General Plan amendment initiative placed on March 2020 ballot

The Safeguard our San Diego Countryside initiative will appear on the ballot of the next statewide election on March 3, 2020. San Diegans for Managed Growth gathered the signatures of over 103,000 registered voters to force the ballot measure that they hope will give residents a stronger voice on development in the unincorporated areas of the county.

If approved, the initiative will require voter approval for amendments to the General Plan that increase residential density in semi-rural and rural areas. The measure excludes affordable housing and density increases of five units or less.

On Oct. 9, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to submit the ordinance to the ballot and directed staff to prepare ballot arguments in support or opposition of the proposed initiative and to prepare a fiscal impact statement estimating any increase or decrease in revenues or cost to the county if the proposed ballot measure is adopted by voters.

District 5 Supervisor Bill Horn said while 2020 is still a few years out, he would like to see a county opinion created in opposition.

“If this passes, what do you need a board of supervisors for?” he asked.

The county’s General Plan is the framework for the future growth and development of the unincorporated areas of the county. The county is limited to four General Plan Amendments (GPAs) a year but a single amendment may include multiple sub-items, referred to as batching. Due to the batching, the board of supervisors will review seven proposed housing developments for the unincorporated areas this year, totaling more than 10,000 units.

In July, the supervisors approved Harmony Grove Village South and Valiano, bringing 779 new homes to North County. Newland Sierra, a 2,135-unit development in Twin Oaks Valley north of Escondido was approved on Sept. 26. The board made both decisions to help solve the county’s housing crisis, although neighboring residents cited concerns about increasing density in high-fire risk areas and negative impacts on their rural and semi-rural communities.

“We’re lacking in housing. Period. Not just affordable housing, all types. The cost of housing is so out of line with most areas of this country,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts at the Sept. 26 hearing. “We have to look at the plan in light of what are our needs. We need housing. That is our overriding need. It overshadows everything.”

The board is expected to review another GPA batch in the coming month that includes increased housing density with Warner Ranch in Pala (780 units) and the Lilac Hills Ranch project in Valley Center (1,746 units).

On Sept. 11, the board of supervisors received the certification of valid signatures for the Safeguard our San Diego Countryside and had the option to adopt the ordinance outright, submit the measure to the voters or order an impact report prior to placing the measure on the ballot.

“There is probably a really good reason to adopt the initiative but we have not as a board adopted any initiative and put it right on the ballot,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob on Sept. 11, and ordering an impact report that the board received on Oct. 9.

Some supporters asked that the ordinance requiring voter approval for increased density be adopted that day, including Jacqueline Arsivaud, chair of the Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council and member of San Diegans For Managed Growth. She said the board had the option to “maintain the integrity of the General Plan” as well as their fiscally conservative legacy by avoiding placing the measure on the ballot at an estimated cost of $500,000.

Supporters said that all the initiative does is defend the General Plan that San Diego County spent $18 million and 13 years to draft, designating “growth in the right places”.

“The actions taken and expected to be taken on amendments to the General Plan do not take into serious considerations such as wildfire risk, affordable housing, greenhouse gas emissions and habitat preservation,” said Susan Baldwin, a member of San Diegans for Managed Growth. “I believe and trust in the voters of the county to uphold the General Plan and its values. I wish I could say the same about the board of supervisors.”

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