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2020 Initiative Could Mean The End For Backcountry Development Projects

by Jeff Powers, published

San Diego, CALIF.- Very quietly an initiative has been placed on the 2020 ballot that if passed, would require voters countywide to approve large housing developments in the backcountry.

As we have seen with other proposed developments that are placed on the ballot, see the "old" Lilac Hills Ranch, it is all but impossible for those projects to pass.

The initiative supporters comprise 12 area environmental groups and the League of Women Voters.

The current Board of Supervisors, four of the five, have gone on record opposing the referendum.

The initiative, circulated by the Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside group, was placed on the ballot in 2020 because the signatures, collected earlier this year, were too late to have it voted on this November.

California law stipulates the initiative must be placed on the ballot.

It didn't take long for at least one Supervisor to question the initiatives wisdom. Bill Horn noted, “I don't have a problem putting this on the ballot," but he cautioned, "If this passes, what do we need a Board of Supervisors for?"

Horn isn't far off as arguably, the most critical decisions the County Board of Supervisors make regard land-use.

The County currently has 13 large General Plan amendments in the pipeline, half of which would require voter approval if this measure is approved. 

Developments in the Crosshairs

Warner Ranch and the new Lilac Hills Ranch developments are scheduled to go before the supervisors for approval in December. If approved, it's very likely neither will get a shovel in the ground  before 2020.

Newland Sierra, which received approval last month will not need voter approval. However, opponents of that development have turned in signatures for a separate measure that would overturn the supervisor’s approval. The supervisors unanimously approved the 2,135-unit housing project late September, with Dianne Jacob absent. They said the project would help with our affordable housing crisis.

That could also appear on the March 2020 ballot.

County Staff Report

An impact report regarding the initiative was prepared by county staff, and the report painted a grim picture for additional housing projects. As an example, “Voters from National City to the City of Oceanside would decide whether a GPA within the incorporated community of Julian” would be approved.

Importantly, the report also says the measure is consistent with the goals of encouraging development near urban areas or in areas of the unincorporated county called villages where higher density is desired.

Environmental groups, who partly paid for the initiative have derided the report saying it will be used by the building industry and opponents as a marketing tool.

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