Pacific Highlands Ranch: A failed concept or failure in execution?

By Karen Dubey, PHR Resident and Airoso HOA President, and Dean Dubey, PHR Resident and Carmel Valley Community Planning Board Member (Pacific Highlands Ranch District 12)

The community of Pacific Highlands Ranch has existed for over five years. It is at an important crossroads, where decisions made now can direct it towards success or failure. Now is a crucial time to review its history and use it as a guide of how the community can move forward in order to save it from failure.

In 1998 the voters in the city of San Diego passed Proposition M, which allowed development on the land that would be called Pacific Highlands Ranch. Members of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, along with Pardee Homes and the Sierra Club were members of the working group that drafted the proposition. The vision for Pacific Highlands Ranch was for a new kind of development, one of smart growth that mirrored small towns of the past, with a main street in a town center that encouraged walking and community interaction.

But beyond the vision, decisions were made by the Carmel Valley contingent that fed on their fears of increasing traffic in their own neighborhood. To Proposition M they added limits that pegged future development of Pacific Highlands Ranch beyond its initial phase to the completion of ramps from SR-56 to I-5. To them, this would save Carmel Valley from being used by Pacific Highlands Ranch residents to get into and out of the community, along with shoppers coming from outside the area to get to the Pacific Highlands Ranch village center.

While made with good intentions, the linking of PHR to the SR-56/ I-5 freeway connectors has backfired on the community of Carmel Valley and caused some of the largest deficiencies in Pacific Highlands Ranch. Pacific Highlands Ranch residents now have to drive into Carmel Valley to do everything from shopping, to getting gas. The freeway connectors have been delayed in a myriad of issues. The community of Torrey Pines opposes them and has threatened to delay it for many years with lawsuits and studies. Pacific Highlands Ranch has become a collection of homes with no services, a suburb to the suburb next door, Carmel Valley.

When residents bought homes in Pacific Highlands Ranch, they also bought into the concept of a walkable village that was sold to them by Pardee Homes and the other smaller developers in the community. This was emphasized by the many large signs still placed in dirt lots, now looking old and faded touting "Proposed Community Library", "Proposed Community Park", and so on. Every sales person had their version that was sold to residents of the great community they were moving into.

In response to the sales pitch, Pacific Highlands Ranch has been filled with wonderful families all ready to fulfill this dream. The community has a great sense of small town street-by-street, where neighbors know each other, families get together for celebrations, and scores of children have the advantage of being able to bike down the road and find other children ready to play.

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