This would substantially alter the character of Scripps Ranch,” fumes Jenny Marshall, whose 15-member Save Our Scripps (“SOS”) Ranch group is determined to stop a big-box project from crashing the gates of the “Ranch.”
In January, the Scripps Ranch Civic Association’s newsletter trumpeted in a headline emblazoned on the front, “Save Our Scripps Ranch Rises To Protect Our Community.” But what exactly do the project opponents purport to save their community from?
At the junction of Carroll Canyon Road and Interstate 15 is a 9.5-acre parcel where Pacific Southwest Airlines used to train its employees. Bought in 2006 by the Horizon Christian Fellowship, the buildings at the site have stood unoccupied for 15 years, one of a myriad of tenant-bereft business parks that dominate the southern reaches of Scripps Ranch. Directly across the street is a nondescript strip mall housing a gaggle of shops and restaurants. This nonresidential part of the “Ranch” is lousy with large wooden for-lease signs, erected over the years by commercial real-estate companies, plastered with the names and phone numbers of hopeful agents.
According to its website, the Horizon Christian Fellowship is composed of “over one hundred churches and para-church organizations…world-wide.” At the helm is pastor Mike MacIntosh. If the Horizon honchos hold sway, the local leitmotiv of the failed industrial park will be no more, replaced instead by retail establishments, including, rumor has it, a Walmart, which would be both the anchor business and the landlord.
Why the intense opposition in some quarters?
According to Marshall, any deviation from the area’s “community plan,” promulgated in the late 1970s, would be inherently bad. Marshall, a Navy employee who lives near Lake Miramar, intones a mantra: “Industrial good, commercial bad.” I asked Marshall if locals, in truth, would prefer a long-abandoned industrial park to retail stores and restaurants? She maintains, “A state of the art industrial park is better for the community because it might attract jobs that Scripps Ranch folks like.” While acknowledging the site’s prolonged vacancy, Marshall expresses hope that tenants could be found for the long-empty park. “It’s a possibility; we’re coming out of the recession.”
But even Marshall concedes that the industrial-park ghost town isn’t quite congruent with the “country living” license-plate frames seen around Scripps Ranch. “It’s a dilapidated eyesore.”
Ron Currie of Currie/Samuelson Development Group (owner of adjacent parcels) concurs. “The property is hardly bucolic today…obsolete, deteriorating, and unoccupied buildings for 15 years.”
But in obsolescence can be had the opportunity for lucre, and that’s where Sudberry Properties comes in.
“Thank You Scripps Ranch! We appreciate all the positive feedback and community support.” It’s a full-page ad placed by Sudberry in the February newsletter, complete with an architect’s rendering of a retail center and stock agency photos portraying smiling patrons.
Colton Sudberry, the concern’s chief executive, speaks in measured tones about reasons behind the opposition. He believes it boils down to misplaced fears of impact and image. “The project is actually going to be far less impactful in terms of density and traffic than what’s already allowed there by right — 800,000 square feet of office buildings without a height limit. The [anchor tenant] will be 120,000 square feet, max. Some people envision a big sea of parking like the Aero Drive Walmart location, but this will be much smaller, with screened parking. Sudberry (who didn’t confirm the big box’s identity) also says, “Some people just don’t like the Walmart image.”
“Quality?” Depends who’s defining the term. According to Save our Scripps Ranch, the development will be a stylistic cesspool. Marshall says, “I told Sudberry at a public meeting that he’s being absolutely disingenuous. He has a non-disclosure agreement with his clients, so we don’t know who the client is, but only a few companies can put up that big of a structure. If you look at Lowe’s, Costco, Home Depot, I don’t think anyone would call them ‘aesthetically pleasing.’ That’s absurd!”
Aesthetics aside, Marshall, who admits to an odd and intense hatred of neon signs, states that the opponents’ most intense discomfiture emanates not from the project but from change. “Allowing them to rezone from industrial to commercial would set a bad precedent.”
“The issue we have is not with development, per se; the property definitely needs to be redeveloped in accordance with the community plan. The city’s proposal is to amend the community plan. It would have significant impact on neighborhood character. When it comes right down to it, it’s the camel’s nose in the tent. We’ll watch this parcel fall, then the next parcel fall, all the way from I-15 to the [Scripps Ranch] high school. It will degrade the neighborhood community value we love about Scripps Ranch.”
The Ranch is hardly devoid of commerce. There are two bustling Vons shopping centers and the din of big-rig traffic on Scripps Poway Parkway. But Marshall seeks to differentiate, saying, “These things were already set aside as part of the community plan.”
Marshall sounds an adamant note: “This is not an ‘anti-Walmart’ issue; it’s ‘anti-big box.’”
For his part, Bob Ilko, chairman of the civic association, states that, until he receives a recommendation from the local planners, his organization has no official position. However, he tips his hand when he says, “As long as Horizon was going to build a church, it was okay.”
The cadre of anti-project activists, citing a litany of dire consequences they argue will spring from approval, have sought to proselytize other Ranchers. Save our Scripps Ranch claims 2000 residents have joined the movement. The naysayers are also doing their damndest to convince local politicos to withhold their imprimaturs. But after the mailed fliers and newsletter missives have been consigned to trash cans and shredders, the ultimate power to confer a blessing or wield the kibosh rests with the San Diego City Council, which awaits recommendations from the San Diego City Planning Commission, a body that will take into account the non-binding advisory findings of the 19-member Scripps Ranch Planning Group.
Wally Wulfeck, chair of the Scripps plan-meisters, says, “Statistics show that when any large retail center goes in, crime and traffic go up; that’s not in accord with the community’s wishes.”
The project’s opponents say that online polls and petitions show “Eighty percent of the community is opposed.” However, Wulfeck acknowledges that, given selection bias, claims that most Ranchers are against the project are impossible to verify. But Wulfeck doesn’t waffle on Walmart: “It’s a lightning rod.”
Marshall, who summarily discounts the notion that additional retailers might benefit locals, waxes poetic. “The very reason we all come home to Scripps Ranch is we go through canyons, trees, little libraries, things like that. We all go to Walmart; we’re just anti-Walmart in Scripps Ranch. I wouldn’t want to come home and have to drive by the Walmart; it’s inconsistent with the community that’s filled with lakes and trees and homes and kids and Pop Warner. We think it’s a great project — across the freeway.”