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The Pros And Cons Of Ballot Box Zoning

Aired 7/9/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Michael Stepner, Professor New School of Architecture and the former city architect for San Diego.

Bruce Ehlers, Proponent of Ballot Box Zoning and author of Proposition A Right to Vote Initiative passed by Encinitas voters


Encinitas residents just passed a ballot measure, Proposition A, that gives voters the power to decide the fate of proposed development projects that are bigger, denser or higher than current law allows.

Ballot box zoning has been a common practice in San Diego going back to the coastal vertical height limits set by voters in the early 1970s. Proposition D has dictated the look of the San Diego's beach communities in the 40 years since.

Proposition D has also made height limits an ongoing topic of discussion in the last 40 years in San Diego, said Mike Stepner, a professor at NewSchool of Architecture and the former city architect for San Diego.

Stepner says he's not sure if ballot box zoning ever works really well.

"It's a reaction to something that's happened in the neighborhood despite objections by the community," he said. "Sometimes it's a sledgehammer solution to killing a fly."

Bruce Ehlers is a proponent of ballot-box zoning and was the main spokesperson for Proposition A.

He notes the importance of Encinitas holding on to its small town community character.

One of the reasons Ehlers supports ballot-box zoning is that he doesn't trust city leaders to stand up to developer interests.

He is frustrated that developers can use a state law that allows them to build taller, denser development if they include affordable housing.

Stepner says ballot-box zoning doesn't necessarily give you the quality of development that you want.

"What we've ended up with in the coastal areas is 'squeezing things in' to get the maximum return on investment. Every time people talk about raising something three feet or five feet, it becomes a major discussion," he says.

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Avatar for user 'Leucadian'

Leucadian | July 16, 2013 at 7:47 p.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

I am in favor of a more direct democracy, and I'm grateful we have the initiative system in California. I personally wouldn't describe Bruce Ehlers as supporting ballot-box zoning, but as supporting the citizens right to vote on UPZONING and raising height limits above what was in our original General Plan. I don't think that what the article describes as "ballot-box zoning" here, in Encinitas, will result in any more "squeezing in," but in less. I wish the opponents of Prop A could be humble, and graciously accept their defeat, learn from their mistakes, accept the will of the voting public. All these "damage control" pieces, are just making them look like sore losers.

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