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Rancho Peñasquitos Residents Worry Newly Approved Junipers Project Would Add Fire Risk
By Alexander Nguyen, June 21, 2021

The recently approved The Junipers project in Rancho Peñasquitos is part of the city's plan to solve the housing crisis.

Residents, however, say the project would add traffic congestion to a fire-prone area.

“The fire safety and evacuation plans in place are not enough to serve the community today,” Rancho Peñasquitos Town Council president Kate Glenn said. "And adding these additional homes plus apartments that would impact existing routes is incomplete. It's just an incomplete option for future growth."

The Junipers, which was unanimously approved by the San Diego City Council on June 15, will add 536-units, 81 of which would be low-income housing for people age 55 and up. It will be built on the defunct DoubleTree Golf Resort, next to two existing projects, the nearly complete 601-unit Pacific Village and the 331-unit Millenium PQ.

In total, the three projects would add about 3,000 more cars to the area. Glenn is worried the added congestion would impact wildfire evacuations making it harder for residents to leave quickly.

In the past 20 years, Rancho Peñasquitos was evacuated at least five times because of wildfires.

The Junipers' developer, Lennar Homes, said it plans to add three new emergency access routes that will cut evacuation times by more than half.

"[Residents'] feedback and concerns were integrated into the community’s design," Lennar San Diego Division president Ryan Green said. “The project has undergone rigorous and thorough environmental review and won unanimous approval from both the Planning Commission and the City Council.”

One of those proposed routes is between Andorra Way and Corte Raposo. It was added as a last-minute requirement. Right now it is about 18 feet across and the plan calls for it to be extended to about 24 feet. Still, residents like Ronald Askeland said it’s not enough to deal with the fire danger.

He is with the Peñasquitos Northeast Action Group, a vocal opponent of the project. He said the area's infrastructure has not kept up with developments.

“So what you're seeing right here is 40-year-old infrastructure," he said, referring to the access route at Andorra Way. "One way in, one way out, not a whole lot different than Paradise as far as an evacuation scenario.”

His group wants road improvements and a second exit to Interstate 15 for a speedy evacuation.

City Councilmember Marni von Wilpert, whose district includes Rancho Peñasquitos, said her concerns were allayed when the city's deputy fire chiefs said the improvements proposed by Lennar will improve fire evacuation access.

Still, she lobbied for an emergency evacuation route at Andorra Way. von Wilpert's family home was almost lost to wildfire so safety was her top concern.

"I made sure to make an amendment at the City Council hearing to require the access or the ingress and egress from Andorra Way, which is going to be a fire evacuation improvement," von Wilpert said. "I required that to be completed first to the satisfaction of our city engineer before anyone can move into the project."

Askeland and his group said they are not against development. They just want it done the right way.

"You've got to be in favor of affordable housing. San Diego needs it," he said. "We're not against it. We just want safety. I mean, if we had a second permanent exit, then I don't think there would be this concern."

Peñasquitos Northeast Action Group's attorney Everett DeLano submitted a 65-page letter to the city in April saying the Environmental Impact Report did not take into account the other two projects currently under construction.

"They actually sent a letter to the city council asking them, I think it was four or five specific things to require," he said. "Unfortunately, the city didn't require any of those. So I'm sure the clients are frustrated at this point."

The group is looking at other options, including litigations, to get their concerns addressed.



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