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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Measure A Would Dramatically Change How Rural Land Is Developed In San Diego County

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego County voters will decide in March whether they should get a say in deciding the fate of back country housing projects. KPBS reporter Eric Anderson says measure a would require a countywide vote for projects that currently only require the approval of supervisors. Speaker 2: 00:19 JP the Burj with the organization grow. The San Diego way stands next to a busy construction site in Valley center and right here is a project called park circle. It's a project he likes and it's on the site of an old dairy developer. Touchstone communities is building 630 homes here without the need for a special exemption from the County board of supervisors. That's because this land is zoned to build houses. This project is inside the county's plan for development in the area because it's located next to this Valley center road, which is a major through fair and it makes it easily accessible to services. The County spent years with stakeholders hashing out a development plan that clusters new housing near villages, services and jobs to provide a blueprint for growth. But since the general plan was adopted, supervisors are still approving large back-country developments in isolated rural areas where those amenities are sparked. Speaker 1: 01:16 New one, Sierra lilac Hills ranch, volley Yano, harmony Grove village South. Oh Tai. Speaker 2: 01:21 Susan Baldwin is a retired urban planner and president for San Diegans for managed growth. She says the County shouldn't turn its back on a development blueprint that was eight years in the making and got input from everyone. Speaker 1: 01:34 Business interests, the building industry, community members environmentalist's and so if the plan needs to be changed, then there should be an over, uh, you know, uh, uh, review of the plan as a whole, not individual projects being approved in a piecemeal fashion. The building industry, you know, they do a lot of great stuff, but when it comes to the sprawl projects and the, the ones that don't comply with the general plan, they really have their finger on the scale. Speaker 2: 02:04 The bird says getting approval for a housing project outside the general plan guidelines is relatively easy. Developers only need to convince three supervisors and the public doesn't have input. That would change if voters support measure a called the save our San Diego countryside initiative. Developers working on a project larger than six homes would have to put it up for a countywide vote if it's outside the general plan guidelines. Supporters say that makes the process more fair. Opponents launched their campaign against the measure late last year. Tonya Castaneda represents the no on the SOS initiative campaign. Speaker 1: 02:43 Well, the SOS initiative is fundamentally an anti housing and anti-growth measure and it's it's ballot box planning at its worst. Speaker 2: 02:50 Casta native brought together labor leaders, first responders and politicians to speak out against the measure. Speaker 1: 02:56 What it's going to do is it's going to add a whole new regulatory to try to get any new home building happening in our County. Speaker 2: 03:02 The no on measure. A effort is funded largely by the county's building industry association, which doesn't want the current system chain. Speaker 1: 03:09 What it really is ultimately is an anti economy initiative. Speaker 2: 03:13 Gary London is a real estate economist volunteering with the no on measure a campaign. He says the current system works just fine because informed supervisors make informed decisions on amendments that are vetted by County staffers. Speaker 3: 03:29 There's always compromises that are made in terms of the number of housing units. So the type of housing or what infrastructure should be provided or, or how, what kind of roads should be provided, what kind of fire safety should be provided. All that is properly vetted within our representative system. Speaker 2: 03:44 London is not confident voters will do the same. The demand for housing contributes to the region soaring home prices prices which make housing unaffordable for most San Diego County residents. Speaker 3: 03:56 Just by virtue of building more housing, by having more supply against a backdrop of large demand, you're going to um, have an impact on the bid of, of pricing in, in, in, in the County. Speaker 2: 04:12 A yes vote on measure eight is a vote to require a public vote for general plan amendments that increase housing density on rural or semi-rural lands. The measure passes, if it gets more than 50% of the vote in March. Speaker 1: 04:26 Joining me is KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. Eric, welcome. Thank you Marine. Where did measure a originate? How did it come about in the first place? Speaker 2: 04:36 Well, I think it happened in large part because once the general plan, which was worked out over a period of eight years, involved all the different stakeholders, uh, communities around San Diego County, environmentalist, developers, builders, all these different disparate groups had input on this plan. They talked about it over an eight year period. It cost some $13 