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in the News -
San Diego Union-Tribune
Show leadership on land-use issues
June 15, 2004
It is hard to believe, but 50 years ago, Los Angeles County was
the leading agricultural county in the state. However, Los Angeles
failed to meet the challenge of growth, as there was insufficient
vision and leadership from the elected officials responsible for
planning. Now, despite the lack of open space and hopeless traffic
congestion in the greater Los Angeles area, there is still a shortage
Fortunately, San Diego County is on the verge of charting a new
and sustainable course for its future. For the last seven years,
the Board of Supervisors has directed a historic revision – called
the "2020 update" – of its fundamental land-use plan. This plan
involves all the lands outside city limits, the lands that define
San Diego as unique in the region.
Tomorrow, the supervisors can give the process a critical vote of
confidence by moving forward with a map recommended by county planning
staff. There are hugely important reasons for doing so.
We have learned that focusing growth where infrastructure and services
are available is the only approach that the taxpayer and the environment
can afford. Take, for example, road costs. If the county's current,
sprawling land-use plan were kept, it would cost $7.7 billion to
improve the roads. Under the new plan recommended by staff, this
dips to $2.3 billion. Savings also result for fire protection and
other services. Subsidies are reduced. The county can't afford not
to change course.
If ranching and farming are to prosper, suburban-style lots and
"ranchettes" must not replace these historic uses. The new map recommended
by staff achieves this goal – and does so while fully accommodating
the growth projected over the next 20 years. Again, the idea is
to focus growth where it makes most sense, and where it is most
affordable. By doing so, we can preserve the very landscapes that
create a high quality of life for rural residents and city dwellers
The reason that San Diego County is on the verge of planning success
is the stakeholder process set up by the Board of Supervisors. Over
the course of hundreds of meetings, builders, farmers, community
groups, property owners and environmentalists have provided extensive
input into the board's overall policy framework. Staff has responded
with a carefully balanced compromise that now has a critical mass
of consensus behind it.
Not that all problems are solved – hardly. For example, more work
is needed to maintain community character and to support ongoing
agriculture. But by accepting the staff recommendation as the basis
for moving the 2020 update forward into an environmental impact
report, all parties can continue to work together. If the careful
balance is upset, all the progress made over the last seven years
is at risk.
San Diego County is at a crossroads. Last election, a ballot measure
to redo the county's land-use map was defeated, in significant part
because the 2020 update promised a superior alternative. The voters
placed their confidence in county government, and the supervisors
have now brought us a long way toward realizing that prse.
As expected, many from all sides are asking for more. However, by
holding the line that good planning has established, and endorsing
the balanced map recommended by their staff as the vehicle for moving
forward, leadership from the supervisors can truly keep San Diego
Silver is executive director of the Endangered Habitats League,
dedicated to ecosystem protection and sustainable land use.