After years of difficulty, residents of Del Dios, on the western edge of Lake Hodges, may soon benefit from a settlement with the city and county of San Diego that seeks to resolve a variety of health and zoning violations that have plagued the community for years.
Officials say that almost all the 184 homes in Del Dios, a small, unincorporated strip between Rancho Santa Fe and Escondido, violate at least one county ordinance.
Most of the violations are over the size of leach fields needed for septic tanks, the area's only method of waste disposal. Homeowners are eager to buy land next to their own lots, most of which are 50 by 100 feet. By doing so, they could improve existing leach fields and conform to housing codes.
But the city of San Diego, which bought the land in 1954 as part of a plan to build a reservoir and dam at Lake Hodges--a project that went awry when the lake proved too shallow--owns 70% of the available lots in Del Dios, and so far, has not wanted to sell.
Ali Shapouri, a senior planner with San Diego County, said that, based on preliminary discussions with county and city officials, Del Dios residents may be inching toward a settlement that would give them the right to purchase adjacent lots, and finally, conform to code.
He called it an agreement that could make everyone happy.
"We've been dealing with city staff," Shapouri said. "They need to take our recommendations to their authorities, and then we take them to (the County Board of Supervisors) on Oct. 16. Things should finally solidify as the decision-makers deal with the recommendations."
Don Boy, a resident in Del Dios, which began as a fishing village in the 1920s, said that homeowners have been fined consistently by county authorities in what he and others call a Catch-22.
As Shapouri said in an interview with The Times in July, "The people can't bring their buildings to code, because they lack the leach field areas. And they can't expand existing leach fields, because the city owns the land. The city refuses to sell, so it's a bad situation. Homeowners are just there, stuck in illegal buildings."
Shapouri said that a city-county task force has studied the problem over the past few months and now believes the issues can be resolved, to almost everyone's satisfaction. He noted, however, that dozens of details, and steps, remain.
Asked about possible snags, he said, "The city may not go along with the recommendations of the staff. But the city realizes that, at this point, cooperation is needed. How much will the properties sell for? We'll have to do appraisals, but the majority of residents should be able to afford the prices."
San Diego City Manager Jack McGrory said recently that the city had no plans to sell but was willing to withhold judgment until the task force could study the problem. McGrory said the city values Del Dios' location within the proposed 55-mile-long open-space park from the Del Mar Fairgrounds to Volcan Mountain near Julian.
He said the city was inclined to keep the land to protect both the concept of an open-space park and the lucrative assets that land in Del Dios represents.
McGrory was unavailable for comment, but Jim Spotts, property director for the city, said homeowners in Del Dios have reason for optimism--to a point.
Spotts said the city is prepared to sell some of its 800 lots, but probably not all.
"The lots tend to fall into three categories," Spotts said. "Some are clearly advantageous to the river park and should be used only for that. Some are at the other extreme--little, insubstantial parcels best used by homeowners with adjacent lots. Others are buildable lots with value. Those we'll probably want to preserve. We'll see."
Spotts said that, for a long time, the city had no plans to sell any lots, but pressure from the county and area homeowners has caused it to reassess its position. He said that the City Council will have to eventually consider its land in Del Dios.
"I suspect there will be compromises along the way, and maybe we can work things out so that everyone is a winner," Spotts said. "So, we're in the process of sorting things out and looking at everything on a case-by-case basis. But I don't know when it will all be resolved."