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A Reader Writes by Lorraine Johnson: Need for ‘specific plan' for EC's southern sphere of influence

January 28, 2002

Contrary to conclusions in the environmental inpact report for the Buena Vista Park subdivision, the proposed 465-lot development clearly would significantly worsen already dangerous traffic conditions on Clark Road, overwhelm McCabe School and destroy the heretofore rural environment of the project area.

As herein discussed, the city of El Centro should adopt a "specific plan" for the area within its sphere of influence south of Intestate 8 before further considering Buena Vista or any similar development. The need for such a plan is apparent.

At peak times, Clark Road (Eighth Street), which constricts to two lanes north of the freeway, carries steady streams of fast-moving traffic north and south. The absence of turn-out lanes for the equestrian center (Danenberg), the entry to the Montessori school at Horne Road and at numerous driveways to private residences endangers public safety. For traffic traveling north, there is also a need for left turn-outs on Clark for Desert Village and Desert Estates.


It is particularly scary to negotiate turns from Clark during evening hours when traffic is heavy in both directions. The intersection at Clark and McCabe, which is used by, among others, law enforcement traveling to and from the sheriff's complex at County Center No. 2, also has become increasingly congested.

The Buena Vista EIR concedes the subdivision would generate an additional "4,450 daily trips." It also recognizes the general plan for the city of El Centro contemplates widening Clark Road to four lanes and that "future planning areas" south of El Centro will be opened for development when Imperial Avenue is extended south to McCabe Road. (Modification of the freeway overpass is recognized as a necessary precursor to such an extension.)

The EIR does not, however, spell out how or when these road improvements will be made. Instead it absurdly concludes Buena Vista will not have significant impact on traffic conditions and it proposes virtually no meaningful traffic mitigation!

The EIR is also inadequate on other subjects including, without limitation, those relating to McCabe School and the El Centro Equestrian Center.

The projected 279 elementary school children who would reside in Buena Vista would cause a 50 percent increase in enrollment at McCabe School, which is already at full capacity. In referencing "developer fees" as the solution for school impacts, the EIR totally ignores a study commissioned by the school district's governing board that concludes such fees would not sufficiently address educational needs required by such an increase in enrollment.

The equestrian center is a major asset for the community and its facilities are open free of charge to all. The managers of the center offer riding lessons to, among others, handicapped children. Team penning and other events bring revenue and acclaim to the city. Although Buena Vista would be immediately adjacent to the center, the EIR makes absolutely no reference to it.

Eventual build-out of Desert Village will "box in" the equestrian center on the north. The same will happen to the south were Buena Vista approved with minimum lot sizes, as presently configured. Why not require some open space and a system of horseback riding trails leading south from the center? Accessible trails meandering through the subdivision would enhance marketability of homes and provide recreation for residents. It would also increase use of the equestrian center.

(The city of Norco — and other communities — have, through thoughtful planning, demonstrated equestrian trails can be incorporated into, and made compatible with, residential subdivisions.)

In my view, preservation of rural character on the outskirts of town is an important objective. Accordingly, I think good planning requires larger lot sizes and rural residential zoning for the proposed project area. This leads to my basic point:

Government code section 65451 permits cities to adopt regional "specific plans" that reference "location and extent of the uses of land, including open space." Such plans also may include "(s)tandards and criteria" for development; and, they may contain "(a) program of implementation measures (for) … public works projects and (necessary) financing measures."

El Centro needs a specific plan for sphere of influence areas south of the city, adopted after appropriate public hearings. Such a plan would address issues relating to Clark Road, Imperial Avenue, McCabe School and other land-use subjects. Importantly, the plan would specify how and when road and other public works will be financed. The specific plan should include formulas for developer contributions to costs for needed public improvements.

The city's general plan states "(t)he ultimate physical character of the city will be largely defined by the type of development which occurs within the sphere of influence of the future planning areas."

Approval of Buena Vista without a specific plan first being in place would "put the cart before the horse." Such action would jeopardize the city's "ultimate physical character" and endanger public safety. The City Council is urged to direct its staff to develop a "specific plan," as above described.

>> LORRAINE JOHNSON is chairwoman of Keep Clark Road Country.

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