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What Will San Diego County Look Like In 40 Years?

What Will San Diego County Look Like In 40 Years?
The population of San Diego's backcountry is expected to grow by 200,000 people in the next 40 years. How should the Board of Supervisors plan for future development in San Diego County? And, how should the plan balance the need for more housing with the desire to preserve the county's pristine backcountry?

The population of San Diego's backcountry is expected to grow by 200,000 people in the next 40 years. How should the Board of Supervisors plan for future development in San Diego County? And, how should the plan balance the need for more housing with the desire to preserve the county's pristine backcountry?


Kent Davy, editor of the North County Times.


Andrew Donohue, editor of

David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay, well, the city council is meeting in the next half-hour to try to hammer out a decision. But this is it sort of an ongoing topic isn't it? Let's move on to look on the housing people in a different way. It's a sweeping new plan for future group covering an area three times the city of San Diego. The county's general plan for the areas outside the cities had its first public hearing this week. Although there have probably been hundreds of meetings in the last decade leading up to this. There were pleas, there were 38s, a lot of people who see this as having a big impact on their property values and their lives in the future. Kent, how important is this general plan update that the county's considering.

KENT DAVY: It is enormously important. In fact, it will have far reaching impact on -- for the next conceivably 40 or 50 years depends on which map, which plan, what kind of rules they set up. The significant philosophical argument going on is on the one side an impulse to push towards various models of smart growth. And it's kind of like flavors of ice cream, you can pick different ways to talk about that. Against the people who would be, I guess hard property rights people, typically landowners out in the back country who are saying if you down zone me, you have taken my property. And by down zoning what they mean is that under the current rules they may be able to break their property into 20, 10, and 5-acre, I think, pieces and allow that to subdivide. Depending on which of the plans that you take or which of the maps you take, you may find yourself locked into 40 or acre segments, which therefore you cannot generate as much money if you sell it, if you subdivide it, and therefore have taken my property.


ALISON ST. JOHN: But aren't there some issues that -- I guess we should talk about why people in, say, La Mesa, or Encinitas should even care about how the unincorporated areas grow. Isn't there some issues there that affects everybody in the county?

KENT DAVY: In trying to conceive this, what the general plan is doing is trying to say, all right, if in the next 40 years we've got another million people or so to accommodate in the back country, we've also got proportionate chairs that come to the cities. So it says basically, cities, you agree to take this many people and stuff them wherever. And unincorporated areas, you gotta take these people. Now, where are you gonna put them? The implications are dramatic, when you start thinking about the cost of road building, water and sewer to areas that don't have it, the impact on freeways and public transit inside core urban and municipal areas and move them to job sites.

ALISON ST. JOHN: 1-888-895-5727 if you've got an opinion on how San Diego should be absorbing 1.2 million people over all, the cities and the back kitchen, by the year 2050. So Andrew, this has been a big issue for the county is this balance, as kent says, between private property owners who are gonna lose value on their land, and this big question of how actually to do smart growth. How do you think the private property owners should be dealt with?

ANDREW DONOHUE: Sure. I think first of all, we need to come up with a better name for this thing, I just hear the name general plan and I couldn't imagine anything more boring than a general plan. But the core of it is it's so interesting.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That's right.

ANDREW DONOHUE: We need to rename it the very cool interesting Lance extravaganza, this is gonna shape how this county looks not just for the next 30 years, but forever. And this is gonna have an impact on our water, our infrastructure, traffic, how we can respond to fires and keep fires from going from the back country into more urbanized areas. I think it may be too late this time around, but I think the next time the county supervisors do this, let's come up with a better name for it.

KENT DAVY: We may be doing this forever. This has been 12 years and it might be another 24.

DAVE ROLLAND: Maybe we should do that now and not put it off. Call it a circus or something.

ANDREW DONOHUE: Yeah, the circus extravaganza of cool land --

ALISON ST. JOHN: Well, the people who are actually affected seem to realize how important it is. I've never seen so many people show up at a public hearing as they did last Wednesday. It overflowed so they're gonna have to have another one last month.

ANDREW DONOHUE: That's very true. One interesting plan, and I haven't had enough time to dig into this or think about it that much, but one thing that caught my attention was the supervisors wanting to actually talk abut wanting to reimburse or just put their land into a trust or conservancy, which, to me, are is quite an interesting thing. You do have people that are gonna lose significant values on their land. And that's gonna have to be for the greater good. But if you can just wipe -- actually sort of wipe out development on some land, make it a conservancy, and actually reimburse those people fairly, I think that's a great plan.

DAVE ROLLAND: There are very successful models up in Northern California and Marin and Sonoma county, and they've been very successful. They started back in the 60s doing stuff like that.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Well, that's a matter of compensating people who are gonna lose the value of their land, right? Kent, are the supervisors talking about any of those mechanisms.

