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Group Launches Effort To Place ‘Safeguard Countryside’ Initiative On Ballot

Area in Valley Center where Lilac Hills Ranch project is planned, Aug. 30, 2016.

Photo by Alison St John

Above: Area in Valley Center where Lilac Hills Ranch project is planned, Aug. 30, 2016.

A group called San Diegans for Managed Growth is launching a campaign to change the way some new housing developments in San Diego’s unincorporated areas are approved.

The initiative, called Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside, would require a new housing development in the unincorporated area of the county to go to a vote of the people — if it deviates from the county’s General Plan for growth.

The county adopted a General Plan seven years ago as a blueprint to guide where new housing can and cannot be built in the unincorporated areas.

Diane Coombs, president of San Diegans for Managed Growth, said she participated in years of work to pass the General Plan, and county supervisors should stick to it.

Photo credit: San Diego County

San Diego County's General Plan Land Use Map, 2011

“And keep the promise that we all made when it was adopted,” she said. “Some of us feel betrayed because a plan is a plan is a plan – and it’s good for 20 years.”

Coombs said voters defeated a proposal to build 1,700 homes in Lilac Hills in 2016 in an area where the General Plan called for about 100 homes. She said there are about 8,000 new homes in the pipeline that would require county supervisors to grant an amendment to the General Plan.

Susan Baldwin, a former planner with the regional planning agency SANDAG, said about 40,000 new homes could be built before 2050 without amending the county's General Plan.

Phil Pryde, a former chair of the county’s planning commission, said the group is not against new development. But he supports an initiative that would require any new development that deviates significantly from the General Plan to go to a vote of the people.

“It doesn’t take anything away from the supervisors, they can still say 'yea' or 'nay,'” he said. “It’s just that if they say ‘yea’ for those developments that falls under this which probably isn’t that many — it does give the final say to the people."

But Matt Adams, of San Diego’s Building Industry Association, said ballot box planning does not work well, and San Diego is in the midst of a major housing shortage.

“All this would do would be to make it harder to build housing,” Adams said. “And making it harder to build housing doesn’t make it cheaper to build housing, which means society will continue to struggle to meet basic housing needs.”

San Diegans for Managed Growth plans to launch a signature gathering campaign. At least 68,000 valid signatures need to be gathered by mid May to get the initiative on the November ballot. Coombs said the group will use volunteers and is raising money to hire signature gatherers countywide.

A group called San Diegans for Managed Growth is launching a campaign to change the way some new housing developments in San Diego’s unincorporated areas are approved.

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