Public turns out primarily in opposition, though majority of planning groups support
By Lola Sherman
October 21, 2010 (San Diego) - After listening to seven hours of testimony from dozens of speakers for and against a controversial General Plan Update affecting much of East County, the county Board of Supervisors yesterday put off a decision until Nov. 10.
On that date, the board expects to hear from 150 more speakers over another seven-hour period—and it plans to vote on the entire Update package.
If they haven't addressed the board before, more speakers can sign up then.
Of those who have spoken or signed up so far, opponents numbered nine of 12 organized groups and 154 of 196 individuals. Only official community planning and sponsor groups showed a majority, 12 of 17, in favor of the proposed update.
The audience for the first hearing Wednesday overflowed the supervisors' chambers, an adjacent conference room and an upstairs viewing area.
Ann Quinley of Valley Center described the plan as “the fundamental land-use constitution for San Diego County.” It prescribes what kind of development and how much density of development will be allowed – and where.
The update is designed to reduce urban sprawl and avoid development in areas of high fire risk, according to deputy ChiefAdministrative Officer Chandra Wallar.
About 1,250 square miles - population 503,000 - fall under county planning jurisdiction.
Its more than two dozen unincorporated communities are as diverse as Fallbrook and Boulevard, Rancho Santa Fe and Jamul. Those speaking Wednesday had equally diverse positions.
Jack Phillips of the Valle de Oro Community Planning Group complained that the current proposal would allow condominiums on Mount Helix. An East County Magazine poll showed that 83 percent of readers oppose amending the general plan to allow condos in the backcountry.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob said she would not support that part of the plan.
The League of Women Voters of San Diego County supported the update, as did
Larry Johnson, chairman of the Rural Economic Action League of East County.
“It's not ideal,” Scott Montgomery of the Spring Valley Community Planning Group said. But we're satisfied that it is a good product.” However, Montgomery cautioned that there should be no tax-subsidized housing in Spring Valley until other unincorporated areas have the same percentage. “I do have a mission to upgrade the community,” Montgomery added.
“Without passage of the update,” Warren Larkin of the Pine Valley Planning Group said, “we will be fair game for developers.”
Jack Shelver of the Julian Community Planning Group said it objects to a “broad-brush approach” of too many proposed 80-acre parcels. He likened it to “killing an ant with a sledgehammer.”
“Downzoning of rural lands is not acceptable,” said Dan Neirinckx of the Jamul Dulzura Community Planning Group. If open space is so important to the entire county, he said, then it is the responsibility of all the residents, including those living in incorporated cities, to pay for it.
Greg Fox of the Alpine Community Planning Group said it was “leaning toward staff recommendations with some exceptions.” He objected to the location of a proposed new high school and to loss of parking spaces downtown.
Jacob replied that “we have nothing to do with the site of the high school.” It is the responsibility of the Grossmont Union High School District.
After an hour-long briefing on the complicated Update by the county planning staff, the board heard first from organized groups, like the County Farm Bureau, which opposes the proposal.
Then it heard from individuals both in favor and opposed.
And then it asked to hear from the official planning or sponsor groups in the two dozen affected communities.
Most controversial of the Update's proposals are those calling for a change in the density - the number of housing units allowed because, in some cases, they are increased and, in some areas, they are decreased, for instance allowing only one home on 80 acres.
The general idea is to build more density near town centers, where infrastructure such as roads and fire stations already exist, and to allow much less in truly rural areas.
Devon Muto, chief of advanced planning, said it provides “a reduced burden to taxpayers” for infrastructure and fire protection for homes that are built too far away from those standard amenities. And, he said, “the perception of loss of property values is much greater than the actual”.
Al Stehly of the county Farm Bureau disagreed, saying farmers should be compensated for the loss of value in their land if it is downzoned to allow for fewer homes. The value of the land is crucial to getting loans for agricultural ventures, he said.
”Farmers should not be asked to bear the burden that is not asked of anyone else,” Eric Larson, executive director of the Farm Bureau, said.
“The downzone impact is much exaggerated,” said Jacqueline Benjamin of Elfin Forest.
But lawyer Jessica Johnson told the board that the plan “may constitute an illegal taking of land” and “can result in inverse condemnation.” “People will fight” and “there will be lawsuits, “ attorney Hank Rupp said, calling the plan “a land grab.”
“Do not subject the Back Country to become a wasteland of boarded-up businesses,” Peg Keeley of the East San Diego County Association of Realtors pleaded.
Civil engineer Doug Paul speaking on behalf of SORE – Save Our Rural Economy – called the plan “an unintended disaster that will last for decades.” “Two dozen little hamlets and villages will have trouble keeping going,” he said.
Duncan McFetridge of Save Our Forests” called the plan “a death sentence” for the adjacent Cleveland National Forest.
On the other side, Frank Landis of the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plants Society opined that “the plan moderates growth – it does not stop it.”
A program to compensate the farmers with funds from either a multiple-species habitat preservation fund or the California Department of Transportation has been suggested.
Before she makes a decision, Jacob said she wants to know if such a program would work – and specifically how much money would be available for it.
“Supervisors asked the speakers which of several proposed maps they preferred.
Many liked an early draft. Others preferred a compromise worked out by the staff and the county Planning Commission. Few favored what was called the “referral map” which included exceptions to accommodate particular developments.
Speakers from Valley Center liked the plan itself just fine, but insisted that “proposed Road 3,” which doesn't actually exist, be removed from the maps.