Leadership with Sprawl Vision

by Carolyn Chase
December 17, 2001


A recent journey gave me a birdseye view of the region. Flying back from the Bay Area on a beautiful day, I had a clear view of land use and transportation patterns from San Onofre, cutting inland around the Torrey Pines Lagoon, circling around easterly to see Santee, El Cajon, Spring Valley and then swinging around to see Otay Lakes and coming west on the regular Lindbergh Field approach. The view could only be described as sprawl made visible: roads and houses from the sea to the mountains.

    This kind of viewing should be a requirement for all SANDAG Board members and elected officials – at least every year or so. It gives a "real reality" to the term "build-out."

    While most people would find solace in some swatches of remaining rolling hills and open space, each of those remaining private undeveloped areas of any size has plans and projects already permitted and/or in the pipeline.

    This aerial view focused my conclusions that the current system of "planning" and politicizing projects is certifiably insane: doing things the same way and expecting different results.

    Adoptions by the County and City Councils of "Statements of Overriding Considerations" – meaning we’re going to let them build it anyway – even though we know it will degrade the area’s quality of life – are routine. So we shouldn’t be surprised at the results.

    Agencies keep pouring taxpayer dollars into expansion projects as if they would reduce traffic – and the traffic keeps growing – along with proposals to increase taxes to keep on the treadmill. Something is fundamentally broken.

    The system allows an almost complete disconnect between traffic generated by projects and regional infrastructure funding and design required to reduce those impacts. Plans for habitat and watershed projects go begging for funds.

    The fact that past and most current growth policies have given rise to sprawl or "dumb growth," should be apparent by the rising levels of traffic, water pollution, decreasing open space and disappearing wildlife.

    What must "smarter growth" be about? It’s fundamentally – and still theoretically - the only way to accommodate the business communities’ job/population growth imperative and still provide any acceptable level of mobility. It should go without saying that today’s levels of traffic are unacceptable. The plans for more of the same – to raise our taxes to pay for it - must be rejected.

    The basic principle of smart growth is that the cities have to locate growth and require project designs that reduce traffic - or at least increases it by less. We have simply reached the buildout of our car/sprawl-based land use pattern. We have neither the land, the money, nor the "pollution sink" to continue the historical pattern of inefficient sprawl development.

    This has however, not stopped County Supervisor Bill Horn from proposing what must be some kind of a new record for a regional tax increase by someone usually considered in the conservative Republican category. Though you could also put this in the "let’s subsidize another round of sprawl" category.

    Horn’s new mega-billion-dollar sprawl freeway proposal – with a rail line thrown in to provide the mere patina of smarter growth - would go east from I-15 at Hidden Meadows, cut right through Escondido and head south through the mountains and canyons east of Poway, go over the N/S section of SR67, take a turn west of the San Vicente Reservoir, and push toward 52 though MCAS Miramar and the mountains north of Santee. His draft map also shows his two choices for a new airport site on Miramar. It’s just so easy to draw lines on a map.

    You have to hand it to Horn – just when you think there’s a regional consensus against sprawl and "Los Angelization" – he proposes that – and more. I'd call it: Leadership with Sprawl Vision. Ironically, opening another round of sprawl would increase the number of miles people would have to drive to get around – and the resulting pollution.

    Perhaps it’s just coincidence that this mega-billion sprawl mileage is minimized in his newly drawn district – with the bulk of the miles being proposed for Dianne Jacob’s and Pam Slater’s districts. Or perhaps not.

    At least Horn has a good sense of humor. His ballot statement for the March primary election includes, "Bill Horn has a vision" – well, he got that right. But it goes on to claim that his sprawl-vision will, "enhance quality of life." He also claims his vision will help in "affordable housing, reducing traffic, protecting the environment and preserving the cleanest air in the state."

    Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Another round of mega-sprawl as Horn is proposing will incontrovertibly NOT protect the environment.

    And it’s hard to preserve what you don’t have to begin with. Last time I checked, rural areas of Northern California would seem to better qualify for the cleanest air award. So I decided to double-check.

    The latest data available from the California Air Resources Board (Air Quality Trend Data 2001 California Almanac of Emissions and Air Quality) places San Diego County as having the 10th worst air quality in the state. In other words, there are 48 counties in California with cleaner air than San Diego.

    Bill’s ballot bombast begins, "Bill Horn understands honor, integrity…" Mebbe so, but he evidently doesn’t understand fact checking. And sadly, even though as a Supervisor, he serves as a member of the Air Pollution Control District Board, he also doesn’t understand where San Diego stands with respect to air quality - nor the impacts of sprawl on air quality, traffic congestion or affordable housing. With his mega-sprawl proposal, I see little evidence to suggest - as his ballot statement does - that "he's making the region a healthier place to live."

    Voters will have a choice in the upcoming March primary where Horn faces veteran community foe Patsy Fritz and unexpected challenger – veteran police detective, Kevin Barnard. According to his ballot statement, "not a politician," Barnard has been serving as Chairman of the Harmony Grove/Eden Valley Citizens Group where he has built a reputation for defending property rights and incorporating citizen concerns in merit-based decision making.

    Sounds like a smarter approach to growth to me.