San Marcos Highlands – A Brief History

San Marcos Highlands Development

San Marocs City & San Diego CountLand speculator/investor, Farouk Kubba, purchased the property north of Santa Fe Hills for just under $1.3 million in 1981 (roughly $3.4 million in today’s dollars). Kubba understood that buying the land was a risk. For example, despite the many acres, the steep slopes and constraints leave only a small footprint that is economically feasible to build homes; The land is environmentally sensitive, and contains the headwaters of Agua Hediunda Creek; Finally, a majority of his land is outside of San Marcos, in unincorporated San Diego County land that was (and still is) zoned for much fewer homes. Farouk Kubba hedged his bets for buying this land based on the prospect that San Marcos would eventually annex the land into San Marcos jurisdiction (thus, the land would be subject to the much less restrictive San Marcos zoning rules).

An ongoing conflict with the project is that the planning principles of San Marcos City Planners are not in alignment with San Diego County Planners, (or the community!). At the time Kubba purchased the land, the San Marcos City Planners would have allowed up to 300 homes on the property (as opposed to San Diego County only allowing 60-70 homes). Part of the City’s rationale for allowing more homes was because more homes will extend Las Posas further north, and more homes will help pay for the future complete extension of Las Posas to Buena Creek Rd. (Note: In later years, San Diego County asked to remove the future extension of Las Posas to Buena Creek Rd., deeming it unnecessary. San Marcos rejected this suggestion and ended up getting their way. This is another example of the difference in planning principals between San Diego County and San Marcos).

Nine years after purchasing the land, in 1990, Kubba completed an Environmental Impact Report for a 275-home development. This was the same year that the very first homes of Santa Fe Hills began construction. According to Farouk Kubba, because the housing market was not doing well in 1990, he chose not to proceed with his project and to wait out the market.

2002 Point of Reference
The population of San Marcos was about 62,000, no Grand Plaza, no 78 on/off ramp at Las Posas, and Paloma Elementary student/teacher ratio was 20/1. Rick Gittings was San Marcos City Manager.

Kubba came back in 2002 with a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report and a new home development project consisting of 230 homes. At this point, most of Santa Fe Hills had been built out. There was much less open space available for wildlife, and the distance between the high-density homes of Santa Fe Hills and rural neighborhoods north of Santa Fe Hills was closing in. For many of the same reasons the Highlands is objected to today, it was objected to in 2002. The San Diego County Planning department, the EPA, US Fish & Wildlife Service, California Dept of Fish & Game, and Twin Oaks Community Sponsor Group rejected the project because of Kubba’s plan to build a large number of homes on sensitive, highly constrained, land. The community had the same exact objections, but the community also objected the project because of its relationship to the future extension of Las Posas Rd. Even the San Marcos Planning Commission voted against the project. However, City Council ignored all of the objections, and allowed the project to move forward.

2004 Point of Reference
Population of San Marcos was about 68,000, still no Grand Plaza, Paloma Elementary student/teacher ratio was 22/1. Current San Marcos Mayor, Jim Desmond, started his first term on City Council.

Despite all of the commotion, by 2004 Kubba could not secure all of the development permits. San Marcos City Council approved a 1-year extension for Kubba to secure the permits.


2006 Point of Reference
The population of San Marcos was now about 72,000, Grand Plaza was in the beginning phase of construction, the 78-on/off ramp at Las Posas was completed, Paloma Elementary student/teacher ratio was 23/1. City councilmember Chris Orlando was on the Planning Commission, and starting his first term on City Council. Jim Desmond was still on City Council. City Manager, Rick Gittings retired this year.

By 2006, Kubba still had not managed to secure his permits. The City Council hearing to determine whether or not another extension should be granted was overflowing with people in the community who opposed the extension. With pressure from the public playing a big role, City Council voted against the extension, 3-2, explaining that Kubba had the necessary time to secure his permits, and “because the developer failed to work with the community on creating an acceptable project.”


2012-Today Point of Reference
In 2012, the San Marcos population was about 87,000 (up 25,000 from 2002). The 2011-12 student/teacher ratio at Paloma was 30/1 (10 more students per teacher since 2002). A 2013 SMUSD letter says that existing school capacity with SMDUD currently is not adequate to meet the student population, with 4,474 more students than it is equipped to handle. According to a 2014 city survey, the #1 concern of 21% of San Marcos citizens is traffic (up 10% from the 2009 survey). The City is now focused on a Smart Growth strategy, a growth plan that is supposed to prevent sprawl. Former City Manager, Rick Gittings, is now a private consultant for Farouk Kubba.

Since 2006, Santa Fe Hills has been completely built out, as well as the construction of the 94-home subdivision of Loma Alta (within Santa Fe Hills), and the ~300-home subdivision of Rancho Santalina (just West of Loma Alta). Additionally, Palomar College is expanding to accommodate more students, the 370 Condos of Palomar Station was recently completed (first intersection exiting Santa Fe Hills),  the 368 apartments of Davia Village are expected to start construction late 2014 or 2015 (neighboring Palomar Station to the east), and now the Newland Sierra development in North San Marcos consisting of 2,135 homes is in the pipeline. I don’t have historical traffic figures, but you can imagine the traffic increase getting in and out of Santa Fe Hills now compared to when Kubba first proposed a project in 2002.

