Fragments of American Indian history have created large obstacles for the owners of a nearly 300-acre citrus ranch in Pauma Valley.
Archaeological artifacts, such as remnants of an arrowhead, bits of pottery and old stone tools discovered amid orange and persimmon groves, have called for the Schoepe family to redraw house-lot lines and decrease the number of homes in their proposed 248-acre subdivision. The project began with 54 proposed single-family homes and may end up with as few as 42.
To the family, the adjustments could mean a loss of more than $1 million, said Rob Deutschendorf, a family spokesman and head of a Colorado-based environmental group, the Windstar Foundation.
Local environmental consulting and planning experts say projects are often changed to accommodate the environment. Mitigation can delay projects for a year or more, one consultant said, and developers spend anywhere from $100,000 to more than $1 million on required environmental impact reports that can be thousands of pages, said John Bridges, a principal with EDAW, a planning, urban design and environmental services company. The reports assess impacts of a project in areas such as noise, air quality, endangerment to scarce animal species, traffic and historic or cultural resources.
“We had to do $100,000 worth of digging to find out there was a certain amount of property we couldn’t use,” said Deutschendorf.
Bridges said 10 percent to 15 percent of the projects his clients propose face a cultural resource obstacle, which can include archaeological issues.
“This region, because it is coastal, has a long history that goes back thousands of years and includes lots of hunters and gatherers,” said Bridges, who had been the senior vice president at AECOM, which has offices in San Diego, until the firm merged with EDAW, based in San Francisco, last month.
Cheryl Schoepe and her siblings, who inherited the citrus ranch after their father, Adolf Schoepe, died several years ago, share childhood memories on the same land where tribes went about daily tasks. The family is taking time to adjust the plans to preserve a piece of history, Deutschendorf said.
“Unlike most developers, we’re not in a rush because this is a working ranch,” Deutschendorf said. “While we’re moving through the process, it’s not like we’re looking to develop it next week.”
The project was initially submitted to the San Diego County Planning Commission in 2000 with an altered version presented in late 2001, and yet another version and an environmental impact report submitted in August 2005, according to the county planning office.
The county archaeologist on the project, Donna Beddow, said the county has asked the Schoepes to conduct more excavations on an area that could be affected by the development. Typically, she said, developers must excavate 2.5 percent to 5 percent of a potentially significant historic site by investigating 1-by-1-meter sample sites.
The Schoepes’ housing proposal in Pauma Valley, which is in North County, about 15 miles north of Escondido, already includes a 94-acre preserve and a 42-acre agricultural area that will remain citrus groves, as well as a 3-acre water reservoir.
The approval process for developments the size of the Schoepes’ can take two years even without archaeological obstacles, said area planning officials.
The family requested the name of the ranch and the exact location be omitted from this story because they fear looters. Archaic metates, or large stones used for grinding seeds dating back 3,000 to 6,000 years, and other artifacts from the property have been excavated and are being preserved at the San Diego County Archaeological Society, where scholars will have access to them, said Phil DeBarros, an archaeological consultant for the Chambers Group, an Irvine-based consulting firm with offices in San Diego. DeBarros is serving as the archaeological consultant for the Schoepes’ project and said they don’t want people digging for further treasures.
DeBarros said San Diego County has 18,000 recorded prehistoric or historic sites, meaning those with artifacts that date before or after the Spanish settled in the region, respectively.
To solve cultural resource issues, developers can set aside green space, build around a historic site, or remove artifacts for preservation and build over the spot.
While he said most developers are accustomed to performing standard environmental impact reports, they misunderstand archaeology and paleontology, or the study of fossils and extinct organisms.
“They often wait until the last minute to think about it,” he said. “I think they understand saving trees and streams more so.”