Powegians love their open space. They love it so much that in 1988, they passed a ballot measure, Prop FF, that requires a public vote for the rezone of open space and rural residential parcels.
Thus, it was surprising and alarming when Brian Pepin, who had recently moved to town in 2018, started a signature drive to get a parcel on Metate Lane rezoned from 1 house to 50 houses. It was the first time many of us in Poway have heard of Pepin, who is running for Poway City Council District 1 in November.
Pepin was working for an investor/owner from Sacramento. He claimed that an unnamed “boutique developer” was going to be the builder of the project. We found plans online for up to 200 more homes on an adjacent parcel that was being marketed to investors, who had consulted with land use attorneys and planned to challenge the validity of Prop FF in court.
Residents pushed back, and refused to sign the petition, and spread the word that the paid petition gatherers were lying when they said the petition was to “preserve” the Metate parcel. One resident was so incensed by the signature gatherers, some of whom claimed to be city employees, that she called sheriff’s deputies, who escorted them out of town.
The parcel that Pepin wanted to rezone was part of the county’s Metate Resource Conservation Area, one of the few places in San Diego County that contains a large proportion of native perennial grasses. It was also part of Poway’s subarea habitat plan, a wildlife corridor that connects to other habitat areas. And it was part of the visual buffer between the industrial park and the residential areas of South Poway. There is a landslide across a part of it that makes it unbuildable.
The happy ending of the story would be if Pepin hung around with his neighbors and grew fond of our trails and open space, and became “one of us.” But that isn’t what happened. In fact, it seems Mayor Steve Vaus took a liking to Pepin, perhaps because of his political ties to San Diego politicians and developers.
Pepin was the president of the Lincoln Club, a conservative group that has been accused of using misinformation campaigns and dirty tricks to elect Republicans to public office. He is currently a political consultant who runs campaigns for a living.
Vaus agreed to have the city try to buy the Metate parcel from Pepin’s client, who had overpaid for the parcel. Fortunately, that attempt failed too. Then, Vaus started grooming Pepin for a council seat. He appointed him to the Budget Review Committee. Then the mayor changed the rules so he could appoint Pepin to a second term.
About a year ago, Pepin officially announced he was a candidate for City Council District 1, and the mayor immediately endorsed him.
Before the end of last year, Pepin had collected over $41,000 for his campaign, almost all of it from people outside of Poway. What were all those people expecting in return for their donations? If Pepin is elected to the council, he and the other council members could put rezone measures on the ballot without a signature drive.
Maybe his old client, who still owns the Metate parcel, will have a better chance to get his land rezoned that way. Maybe some of these people will challenge the validity of Prop FF in court, and Vaus and Pepin will decide not to have the city defend Prop FF in court, and let it be overturned.
Pepin isn’t really “one of us.” The shifting political fortunes in the city and county of San Diego have dried up all the job opportunities for young Republican political consultants and aides. A council seat in our “city in the country” is likely just a stepping stone to a higher elected office for him. But it could be an irreversible disaster for us.
Chris Cruse is a longtime community advocate in Poway.