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A recent op-ed in Voice of San Diego attempts to undermine the anti-sprawl initiative Measure A by using arcane land use jargon with the hopes that readers will simply take her word for it. Unfortunately, on both points raised by the author, she is categorically wrong.
Measure A on the March ballot is intended to ensure that our decision-makers uphold the good planning principles of the county general plan. It targets large-scale general plan amendments in lower density rural and semi-rural zoned areas — areas in which the plan specifically limited development to avoid infrastructure deficits, fire risk, additional vehicle miles traveled and areas of high habitat value.
In the piece, the author states that the initiative bans specific plans. That is absolutely incorrect. In fact, the initiative calls it out quite literally: “Nothing in this Initiative is intended to prohibit the use of specific plans, which may still be used in conjunction with existing General Plan land use designations.” She is confusing “specific plans” (which are project-specific development plans) and “specific plan areas” which is a land use designation similar to village residential or commercial. Specific plan areas may contain specific plans, but they themselves are not specific plans.
There is no restriction on new specific plans. They are still allowed to be developed on an unlimited basis in areas currently zoned for village residential, commercial, industrial or existing specific plan areas. These make up the vast majority of the housing units zoned in the General Plan (about 60 percent of the total capacity) and would not be subject to the initiative at all.
In addition, specific plans could also be developed in rural or semi-rural zoned parcels if they do not add additional density. This is consistent with the goal of the general plan (and thus the initiative) to not create more sprawl; e.g., limiting density in more remote, high fire-risk areas, with high habitat value and little infrastructure.
What Measure A does say is that new specific plan areas are already disallowed by the general plan, and the initiative simply reinforces that. It prevents developers from using a loophole to sidestep the rural or semi-rural designations by changing the land use designation to specific plan areas. Again, this is already prohibited.
The second point regarding density transfers made by the author is also categorically incorrect. In her example, on 10 acres with four units per acre, 40 homes would be allowed. She claims that the developer would not be allowed to transfer the density from five of the acres to the other five acres. That is not true. It is called clustering, and it is allowed in the general plan via the conservation subdivision program, whose entire point is to cluster development and preserve more open space. That is not impacted by Measure A. Density transfers within land use categories, such as villages, commercial, industrial, are also permitted on an unlimited basis.
What the measure does limit are transfers of density from higher-density parcels to lower-density parcels. Otherwise, it would obviate the entire point of the initiative, which is to limit sprawl, not encourage it. Shifting housing density from higher-density areas to rural or semi-rural areas would encourage more sprawl, not less. This simply closes that loophole that sprawl developers might exploit.
The sprawl developer lobby and its allies have engaged in a concerted misinformation campaign, spending close to $1.3 million in the past few months to misinform and confuse the public into thinking Measure A will limit development. They argue vociferously for the status quo (which we can all agree needs to change). The measure does not limit development. It simply reinforces the current smart-growth general plan and focuses development in areas that the general plan wisely planned for. To stray significantly from the plan should require more public input.
JP Theberge runs a public opinion and market research company and is the director of Grow the San Diego Way, providing data and analysis on housing issues in San Diego County. He also serves on the board of San Diegans for Managed Growth, which is backing Measure A.