By Rick Moore Escondido Democratic Club
San Diego County’s new General Plan is “light years more progressive” than its predecessor, said County Planning Commissioner Michael Beck in remarks before the September 14 meeting of Escondido Democrats. The good news is that there are far more restraints on semi-rural and rural development than before. The bad news is that aggressive developers have chosen the political route to work around those restraints, and the Board of Supervisors is being asked to grant exceptions for dozens of projects.
Beck said 47 such exceptions, known as “amendments,” have been grouped together and are being brought before the board. First, however, he said taxpayers will have to pay for a lengthy review process “that will take us through the next election.”
That makes the politics of election to the Board of Supervisors important, Beck indicated. “You’re fighting money and politics, just to be real about it,” he said. “I would also observe that no land use battle has ever been fought without a lot of people engaging. Victory doesn’t happen on its own. You may have 5,000 people and still lose, but you will not win if you have just two people.”
He also encouraged activists to focus on “politics at the regional level… getting the right people elected… look, land use decisions boil down to three votes, ultimately.”
On a positive note, Beck explained that legal challenges would be easier to resolve under the new plan. “The integrity of the plan is much cleaner and clearer than it has ever been before,” he said, so legal challenges based on the standards in the plan will be easier for judges to decide.
Beck noted, however, that one of the proposed developments generating the most controversy, Lilac Hills near Valley Center, is not in the group of amendments. The developer, Accretive, has chosen to pursue an amendment on its own, separating from any broader decision.
Audience member Kevin Barnard, president of the Escondido Creek Conservancy, mentioned another way residents can affect development – literally buying the land and taking it off the table. Barnard said local dollars are used to “prepare land for acquisition” and then state, federal or private funds are used for the purchase. So he recommended that anyone concerned about rampant development get involved in their local conservancy organization and “pay attention to the candidates who make land use decisions.”
Beck agreed, estimating that projects stopped during recent years have prevented from 10,000 to 20,000 “rooftops” from being built. He estimated that some $300 million has been spent to acquire land, and that between $30 and $40 million was being spent for this purpose each year in San Diego County. Beck is involved in the County’s Multiple Species Conservation Program, a regional effort to preserve habitat for wildlife and to protect watersheds and water quality.
Photo Credits Escondido Creek Conservancy