Open space is something that comes up in nearly every Carmel Valley Community Planning Board meeting. But it's not often that board members actually get out into the open space as a group to see what they work so hard to preserve.
Last Thursday, several board members did just that on a field trip through areas tagged for future development surrounded by some of Carmel Valley's most scenic open spaces.
Members took a look at three areas off Old El Camino Real. All of them neighbor Gonzales Canyon, the last open space connection to the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve and Pacific Highlands Ranch.
"It's beautiful," said new board member Victor Manoushakian, standing on the Gonzales Canyon trail.
Their first tour stop was Rancho Valley Farms, originally proposed by Pardee for 60 units clustered together atop the hill looking down over the river valley. Thanks to the board's involvement, the 41-acre site will house 10 homes.
"This is one of the good stories," said Jan Fuch's the planning board's regional issues subcommittee co-chairwoman.
Fuchs has fought for preservation in Carmel Valley since 1987 when she moved to the area from Oregon. She discovered Gonzales Canyon after she and her daughter took a trip down into the canyon from a steep ridge called "suicide ridge" on a piece of cardboard.
She served on the planning board for years and has never really left, always active on the subcommittee and keeping developers from encroaching on the city's Multiple Habitat Planning Area (MHPA).
Most of the San Diego's MHPA is in Carmel Valley and the San Dieguito River Valley. Senior planner Bernie Turgeon said the planning area restrictions were what kept developers from creating another Mission Valley here like they intended.
The city and the board were able to preserve 650 acres in the river valley.
On old El Camino Real, the board saw the site for the future development of St. John's Armenian Church and Cavallo Farms.
Cavallo Farms offered the most awe-inspiring scenery.
The proposed horse ranch edges the Gonzales Canyon trail and as soon as the board members wandered onto it they were wowed. It was serenely quiet and lush with sycamores and native plants such as jumping cactus.
"This open space is what we're trying to connect to the river valley," said board member Anne Harvey. "It's just all these tricky pieces we have in between."
While this portion of the trail can be accessed by the Gonzales Canyon entrance behind Torrey Highlands Dog Park or out at the Pacific Highlands Ranch trailhead, Cavallo Farms developers don't want it to continue through for liability reasons.
The future site of the Armenian Church is 13 acres off El Camino Real, behind the Evangelical Formosan Church currently under construction.
Marcela Escobar-Eck, representative for the church, said the church will have a traditional old world, rural look and that developers are not even considering going into the MHPA.
"We're working very hard to make sure we stay out of everything," Escobar-Eck said.
The lot also factors into the proposed widening of El Camino Real.
"The big fight is to get the city not to process a road widening without a wildlife and trail undercrossing," Fuchs said.
The undercrossing is currently not included in the city's plans, and Harvey said that they've spent at least five years addressing this issue.
"This is just such a valuable connection for both the wildlife and the trails," board member Manjeet Ranu said.
Currently there is an undercrossing on the land that is in need of repair. Called a box culvert, it features two dark, narrow tunnels under the roadway. The board is hoping for something similar to what is at Carmel Country Road, with its wide archways.