million. They finally agreed on this development plan that kind of clustered the development, uh, you know, around where the services are. Uh, so that would put less stress on the environment and, and all those decisions were reached. And then almost immediately or very quickly, uh, developers began asking for amendments and the supervisors, they approved 12 different projects, more than 12 different projects, uh, large housing tracks that are outside of the general plan that didn't really address how you were going to account for these impacts, fire protection issues or all of the different things that, that, uh, regional planners had already considered, uh, when they came up with the general plan. Speaker 1: 05:39 It sounds like there's a lot at stake for both sides. In this vote, what are the sides stand to gain or lose Speaker 2: 05:46 here? This is going to be potentially if it passes a sweeping change in the way housing developments outside of the general plan guidelines are developed. Like the current allows a developer to say buy land in a rural area that's not currently zoned for housing. They can go to the County board of supervisors with their project. Ultimately the board of supervisors will have the say three of them is all they would need to approve it to decide whether or not this rural development, uh, gets approved. And in San Diego County, the board of supervisors have been more than willing to do. So they've approved a more than a dozen. Speaker 1: 06:23 The supporters of measure a want the County to adhere to the general plan. But is this just another, not in my backyard measure. Speaker 2: 06:31 You're correct. When you say that they want the developers to adhere to the general plan because the argument that the supporters of measure a make is look the general plan accounts for 60,000 additional housing units that can be built without amendments. Developers can go to these areas that are near services, that are near roads, that are near a fire protection, uh, stations and they can build their housing developments there. Um, and so the idea is to stop these, these pop up, uh, developments that are not connected to the services or, uh, in the San Diego County water district. Uh, a service area. Speaker 1: 07:10 Where are some of the developments that were approved by the supervisors that are outside of the county's general plan? Speaker 2: 07:17 Um, they're kind of scattered all over. There are some in the South County, um, Oh, Thai, uh, Mesa area, Chula Vista, uh, where, where they've done it. There are some, uh, in, uh, North of Escondido. Uh, another one is another issue that's on the ballot measure B, which is the Newland Sierra project right along the 15 North of Escondido in an area that was not zoned for, for housing. Um, but they got an amendment that was, that was approved by the supervisors voters, um, uh, decided they wanted to put that onto the ballot and enough petition signatures were gathered and it's going to be a measure on the ballot measure B, uh, which will decide whether or not that project will move forward. Incidentally, and I don't want to get too lost in the weeds here, but incidentally, that's the first time that voters will have an opportunity to make a decision on a decision that the supervisors have already made. That's never happened before. And what measure a would do is make that routine. Right? So if the supervisors approve a project and it's larger than six or six homes or larger, then voters around the County would get a chance to vote on that issue. Speaker 1: 08:23 Now, developers in the real estate community would obviously make more money if more housing is built. Speaker 2: 08:28 If it was easier to build housing, yes. Speaker 1: 08:30 But what are their arguments against measure a, that would resound with the general public? Speaker 2: 08:36 Um, what they say is that San Diego is suffering from a housing shortage and we're in in bad need of building more housing. Just having more housing in the ground, uh, will bring help bring down the price of housing. Um, the thing that you have to realize too though, is that that's a complex equation. Everything that goes, the cost of housing, uh, there are many, many factors. Supply is just one of them. Um, and what they say also is that it's not a good idea to give the voters the right to make these decisions at the ballot box. They say that ballot box planning, um, isn't an effective way, uh, to map out the development future for the County. Um, and I think that's why I'm, all the County board of supervisors have come out against this, uh, measure. Uh, the Dem, the, uh, democratic party and the Republican party also out against this measure, uh, is because they, they don't think that that's the best way, uh, to make development plans. They suggest that, um, the supervisors, you know, sit down with these projects, they think about them, they look them over, they review them. Uh, they have an informed decision when they make it. And, and that's the better way to go. I've been speaking with KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. Eric, thank you. My pleasure.

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San Diego County could see sweeping changes in its land-use rules for unincorporated areas if Measure A passes on the March ballot.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments