SOFAR's comment on Regional Governance Efforts

Regional Government Efficiency Comment Letter Submitted by SOFAR:

July 25, 2001

Honorable Byron Wear, Chairman
Regional Government Efficiency Commission
1230 Third Ave.
Suite 224
San Diego, CA 92101

Dear Chairman Wear,

Save Our Forest And Ranchlands (SOFAR) is a grass-roots organization dedicated to the protection of the wilderness, watershed, agricultural, and scenic resources of San Diego County. We are composed of concerned citizens and experts in the fields of land use, conservation of natural resources, land planning, and biology. Additionally, we are the court-approved land use authority for 250,000 acres of rural San Diego backcountry due to our sustained and successful efforts to defend against inappropriate conversion of wildlands to development.

Today, we respectfully submit our comments to the Regional Government Efficiency Commission (RGEC) as they prepare to tender their recommendations to the Governor of California for plans to coordinate transportation planning efforts in an expanded or new form of regional government for the San Diego region.

SOFAR is concerned that RGEC is repeating the same level of thinking that created the intractable problems it is supposed to resolve. SOFAR acknowledges the need for a logical consolidation of governing agencies. However, we believe that planning, not governance, is the necessary first step in solving San Diego's regional growth problems. First, adopt a plan to tackle sprawl, then empower existing agencies to administer the plan.

There is precedence for putting the plan first. In 1988, San Diego County voters endorsed the establishment of such a plan when they voted for a “Regional Planning and Growth Control Measure.” The text of the Proposition they endorsed conferred regulatory power—enforceable authority—upon the Regional Growth Management Review Board. Ultimately, SANDAG was established as the Review Board, and five years later, it adopted a Plan to resolve regional problems associated with haphazard development.

We all know that this Plan has never been implemented, chiefly because fragmented decision-making preordains that meaningful action will be lost to unproductive (albeit amiable) “consensus-building.” Still, RGEC proposes to introduce another provincially elected governing body to correct where SANDAG has failed, which delays implementation of a regional plan even longer.

RGEC would be wise to observe that Portland's Metro, the model for RGEC's new plan, did not achieve its high standard of living by first establishing a governing body. Rather, it began with a plan, a plan that defined the limits of, and programmed the timing of, urban development. Metro's governance structure came after the Oregon Growth Management Plan had been legally enacted.

Therefore, SOFAR proposes that RGEC's primary task is to institute a regional plan to stem the tide of urban sprawl. If implemented, a regional plan will improve integrated transportation, land use, and open space planning exponentially. SOFAR argues that an Urban Growth Boundary is a sensible, logical, effective tool to bring about this fundamental shift.

In June 2000, the Public Policy Institute surveyed 2000 San Diego County residents about their attitudes toward growth and governance in the region. The results are astounding, and they support SOFAR's position on this matter. Significantly, the poll indicates that voters do not have confidence in government and that they believe that greed and corruption, lack of effective planning, and overdevelopment in the wrong places are among the serious problems of the region. Furthermore, 67% of voters support the establishment of an Urban Growth Boundary in the County. Clearly, the voters have witnessed the inability of government to stand up for their interests and they see that defined urban limits would help respond to that need.

The table below is a partial reproduction of the poll's results.

The June 2000 Public Policy Institute poll
Reasons for problems in San Diego
All Adults Likely Voters
Government spending money on the wrong things 75% 77%
Too fast growth 63% 63%
Ineffective government 61% 64%
Poor quality schools in inner-city neighborhoods 61% 59%
Too much growth in the wrong places 60% 60%
Growing gap between the rich and poor 59% 56%
The way government goes about allocating state and local taxes 58% 60%
Greed and corruption in real estate development 57% 56%
Greed and corruption in government 56% 54%
Lack of effective regional planning 56% 61%
Over-development because of insufficient government regulations 51% 48%
Voters think these are good ideas:
Establishing growth boundaries 69% 67%
Reducing corruption in government 89% 87%

A coordinated and sustainable approach to land use and transportation planning—must be brought before the voters as a first step. RGEC's current recommendations are merely replacing one form of governance with another. For decades, this region has not been able to overcome provincial thinking to act in the best interest of the region.

What the current RGEC recommendations fail to recognize is that the San Diego leadership crisis is itself a symptom of sprawl politics. And, along with the other resource crises of housing, infrastructure, beach pollution, traffic congestion, and environmental degradation, will never be cured by tinkering with symptoms, i.e., more leaders or more freeways.

If we are truly interested in meaningful change, we must address the cause of our problems and enact a new plan.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to comment on this most important issue.


Duncan McFetridge
Save Our Forest And Ranchlands

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