KENT DAVY: I think the range of things is what's being discussed. And you've got partisans on probably every slice of it. Ultimately my guess is that the issue of compensation gets forced because I think that there are 5th amendment takings issues lingering here.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Can you describe what that means? The takings?

KENT DAVY: The 5th amendment of the constitution that says you can't take my property without due process.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Like imminent domain.

KENT DAVY: Yeah, like imminent domain. There are some legal theories that sit with that idea, in which people have pushed saying you cannot down zone me without compensating me. The problem for supervisors, and we generally as taxpayers is how much money, where's it gonna come from, how are you gonna manage it, all those sorts of things. And those are very interesting, big problems.

DAVE ROLLAND: Finding that line where it becomes a taking is very interesting to me.


DAVE ROLLAND: You don't -- you own your property but you don't have absolute right to do whatever you want on it. There are restrictions all over the place on every piece of property across the country. You know, and there are competing interests involved. And not just on your property, but on the public Treasury, and natural resources that come into play. For decades now, we've been going toward this more smart growth model because we have found that it is very expensive and a drain on resources to start putting up new towns, you know, little cities out in the back country. You know, we don't have water. That's a huge thing. So it's -- you know, the reason we want to down size, down zone your property is because of these competing interests, and it's not in the public interest, up, to let you put up a dense or urban development right now.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Scatter houses way out into the background, back country. Kent, I know you want to say something, but how will this actually affect those people who don't live in the unincorporated areas? Is it gonna change what Ramona looks like or valley center and.

KENT DAVY: No question. In one of the maps, and I think it's the draft land use map that the planning groups have contributed, the individual planning groups have contributed their thoughts to, basically distributed population in the back country by saying places like valley center will have an additional -- and I don't remember the number, but let's say, I'm gonna make up a number, an additional 20000 housing units around valley center. Well, those don't exist there right nu. And that is kind of one of the interesting fights going on. You've got people like Randy good son sitting here saying well, we want to put 1700 houses in some rural land that's off of deer springs road near the freeway, the valley center planning group is saying, no, we want our share that we get a take, we want in the center of the two villages in valley center.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Which is what the general plan is.

KENT DAVY: Which is what this general plan map is proposing. There really aren't that many people in valley center right now. It's an interesting tension about which way makes more sense to provide for these people.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Uh-huh. And did you want to comment at all on what Dave was just saying there?

KENT DAVY: Well, yes, property rights are -- property ownership is a fundamental right. The point always in a taking situation is, if I have something now, and the government takes it away, have I lost something and is that the edge? You never -- few people have absolute right to anything. Maybe my own breath. And that's about it.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Now, Andrew, one of the issues that came up at this hearing was road, which was actually a road that accretive, the developer that kent was just mentioning wants to have included in the map or in the future plan. And that is in bill horn's district. When you look at this, are you noticing any difference between the different supervisors' approach to growth in the back country?


DAVE ROLLAND: Loaded question.

ANDREW DONOHUE: Yeah, great question. Yeah, I think this is an interesting dynamic that plays at the very least in the Ron Roberts Steven wood burn race as well because in some of the land use issues right now, Ron Roberts is very much playing the swing voter role with Miriam mountains, it was deadlocked 2 to 2, and Ron Roberts had to come up with a very big decision on I believe it was 2400 units of housing out in the back country. He stepped in and voted against it. But very rarely in an election do you get to really see the very tangible that you could have on decisions. So Ron Roberts is sort of a centrist. Right? But Steven wood burn would be much more, I think reliably on the left. And perhaps Kent can speak more about the Gronke issue as well.

KENT DAVY: Gronke and horn splits the same way. With horn being very much a supporter of accretive. Gronke who has been a vista city councilman has been opposed to that kind of development. Was opposed to Miriam mountain, and that's the philosophical split between the two candidates.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Do you think it's interesting timing that the next hearing is not until November 10, after the election, and the decision will come who knows when?

KENT DAVY: If you look at the time line on the general plan update, it is pages and pages of dates and times. There's always an election, and there are always new steps on this time line.

ALISON ST. JOHN: 1-888-895-5727. If you've got anything to say about -- what did you call it Andrew? The land use extravaganza.

ANDREW DONOHUE: Let's keep making up new ones every second.

ALISON ST. JOHN: If you have questions on how to call a general plan update a slightly catchier name here. You can actual us at the Editors' Roundtable. Kent, I heard rumors that this might be such a controversial decision, they might not even make a decision on it.

KENT DAVY: Yeah, I think that's possible. It's possible that they could throw it back to staff, say we don't like significant pieces of this, come back and redo it again. I'm not connected well enough to the various supervisors to quite understand what the politics are gonna likely be. I think the process will continue for some time though. I don't think this is resolved quickly.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay. Good. So keep an eye on that, and it'll come up as a hot topic next month and may even end up back in the voters lap. So we'll see. But it could have a huge impact and how our back country develops, and the communities that are beginning to get a little more urbanized like Ramona and Fallbrook and Valley Center.