The San Marcos Highlands project has been a strongly opposed development project since it was first introduced in 2002. Farouk Kubba consistently submits high density project maps that simply do not fit within the constraints of the land nor benefit San Marcos or Santa Fe Hills. San Diego County Planning Division, numerous agencies and hundreds in the community have opposed his high density development maps every time, yet Kubba ignores them. With as many changes that have occurred throughout San Marcos since the Highlands project was first introduced in 2002 (less open space, overburdened schools, more people, more traffic, smart growth planning), a new sprawling home development in this area makes less sense now than it ever has.

Contact [email protected] for important updates about this project.

San Marcos Highlands Document & Article Archive

Highlands & Las Posas Articles

Jan 22, 2015, SantaFeHills Website: Twin Oaks Sponsor Group Votes NO to Highlands Development

Oct 11, 2014, Union Tribune: Review of 189-home plan under way

Jan 14, 2014, Channel 10 News:  San Marcos housing development on hold, more environmental studies planned

Jan 13, 2014, Union Tribune: City delays 190-home project

Dec 30, 2013, North Cost Current: San Marcos residents fighting controversial housing project

Dec 8, 2013, Union Tribune: Controversial housing project moving forward

Nov 12, 2013, San Elijo Life: Defending Open Space, San Marcos’ Most Valuable Resource


Apr 8, 2013, Union Tribune: San Marcos Highlands Project Returns

Mar 3, 2007, North County Times: San Marcos Development Outpacing General Plan

Aug 20, 2006, Union Tribune: Las Posas extension opponents fight on: ‘It’s going to be a nightmare’

Aug 7, 2006, The Paper: Las Posas Extension Approved – But Money Needed

Jul 27, 2006, Union Tribune: Extension of Road Is Still Up in the Air – Two San Marcos Areas Are at Odds

Feb 12, 2006, Union Tribune: People were heard in San Marcos

Jan 26, 2006, Union Tribune: San Marcos council kills Highlands project

Jan 22, 2006, Union Tribune: Plans for Las Posas extension spark debate

Jan 17, 2006, Union Tribune: Residents concerned about street racing

Oct 20, 2005, Union Tribune: San Marcos Highlands Project Needs Extension

Jan 20, 2002, North County Times: More concerns raised about San Marcos Highlands

City Council Meeting Clips: July 25, 2006

Letters & Reports from Various Agencies

Dec 12, 2013: US Fish & Wildlife Service + California Dept of Fish & Game

Dec 11, 2013: San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO)

Dec 10, 2013: California Native Plant Society

Apr 29, 2005, Multiple Species Conservation Program (Habitat Evaluation Model of San Marcos Highlands Area)

Apr 8, 2005: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Aug 24, 2004: US Fish & Wildlife Service + California Dept of Fish & Game

Dec 31, 2002: Environmental Protection Agency

Jul 9, 2002: Department of Transportation

Jun 3, 2002: US Fish & Wildlife Service + California Dept of Fish & Game

Dec 29, 2001: Friends of Hedionda Creek

Dec 28, 2001: Twin Oaks Community Sponsor Group

Dec 28, 2001:  US Fish & Wildlife Service + California Dept of Fish & Game

Nov 21, 2001: Dept of Army Corps of Engineers

Aug 15, 2001: Dept of Army Corps of Engineers

May 4, 2001: Friends of Hedionda Creek

Feb 9, 1988: Department of Transportation

Letters, Documents & Recordings from San Diego County

Dec 12, 2013: San Diego County Planning & Development Services

Aug  xx, 2011: Highlands Project Site NC22 

Aug 31, 2009: San Diego County Department of Planning & Land Use

August 2, 2006: Board of Supervisors Hearing – General Plan 2020

xxx xx, 2006, San Diego County Planners Ask to Remove Las Posas Extension

Jul 6, xxxx: North County Metro

Jan 4, 2002: San Diego County Department of Planning & Land Use

Dec 31, 2002: San Diego County Department of Planning & Land Use

Apr 2, 2002: San Diego County Department of Planning & Land Use

Nov 21, 2001: San Diego County Department of Planning & Land Use

Feb 23, 2001: San Diego County Department of Planning & Land Use

Feb 20, 2001: San Diego County Department of Planning & Land Use

Minutes & Documents from San Marcos Planning Commission & City Council

Dec 16, 2013: Planning Commission Summary of Project

Aug 2, 2004: Planning Commission Report

Aug 2, 2004: Planning Commission Minutes

Sep 10, 2002: City Council Report

Jun 3, 2002: Planning Commission Report

Jun 3, 2002: Planning Commission Minutes

Public Comment Letters

Regarding the 2013 project

Regarding San Marcos Highlands Draft Mitigated Declaration ND 13-010
December 12, 2013:

San Marcos Highlands Maps

Related Information

May 3, 2013, Wall Street Journal: Why Homes With Open Space Command Big Bucks

Oct 7, 2009: Why Building New Roads Doesn’t Ease Congestion

Jun 22, 2009: Growing Smart: The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space

xxx xx, 2000, Sierra Club: Sprawl Cost Us All

May xx, 2000, Beyond Gridlock – Meeting California’s Transportation Needs in the Twenty First Century

Photos of Highlands Site from Dec 23, 2001 (see photos)