Rural Sprawl Hurts All San Diegans

Rural Sprawl Hurts All San Diegans
by Thomas Anglewicz, AIA

French Premier Clemenceau once stated, "War is too important to be left to the generals." The same appears to be true about land use policy in San Diego County-it is too important to be left to the County Supervisors.

For over a decade, the County Supervisors have been dedicated to adopting zoning laws that will not only ruin the Backcountry, but also harm all San Diegans. The County's actions run counter to BOTH public opinion and state law. Only numerous interventions by the courts have, so far, prevented the County from creating a future of even worse sprawl, and its consequences, than we already have.

In 1993, the County proposed to open to development 90,000 acres of inholdings within the Cleveland National Forest. The state courts said, "No."

In 1995, the County proposed sprawl policies for 190,000 acres of Backcountry land. Again, the courts said, "No."

And right now, while the County struggles to respond to these past monumental mistakes, it is aggressively pushing forward in its 2020 planning process with even more sweeping proposals that will cause even more harm. Incredibly, the County insists rezoning to prevent sprawl cannot occur unless developers who wish to build in urban areas pay money to "transfer" development rights from rural landowners. Doesn't the County understand that the cost to transfer "development rights" will end up right on top of the already sky-high price of housing? Besides, why, in addition to all the other fees developers already have to pay, should a builder have to pay a dime to build in an area suitable for development?

The County's "TDR" proposal is a capitulation to rural speculators and an abuse of the County's duty to protect everyone in the County. Unless the County drops its TDR idea and uses its zoning authority on behalf of all the people in the County, its land-use decisions will increase traffic congestion, degrade drinking water, and reinforce the trend of high-cost housing throughout San Diego County.

  • Traffic Congestion. San Diego Association of Governments' (SANDAG) analyses show that, compared to non-sprawl policies, opening the Backcountry to sprawl will increase traffic congestion by another 7% throughout the County, and by MORE than 7% in our already highly congested hot spots.
  • Drinking Water. San Diegans get their purest, best-tasting, least-expensive drinking water from 24 San Diego County reservoirs. These reservoirs, with their 569,000 acre feet of storage capacity, are fed by streams that arise high in the Backcountry and flow mile after mile through the Backcountry to each reservoir. County Supervisors are ignoring the warnings of professional reservoir managers that sprawl will degrade the water quality of the runoff going into these important water resources.
  • Housing Costs. $293,000! That's the median cost of a home now in San Diego County. Only 28% of all households in the region can afford such a home. Housing costs are significantly impacted by sprawl zoning. The strategy for decades has been to build housing on land that is less expensive because it is further from the city centers. That strategy has failed. In San Diego County, sprawl zoning policies have created a huge shortage of building sites. With the County's population growing from 2.8 to 3.8 million by the year 2020, the County needs sites for 360,000 new homes. Sprawl zoning policies, however, leave room for only 260,000 sites--a 100,000-home shortfall. The simple law of supply and demand has not been altered. Sprawl zoning is choking off supply. The vast majority of San Diegans need zoning that allows developers to build houses of a size and type that people can afford. Cutting up the Backcountry is not the answer to San Diego's affordable housing problem! Few people can afford to build a house on the 2, 5 or 10-acre parcels that sprawl zoning creates.

The people of San Diego County already know that we can't continue just doing the same old thing. In May 2000, the Public Policy Institute of California surveyed 2000 San Diego likely voters about growth. San Diegans were concerned about the impact of one million more people. However, they believe bold new action can handle the huge challenges we face. The survey found that 67% of likely voters favor an urban growth boundary, 79% favor zoning that promotes housing near transit stations and jobs, and a whopping 87% believe corruption in government is a major problem.

Our County Supervisors have wasted millions of dollars trying to paper over their misdirected planning and zoning policies. The courts now have so little faith in San Diego County government that a state judge turned over authority for Backcountry land use decision-making to a local conservation group (Save Our Forests and Ranchlands). This nationally unprecedented situation has been going on for nine years, and is shocking proof that County citizens can't trust County officials to protect the public interest.

If, indeed, the County can break with its past and move strongly in a new direction, fine. Perhaps our long land-use nightmare may finally be over. But, if the County votes for more of the same, and continues to be far out of step with the voters and with community leaders like the Union-Tribune, San Diegans may be forced to take matters into their own capable hands through an initiative.

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