The Watchdog Newsletter
1 August 2003

Watchdog Needs Shades for New Board Agenda!!

In this Watchdog:

  • SOFAR secretary needed!
  • Board News Release and Letter
  • SOFAR and SANDAG agreement
  • Call for volunteers
  • Our new CWFI website is up!

The SOFAR and CWFI office is looking for a secretary!

Help contribute to one of the most successful activist groups in San Diego-SOFAR needs help maintaining its project database and organizing its office. The Clean Water and Forest (Rural Lands Initiative) has jumped into full swing, and a versatile staff is needed to fill in immediate part or full-time openings specializing in both research and clerical duties dealing with the Initiative and other projects of SOFAR.

We want organized, optimistic people to keep our supporters up-to-date with the deluge of development happening in our area, and to keep our office running. If you are talented, computer-savvy, willing to work hard, and want to learn more about local planning, campaign politics, public policy, fundraising, grass roots organizing, and environmental science and law, we would love to meet you!

If you are interested in helping us, call Duncan at 619-230-1963, or email the office at

News Release

In anticipation of its August 6, 2003 meeting, four prominent citizen groups (SOFAR, Surfrider Foundation, SD BayKeeper, the Backcountry Coalition) have asked the County Board of Supervisors to reverse recently taken and pending actions that "threaten to undermine the democratic process" and "place General Plan 2020 policies at risk before they are implemented." The groups cited County proposals that would favor developers over citizens, and eliminate environmental groups from key advisory functions.

In one of the most remarkable items ever placed on a Board of Supervisor's agenda, County staff is recommending dismissal of members on the GP 2020 advisory group who were found to have "a conflict of purpose with the 2020 Plan process." The challenge to membership on the interest group was first brought forward by individuals with development interests, and targeted the members believed to be supporting a proposed County land use initiative. The proposed removal is seen as an end-run assault on the initiative.

The recalcitrant environmentalists were first charged with having a "conflict of interest." When it was shown that this financial interest standard equally applied to those members with development interests, the charge "conflict of interest" was modified to "conflict of purpose." While the County has a long history of anti-democratic actions, use of the new "conflict of purpose" test to decide membership and voting rights on a democratically appointed board is unprecedented.

The groups said these actions "reinforce public perception that the County will not administer new General Plan 2020 policies in a fair and even-handed manner." Failure to reverse actions, the groups argued, "will lead many citizens to believe that harmful land-use patterns will continue, regardless of how salutary the County might argue its new General Plan policies are on paper."

The groups argued the County already "labored under the burden of credibility problem" given the County's seven year track record of "illegal decision making on matters of fundamental importance and of clear favoritism of development interests."

Letter to Board for August 6, 2003 Agenda Agenda items concerning PIPELINE PROVISIONS and REMOVAL OF INTEREST GROUP MEMBERS

Members, Board of County Supervisors                       August 4, 2003
County of San Diego
1600 Pacific Highway
San Diego, California 92101

Re: County General Plan Update 2020 Process

Dear Supervisors:

We write out of concern that recent actions of county government will undermine public confidence in the fairness of administration of county land use policy pursuant to the General Plan process, now scheduled for completion next year. By this letter, we ask the Board to reverse or modify these actions.

I The County's Reputation for Fair Land Use Policy Administration Was Already Operating Under a Cloud when the General Plan 2020 Process Began

Unfortunately, the county did not begin the General Plan Update process in 1997 with a clean slate. Numerous actions of the county tended to undercut the credibility of the Board of Supervisors and the leadership of the planning office in terms of fair and balanced discharge of its land use planning responsibilities under state law. As the Union Tribune recently editorialized, "For decades, the county has been doing back-flips trying to justify a land use plan that claims to preserve agricultural acreage while in reality paving the way for development." (Derelict Board, April 17, 2002)

A. Illegal Policies

Three times since l996 state judges have ruled county land use policies purporting to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of rural land violate state laws.

