Diamond Valley Estates encounters opposition to big Sage development

Rumored foreign investment sparks parallels made to Hacienda and Rowland Heights

Photo by Matt McPherson/The Valley Chronicle
Sage residents pack the Sage Fire Station Tuesday night to voice their opposition to the proposed Diamond Valley Estates development.

■ By Matt McPherson / Columnist

Tuesday evening over a hundred Sage residents showed up at The Sage Fire Station to voice their opposition to the proposed Diamond Valley Estates development next to the Diamond Valley Golf Course. Traffic, water, environmental, and over-population issues were all cited as concerns from the Sage community.
The Diamond Valley Estates is a 400-acre proposed development that would have 470 units, two cultural museums, private school, a large hotel, a tourism center, in addition to an 80 acre commercial center. The development is proposed south of Cactus Valley Road and to the West of Sage Road wrapping around the existing Diamond Valley Golf Course.
The overall property density would be 1.4 DU/AC (1.4 dwelling units per acre) with proposed circulation and infrastructure improvements. The community would build an extensive trail network for hiking and horseback riding and emphasizes economic benefits. The developers claim it would increase economic benefits while contributing to the community vitality.
The area of Sage is defined as all the land between Anza, Aguanga, Hemet, Murrieta, and Temecula. A movement to change the zip code is underway, but will likely take years to accomplish. The Director of Planning Adam Rush works for CASC Engineering and Consulting and said they plan to integrate an environmental education aspect into the plan. Right now, Rush explained, they are working on the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) which will dictate what direction the development takes. Aesthetics, traffic lights, forestry issues, impact density, land use, biology, historic and cultural factors all affect the construction of the proposed development. Rush continued that this is a Cadillac version of development taking into account numerous factors such as environment, zoning, flood control, in addition to building, and safety.
Olivia Balderrama a representative for County Supervisor Chuck Washington assured the Sage residents the proposed community would likely benefit the area and cited the future private school as an “anchor within the community”. Balderrama emphasized the project is just preliminary and is currently evolving along through the supervisor’s office. The supervisor’s office wanted to assure that Chuck Washington is open to the concerns of his constituents. Washington also is committed to the outcome of the project for both the developer and the community.
Rush continued that the school would be an elementary through college school which would serve to provide development around it. Many of the local attendees voiced concern about traffic Rush explained “we don’t want to create a traffic impact on the community.” He emphasized the traffic would be encouraged to flow north rather than south. The engineer and developers wanted to assure the public that the meeting was not to solve issues but rather listen to the communities concerns.
One controversial topic brought up by the local residents was how the project anticipated getting water. Rush said they had no plan of drilling a well and would solely count on municipal water through EMWD utilizing the current unused tank until they built an additional tank to provide water. An elaborate sewer system is also part of the plan as it evolves through processing and permitting.
As far as crime and law enforcement issues Rush says developmental impact fees will be directed towards RCS and any deputies allocated by those funds. Currently, two measures are a project amenity for the area which Rush explained will “help county sales tax, and increase property values.” The colored areas on the map are designated for an 80 acre commercial center and under the mixed use zoning would allow a large hotel. Both of these areas are expected to generate a significant amount of sales tax for the area and would provide additional county services. They anticipate providing appropriate staffing levels for EMS, fire, and law enforcement throughout the region.
Once the presentation had concluded over 60 question cards were filled out and submitted for answers. One question asked why this location was chosen. Rush answered: “The property owners feel the property has a lot of aesthetic value in the area, which is slated for development in the future.”

Photo courtesy CASC Engineering and Consulting
Map showing location of proposed Sage development.

Another question asked whether their children would be allowed to attend the private charter school. The response explained the school would have an emphasis on science and technology in anticipation that the students could eventually benefit the county and surrounding area.
Right now the county wants to see a phasing plan as to how this development will evolve within the Sage area. Sage Road is expected to be dramatically improved and the project will be developed from north to south.
One interesting moment was when the engineer asked the hundred plus attendees how many were here in support of the project and not one hand was raised. Bill Donahue the president of the Sage Town Hall Association is adamantly opposed to the project citing rapid gentrification and comparing communities such as Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights, two communities he says share identical situations with what’s currently taking place in Sage. “Gentrification” is defined as the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.
Donahue says the monies will promise higher tax revenues but will make the distribution of utilities cheaper. Although many winners are anticipated from this development, but the losers will be the home buyers who came before to escape the city.
“I’m struggling to find a better term than Chinese gentrification, but I can’t find a better term,” says Donohue.
“What I watched happen in Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights was two communities that had a lot of similarities with Sage. That area was targeted for transformation. The influx of Chinese money promised higher tax revenues. The more concentrated housing not only produced more tax revenues but made the distribution of utilities cheaper. There were many winners in that wholesale transformation of two communities. The losers were the people who had bought or built homes there to escape the city,” said Donohue.
“If this project is what it appears to be, what we are seeing is phase one of a similar Chinese gentrification and transformation of an entire community,” he said.
“There would be substantial tax benefits to the county. Statistically, Chinese students score higher than other minorities so I expect that the Hemet Unified School District would support this transformation. The influx of new, higher scoring students would make it appear that HUSD was improving.

Photo by Matt McPherson/The Valley Chronicle
Adam Rush, Director of Planning, CASC Engineering and Consulting, and Olivia Balderma, a representative of County Supervisor Chuck Washington, address the unimpressed Sage crowd Tuesday night.

“Since the Chinese are prone to gambling, I expect that the tribes owning casinos would also back this transformation. Even if the community residents can convince their county supervisor to oppose this transformation, it is hard to see how they would be successful in convincing the other supervisors to forgo the increased tax revenues.
There are roughly 1,900 residential homes in Sage. That is simply not a large enough number to overcome the amount of money we are talking about,” said Donohue.
“I live so far off the beaten path that this transformation of Sage will have a smaller effect on me. However, if I were one of the property owners who was having my lifestyle and quality of life destroyed by this planned transformation I would not fight it with a petition or protest. That would be a losing effort against this amount of money.
“Instead I would get on the phone and start a letter writing campaign to every regulatory agency I could find. I would try everything from the EPA to Open Space Conservation, the Multi-species Conservation Plan. I would look for a CEQA review of the Environmental Impact Report. If an EIR were approved I would look at case law to see if the donation of land to the County Conservancy makes this a ‘project’ of Riverside County and subject to even higher CEQA standards.
“I am not leading such an opposition effort to this project, but if someone were to use those tactics, this project might get so tied up in government regulation that they would not be able to build on it for 100 years.”
This project is in the preliminary stages and will require some community input as it progresses through the phases. Many positives can come from this development, but they come at the expense of a very proud rural and equestrian community that want to keep it that way.
An opposition petition reportedly is being circulated among Sage residents.

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