County planners OK Gilman Springs Road study

NEW ROUTE?: Commissioner says it's not likely road will be closed to public.

The Valley Chronicle, California/November 11, 2010

Riverside County Planning Commissioner John Petty said this week not to read too much into the recent approval of a Gilman Springs Road study, even if the Church of Scientology is billing it as the first step on the road to removing the route from the county's general plan.

The Church of Scientology owns the film-making studio Golden Era Productions, which sits on both sides of Gilman Springs Road.

The commission's approval means nothing to the eventual decision on whether the general plan will be amended and it is unlikely the request will be granted even if it reaches the Board of Supervisors, Petty said.

Last week's action did little more than acknowledge the existence of the Scientologists' desire to conduct a study, at the organization's expense, of the feasibility of removing the route from the general plan, said Petty.

Even if that were to happen, the road would not be closed, he said.

Another round of hearings would be required to abandon the road after it was removed from the general plan.

And that, said Petty, is not likely to happen.

Neither he, as the third district representative to the commission, nor third district Supervisor Jeff Stone, who appointed Petty to his seat, is likely to support the general plan amendment, let alone closure of the road, he said.

Both have publicly said several times that the road could not be closed in the absence an alternative route, an alternative that would have to be paid for by the Church of Scientology.

Petty said he has spoken with Stone on the issue and that Stone has affirmed his position that Gilman Springs will not be abandoned unless someone other than taxpayers provides an alternative route at least as good as the existing one.

"If the Scientologists want to spend a lot of money to study all kinds of things, that's their business," Petty said.

"We already have a road," he said.

Petty said he does not believe any taxpayer money should be used to build an alternative stretch of road.

Golden Era has portrayed the road as unsafe.

Petty said he has never seen a study indicating the road is the site of any more accidents than any similar road.

Attempts to win San Jacinto City Council backing for an alternative to the road have been unsuccessful, leading to a council resolution opposing abandonment of the road.

Petty said he believes construction of an alternative road would cost $20 million to $30 million.

Not that there is a place to put one anyway.

It could not be run along the San Jacinto River bed, he said, and there is little property available between Gilman Springs and Ramona Expressway for a new road.

Much of the land south of Gilman Springs Road is within San Jacinto's Gateway project, a proposed mixed-use development of about 1,700 acres.

Gilman Springs picks up traffic headed south from Highway 60 into the San Jacinto Valley, and siphons off some southbound traffic from Highway 79, Lamb Canyon.

Even if Scientologists were to eventually build an alternative road and have Gilman Springs removed from the county road system, it would have to be maintained as a road so it could be reopened in an emergency, said Petty.

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