development (some previous thoughts here), it is easy to see that I wouldn’t be able to afford even half a home in the future Fanita Ranch.
Fanita Ranch was first approved by voters during the very early days of Santee’s cityhood. Long delays and new property owners have meant that this development has been on the table for over 3 decades.
Much has changed over that time.
The central issue among Santee residents has been and will continue to be traffic. State Route 52 was built and was obsolete at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Built in pieces in short-sighted fashion (indeed, drive the # 1 “fast lane” from La Jolla to Santee and see how many times you have to merge left to stay in the same lane), Highway 52 has become a serious issue and problem for commuters who need to work in many of San Diego’s job centers like UTC, Sorrento Valley, and Carmel Valley. Long freeway backups caused by incomprehensible bottlenecks have been the daily life of a Santee commuter for 20 years. Although SANDAG did have the presence of mind to extend the San Diego Trolley to the Santee Town Center, the Green line only heads to Old Town. Getting to Downtown San Diego requires a change to either the Red or the Green line on the way. There is no Trolley line to the other job centers in the City that probably employ more people. In addition, the Trolley extension that is being built only extends to UCSD and UTC, leaving others without that option.
The freeway remains the only realistic way to get to work and back every day.
Home Fed Corporation has made some news about helping ease the traffic burden, but their solutions are half-baked measures that won’t actually solve the traffic problem. They seek to add another lane Westbound by the relocation of the existing bike lane (that was expensive and slow to be built) but that will in effect recreate the previous bottleneck at Santo Road. The issue isn’t really the number of lanes, it is the bottlenecks where traffic is required to merge and/or weave that creates such a huge problem. I actually think Westbound morning traffic would be worse with this fix.
Their other freeway solution is to squeeze traffic lanes on the twin bridge spans over the San Diego River. This may be possible, and on Westbound traffic would help slightly where a failure to consider those bridges created an issue where 4 lanes merge to 2.
Another idea proposed by Fanita Ranch is that their development will create additional traffic flows by the completion of Fanita Parkway, Cuyamaca Street, and Magnolia Avenue. What they are not saying is that those traffic flows would only be needed if their development was fully built! There is little need at this time to connect these three North-South streets because there aren’t people and traffic needing to use them.
Another huge problem is that SANDAG has no immediate plans to widen Highway 52, even with it being one of the County’s most congested freeways. In fact, they only have lazy long-term plans with widening not happening until 2040 (!). The traffic woes of Santee are not only not being fixed, they will not be fixed for a very long time.
Another key item that Home Fed Corporation is touting is that 76% of the land will be left as open space. What that doesn’t actually reveal is that today, 100% of the land is open space. While I don’t believe the 76% number to be true, especially when taking into account additional roads, easements, effects of wildlife corridors, and other issues, it really is spin to try to roll open space as a positive of a home development.
I also read that they are touting connections to over 30 miles of hiking and access trails. Perhaps this is true, but the only reason the access does not exist today is because of their private property! This reminded me of a key benefit noted by the Weston development. They claimed their housing tracts would reopen recreation on the Stowe Trail. This was a bait-and-switch, because it was actually through the persistent efforts of the San Diego mountain-biking community that negotiation with MCAS Miramar happened and permits were created. The housing development had nothing to do with it.
In addition, I should note that I have watched this are burn before. Nearly 100% of it burned in the 2003 Cedar Fire, and it was severely threatened during the 2007 Witch Fire. This is sad to note for future residents, but people will lose their homes at some point due to a chaparral wildfire.
What To Do About Fanita Ranch Now
You and I both know this development is going to happen. There is too much money involved. There is too much pressure on San Diego Cities to build new homes. This development, while scaled back from it’s early incarnation in the 1980s, is large and will have huge effects on the City of Santee.
My sympathies will always lie with environmentalism. I grew up loving the outdoors, and in my lifetime I have been witness to less and less of it. Suburban sprawl is a problem. All this being said, I am not out and out against home developments when they make sense.
Fanita Ranch does not. It brings too many people into an enclosed area and puts undue pressure on a commuting system that is already far past it’s designed stress. Thousands more cars on Highway 52 twice a day will be a huge negative to the City of Santee. It’s not worth it. Home Fed Corporation likely knew this objection existed when they bought the rights to the property, and nothing has changed since.
What would be my dream? It won’t happen, but I would love to see them donate the 2,600 acres to the City of Santee, who can partner with the City of San Diego to create an even larger Mission Trails Regional Park. Add in partnership and eventual land transfer from MCAS Miramar down the line, and this could be an urban chaparral park for people to enjoy in perpetuity.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.