B. Loss of Normal Permitting Authority

The courts deemed the county's performance so egregious that it took the nationally unprecedented action of declaring a development moratorium on 250,000 acres, stripping the county of its normal development review authority, and transferring that authority to a private, nonprofit organization, Save Our Forest and Ranch Lands (SOFAR). No other major municipality in America has been the object of such a dramatic judicial denunciation of its land use decision-making.

C. California Attorney General Joins in Legal Claim Against County

On June 13, 2000 California Attorney General Bill Lockyer joined in a lawsuit initiated by SOFAR. It is highly unusual for a state attorney general to ask a state court to overturn a municipal land use policy. The Attorney General contended that the county's violations of state law governing county land use policy "may result in significant and avoidable adverse impacts on the natural resources of the state. California Superior Court Judge Judith McConnell agreed with the Attorney General, and invalidated the county's general plan.

D. Delay in Modernizing the General Plan

The County announced in 1997 that the review and update process would be complete by 2000. In the County's latest announcement however, 2004 is suggested as a likely completion date of the plan. This delay has wasted and continues to waste staff time, donated citizen time, tax dollars, and Board time and energy. In addition, the effect of delaying modernization of the plan has been to leave old, development-favoring zoning in place, thus allowing development that nearly any configuration of new GP 2020 policies would preclude.

E. Favoring Developers over Citizen Participants

In 2001, after nearly four years of effort, the county was poised to adopt policies that would have offered improved protection of rural land. "Alternative 3" was favored by many community planning groups which had participated extensively in the process, as well as by county staff. However, developers and land speculators objected to the policies and boldly demanded, in the then famous "Stonegate memo," that the County Supervisors scrap four years of effort and go back to the drawing board. To the amazement of many, the county capitulated to the developers' demand.

Given the above track record of (1) illegal decision-making on matters of fundamental importance and (2) clear favoritism of development interests, it is small wonder that county land use decision-making labored under the burden of a credibility problem as the county restarted the General Plan 2020 process in 2001.

II Recent Actions Further Erode the County's Land Use Credibility

The county has recently taken four actions each of which reinforce public perception that the county will not administer the GP 2020 policies or other land use policies in a fair and evenhanded manner. Specifically, these actions (1) threaten to undermine or seriously erode GP 2020 policies before they are even put in place; (2) give developers unprecedented procedural advantages, and citizens unprecedented procedural disadvantages, in the crucial plan amendment process; and (3) eliminate informed and credible environmental voices in the county's most important land use policy advisory body, the Interest Group Committee.

A. "Referral" Process

The GP 2020 process now contemplates adoption of policies that will limit development on rural land. At the same time, county officials have invited landowners who do not like limitations on land use to ask the county to exempt their land from the limitations, or to otherwise modify application of the proposed policies. The so-called "referral process" is not adequately defined in terms of purpose or operating criteria. Inadequate substantive criteria invite disappointment by landowners, and harmful consequences to the unsuspecting public.

We are alarmed that county supervisors and staff have received perhaps hundreds of "referral" requests. We urge the county, prior to any further administration of the referral procedure, to strengthen the criteria for reviewing landowner exemption requests -- for example, adopting criteria similar to those applicable to requests for a variance. Absent tight, clear criteria, the county's "referral " process likely will trigger a land rush that will bring the entire GP 2020 process to a controversial meltdown.

Given the potential for abuse, as well as the potential for unraveling the GP 2020 process, the county should also adopt procedures that assure transparency of the process. An official list of all requests submitted pursuant to this procedure should be maintained and made available for inspection by the public and by representatives of the media. A formal status report of this list should be submitted monthly to the Board. The report should also identify procedures by which interested citizens may comment on the submissions. At a bare minimum, nearby landowners should be notified by first class mail of referral submissions, and of related procedures affording opportunity to comment, and to seek review of any initial approval of a submission. This reporting procedure should remain in place through whatever term of time the board allows for this referral procedure to operate.

