San Marcos Takes Heat on Border-Expansion Plan

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Two hundred angry residents and government officials took on San Marcos on Wednesday night over the city's proposal to expand its boundaries.

At a hearing before the state's Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees such boundary changes, dozens of speakers took swipes at San Marcos' request to add about 10 square miles of county land to its "sphere of influence," or land that it wants to eventually annex.

Escondido Mayor Jerry Harmon denounced San Marcos' "appetite for urbanization," saying the proposal would lead to unwanted development and damage to the environment.

Other speakers called San Marcos "a hungry land wolf" whose "developer-driven" proposal would destroy the rural character of such surrounding areas as Elfin Forest, Harmony Grove and Twin Oaks Valley.

San Marcos officials, in defending the request, said they want to prevent high-density development. Vice Mayor Mike Preston said San Marcos wants to protect itself from the encroachment of apartments and "butchered hillsides" seen in neighboring cities.

Late Wednesday night, no vote had been taken by LAFCO board members.

In March, San Marcos asked LAFCO to expand the city's sphere of influence by 6,253 acres: about half of it to the north near Twin Oaks Valley; a third to the south, including scattered acreage now within the spheres of Encinitas and Carlsbad; and the remainder under Escondido's orbit to the east and Vista's influence to the west.

On Wednesday, San Marcos dropped its request for 552 acres of Escondido territory, citing resident opposition. That tract is north of California 78 and west of Interstate 15.

Cities with designs on county land need LAFCO approval before they can officially pursue annexation.

San Marcos' existing boundaries encapsulate 23 square miles, with an additional 8 square miles targeted for eventual annexation. The city wants to expand that 8-square-mile sphere of influence to about 18 square miles.

But the request has met with stiff resistance from affected residents and LAFCO analysts, and Escondido officials recently filed a lawsuit to block the expansion on environmental grounds.

"Public sentiment has been overwhelming in its opposition to the San Marcos proposal," according to a LAFCO report. The agency received "numerous letters and petitions from residents now within the Escondido and Vista spheres who feel they relate more to (those cities) than to San Marcos."

LAFCO staff analysts echoed those sentiments in a report urging LAFCO to reject all but a small portion of the expanded sphere of influence.

"Most of the proposed sphere areas share few community, economic or social ties with San Marcos," the report says.

San Marcos officials argued otherwise, pointing out that many of the affected residents use San Marcos schools and shopping centers, and that some want to be included in the city limits.

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