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Fire, Water and Economic Development in Borrego

Digger - November 14, 2009

What follows, in and of itself, has nothing to do with water. It is, however, a cautionary tale which clearly illustrates the reason Borrego is in such dire straits with respect to its water supply.

Recently, the Borrego Sun ran a story that included a sad tale about a would-be developer of an outsized, up-scale RV park in Borrego Springs who was frustrated because the San Diego county Department of Planning and Land Use is demanding he comply with the fire code before allowing him to commence work on the project and is threatening to ask the County Board of Supervisors to resolve it "politically."

Specifically, the issue revolves around a requirement for a second fire station that was "tied to the approval of Rams Hill" thirty years ago, but never built. The station is necessary to meet mandated response times for developments on the south slope of the valley, including Montessoro (previously known as Rams Hill) and the proposed RV park among others. The developer therefore knew, or should have known, about the requirement from the gitgo . His permit for the RV park has been pending for many years and he has received a number of extensions to complete the application process. In all that time, he should have found a way to make it happen rather than try to game the system; but he did not.

Moreover, there are a number of other permits pending for projects in the same area that are stalled for the same reason; i.e., lack of sufficient fire protection. If the RV park were allowed to go forward, all of the other developers, of course, would demand the same exemption from the response time requirement.

Nonetheless, members of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group were apparently so smitten by the developer's sob story that they were, at the time the article was written, "poised to pen a letter" to the County of San Diego Board of Supervisors in support of allowing him to ignore the life safety issues involved and begin construction forthwith and have since done so. The chairman of the group argued that the developer at least should be allowed to proceed with construction of the park even if he can't open it until the fire station is built and staffed, because "our community could sorely use the infusion to put people to work." If that were to happen the developer, and all others similarly situated, would then be back before county officials shedding crocodile tears because they now had a huge investment in their projects and no way to recoup it. That is not very different from what happened 30 years ago when Rams Hill was allowed to go forward on the promise of the developer to ensure that a fire station to serve the area was built, equipped, and staffed.

Ironically, the Rams Hill project was opposed by virtually every relevant regulatory body in the county, a number of nongovernmental organizations, and even a few enlightened residents of Borrego. It was finally approved only after the Board of Supervisors, strongly influenced by hyperbolic claims of jobs and economic benefits to flow from the project, ignored the considered opinions of responsible agencies and resolved it "politically." We all know how well that worked out.

Borrego's problem with fire protection and a sustainable water supply derive from the same source: Borregans naive, simplistic, but persistent, belief that undefined "Economic Development" will cure all ills. It is a cruel myth, of course, but for Borregans, even a vain hope springs eternal. They have already willingly sacrificed their water supply in an effort to achieve economic nirvana and failed. Now they appear desperate enough to resort to human sacrifice by immolation.

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