B. "Pipeline" policy
At the start of the revised GP 2020 process in 2001, the County indicated that projects already in the "pipeline" would be exempt from the new General Plan only if they had first obtained a vested right to develop under State law. Unfortunately, County staff are now recommending that the Board scrap this sensible policy - a policy upon which much of the GP 2020 planning work has been premised and that is followed by many other California jurisdictions during general plan updates. Instead, staff now proposes to replace this policy with one that, as Bonnie Gendron aptly states in her July 29, 2003 letter to the Board, will allow development to occur where the County has already determined it would be "inappropriate, wasteful of resources, lacking infrastructure, and detrimental to enhanced quality of life."

The staff report recommending adoption of this unfounded approach asserts that the proposed action will "serve as an effective guide for orderly growth," is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"), and is "designed to comply with State requirements in Section 66474.2 of the Subdivision Map Act."

Each of these assertions is simply untrue. Indeed, rather than serving as an effective guide for development, the proposed policy would topple the County back into an explicit cave-in-to-the-developers posture from which the County has striven to extricate itself since the disastrous, developer-pressured termination of the original GP 2020 process in 2001. The proposed action is also plainly subject to the CEQA and, far from complying with the Subdivision Map Act, directly contradicts both the language and the spirit of Section 66474.2. Accordingly, SOFAR urges the Board to reject this misguided approach.

C. Repeal of Policy I- 63

GP 2020 would establish a new comprehensive plan for the backcountry. If a developer is unable to gain exemption from the new policies by the "referral" process described above, or if the developer in unable to gain a "pipeline" exemption by filing an application and paying a fee, the developer who missed either of these boats has a third bite at the apple, thanks to the county's recent action repealing the 30-year-old Policy I-63.

Under Policy I-63 the county could approve a request to change the General Plan only if the proposed change met 6 of 10 criteria. Negative determinations by either the Planning Director or the relevant Community Planning Group resulted in a public hearing before the Planning Commission.

It is submitted the repeal of Policy I-63 is (1) plainly threatens the integrity of the new GP 2020 Plan, whatever its policies turn out to be, and (2) mocks the idea that the county intends to treat citizens and developers in an evenhanded manner.

First, the Board eliminated all criteria for plan amendments. Second, the Board gave unlimited discretion to the Planning Director to approve or deny requests to change the General Plan - the "constitution" for all land use policy and decision-making in the county. No substantive criteria limit the Planning Director's discretion. Third, the Board stripped community planning groups of their existing right to appeal initial decisions approving plan amendments. Fourth, the board authorized developers to appeal Planning Director denials of plan amendments to the Planning Commission. Fifth, the Board of Supervisors denied community planning groups the right to appeal Planning Commission approvals to the Board, but authorized developers to appeal Planning Commission denials to the Board.

Apart from the unfairness of these procedures, the absence of criteria makes it something of a mystery to ponder on what basis people will say the Planning Director was right or wrong. In any event, the combination of no rules and stacked procedures is a surefire recipe for arbitrary decisions and controversy.

D. Purging the Interest Group Committee

The Interest Group Committee (IGC) is the county's most important land use policy advisory committee. Made up of interests with a wide range of perspectives and policy goals, the IGC is a laudable attempt by the county to keep disparate voices at the negotiation table, in the hope that much of the final GP 2020 product will have significant consensus support -- a factor that will gain some degree of public confidence in the final outcome.

At the Board's June 25, 2003 meeting two representatives of the building industry urged the Board to remove members of the IGC who support the Rural Lands Initiative. A few weeks later, Karen Scarborough, County Staff GP 2020 Interest Group Facilitator, delivered a resignation ultimatum to Eric Bowlby, the Sierra Club's IGC representative. The county's Deputy Chief Officer, Bob Copper, recommends that the Board remove from the IGC members with a "conflict of purpose."

We endorse the reasoning in Bonnie Gendron's July 29, 2003 letter to the board on this subject. Bonnie quite properly rejects the staff's ultimatum to resign. We urge you to do likewise.

