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San Diego County Targets Sprawl With New General Plan


San Diego County took a major step toward limiting urban sprawl today when it approved a revision to its general land-use plan.

— San Diego County revised its general land-use plan today and took a major, long-awaited step toward reducing costs and slowing urban sprawl. The plan put more strict limits on development by down-zoning 20 percent of the properties in the county’s unincorporated areas.

“It’s not a perfect plan. There is no perfect plan as far as I’m concerned,” said County Supervisor Ron Roberts. “But this is a damned good plan.”

The county’s general plan has not been revised since 1978, and the plan that was approved today was 13 years in the making. Supporters of the new plan say it will save the county public-safety dollars by preventing urban development in many fire-prone areas.

San Diego County Planning Director Eric Gibson said focusing development in existing communities means the county will be spared from building 780 miles of new roads. He added that the plan would also prevent 550,000 metric tons of carbon emissions from being produced each day.

Roberts said the environmental impacts will be profound.

“Every environmental impact will be reduced,” he said. “We’ll have far more open space. This is a huge step.”

Despite its many supporters, the general plan update remained controversial until the minute it was approved. By down-zoning large parts of San Diego County, the board of supervisors reduced the potential value of a lot of rural land. The plan faced great opposition from farmers who saw the down-zoning of their land as a financial “taking.”

Supervisor Bill Horn is an avocado farmer who was the lone vote against the general plan update. He said the highest and best use of any piece of rural land is to develop it. So, he said, new zoning codes are being created on the backs of local farmers.

“A lot of these farmers are saving for their future,” said Horn. “So if you come in and down-zone them, they are losing that equity. And that’s a major issue here.”

Although the zoning plan was approved today, supervisors agreed to meet with local landowners in three months to hear their grievances. Many landowners, who’ve been down-zoned, are hoping to be grandfathered in under the old zoning rules.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob voted against the proposal that supervisors meet with aggrieved landowners.

“This is a back-door attempt to undo the general plan we just approved,” she said.

Roberts disagreed, saying any changes would be exceptions, and the principles of the new general plan will not be compromised.


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