Stop the Laetitia development
April 22, 2015
Opinion By TIM TOOMEY
The Laetitia proposed ag cluster project, which has been pending since 2004, intends to build 102 estate homes on minimum one acre sites located between Nipomo and Arroyo Grande. It is scheduled for Planning Commission review on June 25.
From the get-go this project has been fraught with issues. Let me outline two of the most egregious, water and traffic.
The applicant, John Janneck of Woodlands fame, alleges there is adequate water and that no nearby wells would be adversely affected. Many long-time local residents beg to differ.
At least nine individuals living near Laetitia have written letters to the county saying their wells are dry. Some have been hauling water for years. The avocado orchard across the freeway from Laetitia has “stumped” their trees probably due to lack of water. Los Berros Creek, which used to flow all year on the east side of 101, no longer flows once it reaches Laetitia.
To be clear, there just isn’t enough water for this project.
Laetitia is not located over a water basin. The sole source of their water is from wells drilled in fractured rock formations. As I and many other local residents can personally attest, drilling in fractured rock is a gamble. If you are fortunate enough to hit water there is no guarantee the well will continue to produce.
The only consistency in the many water studies conducted by the applicant has been the over estimation of water supply while repeatedly revising estimates of project water demand downward. Water needed for the project has gone from a high of 142.9 acre feet per year (AFY) to the current 46.3 AFY.
Despite this over 60 percent decrease in water demand the number of proposed residences remains constant at 102. Other South County ag cluster developments have water duty factors of as much as 1.5 AFY per residence.
Laetitia proposes to get by on .44 AFY. If we assume four residents per home this equates to less than 100 gallons per capita per day (gpcpd). According to a Tribune article on April 11 based on the most recent State Water Resources Control Board figures, the gpcpd numbers for Nipomo and Arroyo Grande are 156 and 125.7 respectively.
How can a rural development on minimum one acre lots get by on less water than urbanized areas which include high density developments with little or no landscaping? Although Laetitia is not within the Santa Maria groundwater basin boundaries, it is an important source of recharge for the five cities area.
I am not against ag clusters per se. South County has some good ag clusters like Varian Ranch and Talley (Las Ventanas) which are built on less productive land, have plentiful water, good access, and have helped the owners remain in production agriculture. The owner of Laetitia, who once was listed on the Fortune 400 list of richest Americans, does not live on site nor do any members of his family. Rather, he resides in a mansion in Bel Aire.
I also question the proposed conversion of some existing producing vineyard to residential parcels. What is being proposed is to replace these building sites located on relatively good and level soil with new non-producing plantings on less desirable soils on hillsides. While reducing home construction costs, this doesn’t comport with the stated intent of protecting agriculture by tightly clustering homes in areas not affecting production agriculture.
In addition to the enormous water issues, there are also significant circulation problems. Proposed access to the project will not be through their existing entrance. Instead they propose using a long and circuitous route directing an estimated 1,031 additional cars per day through presently quiet rural neighborhoods via Thompson/Los Berros Rd., North Thompson, Sheehy Rd., Rim Rock Rd., North Dana Foothill and Upper Los Berros Rd. These are mostly narrow country roads not designed for this volume of traffic. More information from those opposed to this development may be found at stoplaetitia.com.
Laetitia is attempting to justify this development to the county based on its’ alleged economic benefit of $102 million. Their “voodoo” economic assumptions include homes with selling prices of $3 million to $5 million with a weighted average selling price of $4.3 million. In addition, they speculate the project will create 521 full-time equivalent jobs. Their propaganda web site, reserveatLaetitia.com, talks about creating a wine lovers enclave. They are also proposing a future development project of a 75 room Dude Ranch/Resort/Spa that will consume an additional 13 AFY.
The utmost priority of our county leaders must be the wellbeing of existing residents during this fourth year of a severe drought. Applying lipstick to this pig of a project is an effort by the developer to validate the old western axiom that water runs uphill to money.
Tim Toomey is the fifth generation of his family to reside on land in Nipomo not far from this proposed project. Presently retired, he was the vice president of human resources for Mid State Bank.