III Conclusion

The above actions by county government, existing or proposed, suggest the county's land use process remains too heavily influenced by companies and individuals who wish to be free to develop suburban fringe and rural land. Numerous San Diego public agencies officially say such haphazard development will threaten water supplies, increase traffic congestion, and prolong low density, high cost sprawl that for decades has imposed unaffordable housing on young San Diegans struggling to enter the housing market. To avoid these and other serious community harms, and to regain the confidence of the people of San Diego that county government is running a balanced and fair land use process, we urge you to reverse or substantially modify the above actions. Failure to do so likely will lead many citizens to believe that harmful land use patterns will continue, regardless of how salutary the county might argue its GP 2020 policies are on paper.

Thank you for your consideration of these recommendations. We look forward to presenting them to you directly, and to be available to answer you questions at the Board's August 6, 2003 meeting.

Respectfully submitted,

Marco Gonzales Bruce Reznik Bonnie Gendron
Duncan McFetridge Gene Helsel Wayne Riggs
Diane E. York Suzanne Michel

News Release SOFAR and SANDAG Agree to Study Shift of $510 Million in Transportation Investments

For further information contact:

Duncan McFetridge, Chair, SOFAR

Gary Gallegos, Executive Director, SANDAG

In March, San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) approved a 30-year, $42 billion regional transportation plan. SANDAG is expected to approve today an agreement with Save Our Forests and Ranchlands (SOFAR) to study a shift in their regional plan of $510 million in transportation investments from five freeway segments in outlying undeveloped areas to four transportation improvements in developed areas in the City of San Diego and in the City of Chula Vista.

SOFAR and other groups have expressed concern that some of the freeway construction in outlying, unincorporated areas in the county included in SANDAG's transportation plan would subsidize and induce sprawl at the fringe of the metropolitan area, thus prolonging a decades-long trend of metropolitan area expansion more rapid than population growth.

SOFAR and other groups believe rapid, increasingly low density, leap-frog metro area expansion fuels traffic congestion, higher and higher housing costs, contamination of drinking water, and pollution of beaches. These groups have criticized SANDAG's transportation plan for not adequately considering these impacts.

In exchange for SOFAR agreeing not to challenge SANDAG's plan in court, SANDAG agreed to conduct a formal analysis of an "alternative" transportation network. Involving a $510 million shift, the "alternative" would substitute more frequent service on two existing urban routes and add two new urban routes.

"This is a great example of how SANDAG and activist groups concerned with the quality of life in San Diego can work together towards a common end of containing sprawl. We are confident SANDAG's analysis will show that these transit investments will improve the quality of life, mobility, and property values of more residents of the San Diego region, than will the freeways built at the edge of the region," said Duncan McFetridge, SOFAR's chairman. "Indeed, we believe freeways at the edge will cause far more harm than good."

Check out the NEW WEBSITE Clean Water and Forest (Rural Lands Initiative):


Check the website for information about the Initiative, current events, and breaking news with the Clean Water and Forest (Rural Lands Initiative).


In order to get the Rural Lands Initiative on the March 2004 ballot, the initiative committee must collect the signatures of 72,000 registered voters. Our volunteers have done a great job so far collecting signatures at stores and events and from friends, family and colleagues. We still have many signatures to get and a short period of time in which to do so. That is why we are asking for your support and help.

If you are willing to circulate a petitions, please call us (619-702-5470) and we will get them out to you that day. If you want to volunteer to collect signatures during the last few weeks of the campaign, please contact us, as we need a large surge at the end!

Finally, I wanted to thank you for making this petition drive possible. San Diego needs its citizens to take action and protect the back country from urban sprawl and to protect our water from the pollution and waste associated with that sprawl.


Christina Mun
Vice-Chair of the Clean Water and Forest Initiative Committee
P.O. Box 120351
San Diego, CA 92112-0351
Tel: 619-702-5470

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