Sprawl Wars

by Carolyn Chase


ary, Mary quite contrary, how will our region grow? Job opportunities and a mild climate make this region a draw for growth. The message is: they are coming whether we build it or not. After all, most of us did.

With California's population expected to increase by nearly 50 percent by 2020 (the equivalent of four new cities the size of Los Angeles - just think about that!), where are we going to put them? How is the required infrastructure going to be paid for? How will we protect both the environment and our quality of life?

If the regional systems are only designed for sprawl, then we will sprawl. Sprawl-patterned developments with continued growth leads to traffic congestion, endangered species, declining infrastructure investments and an overall declining quality of life -- things that we can all see the signs of right now.

But the flip side of stopping urban sprawl becomes an community quality-of-life issue. If we can stop sprawl development where are folks going to live? Will existing communities be overwhelmed by bad growth? This uncertainty and fear is being unfairly courted by opponents of Prop. B, the Rural Heritage and Watershed Initiative, the most serious attempt ever put forth to curb urban sprawl.

Why unfair? Opponents have resorted to fanning fears about things we have to deal with anyway: increasing housing prices and increasing population. Neither of these things has anything to do with Prop. B, nor will Prop. B appreciably worsen an already corrupted process: regional land use planning.

Defeat of Prop B will do little to soften the effects of the coming density wars. On the other hand, passage would ensure protection of back country resources: local water supplies, agricultural lands, open space and habitat.

The growth we are expecting will continue to take place throughout the entire county with or without Prop B. Bulldozers are already taking out flower fields for super-malls and filling areas with residential and commercial buildings.

Prop B does nothing to change or effect densities in other areas. These densities are controlled by the respective jurisdictions' General Plans and would require local government or voter action to change densities. Prop B merely zones areas appropriate to their agricultural uses and establishes processes to protect the back country from growth.

At worst, Prop B would "redirect" a small amount of our expected
growth from areas where it should not be put to begin with. This relatively small redirection would be spread over the next 20 to 30 year. It's also stretch to think that someone seeking to live on subdivided 2-8 acre parcels in east county would automatically move to urban or coastal areas. In reality, 2-8 acre parcels make nice "ranchettes" for the well-to-do seeking a pseudo-country life. Unfortunately, this lifestyle drives the sprawling fragmentation of habitats and pollution of the watershed when subdivisions take place in the wrong places.

Be wary of appeals to save the threatened "family farm." In the normal course of California population growth, the family farm becomes the family shopping mall. Many farmers have been unable to own their own land for many years in Southern California. Much farming is done on leased lands. There will be nothing that restricts anyone from leasing out farmlands of all sizes to farmers.

One local farmer wrote to me, "The Farm Bureau doesn't do a damn thing for farmers any more. All they care about is to prop up land values alone. Nationally, we are losing farmland at the rate of 50 acres per hour every hour of every day. Look through all the histories of the Farm Bureau publications and you won't find one mention about saving farmland, they really don't care about that."

But opponents have been running TV ads saying that the initiative would make it hard for small farmers because it would not allow creation of new parcels for smaller farms or expansion of existing farms. This is untrue. Prop. B has a provision to allow the creation of new parcels as small as 2, 4, or 8 acres (current zoning), with homes, as long as the new "parcel will be used for agricultural uses." Prop. B will reduce the pressures on affected lands that convert farms to shopping malls, residential or other uses.

What are relevant issues with Prop. B?

(1) Do we want to inhibit urban sprawl in San Diego County?
(In their editorial opposing Prop B, even the San Diego Union Tribune cited this as a "laudable goal" )

(2) Does this measure inhibit urban sprawl?
The only way to curb urban sprawl is to remove the residential development potential in an area. So yes, Prop. B would protect the affected areas from urban sprawl.

(3) Is the limitation of urban sprawl more likely to be accomplished through this initiative than through the County planning process?
Reasonable people may differ, but look around. The only reason the backers of Prop B have gone to the expense and trouble of mounting such a difficult grass roots campaign, is the manifest lack of integrity in the County's administration of its General Plan over the years.

Furthermore, what is the opportunity of Prop B? We could re-capture infrastructure dollars that would be wasted on expensive, low-density, outlying areas to solve urban problems such as better transit, and repair/improvement of roads, drainage and sewage lines.

Let's stop the highly-polluting paving of our watersheds and preserve some resources as we grow. According to county studies, Prop B will reduce vehicle miles traveled in our county by 2 billion miles a year and this would reducing toxic auto emissions by 5,000 tons per year. The less pavement we have across the county, the less polluted runoff will reach our coastal waters.

We need to stop the inefficient, cumulatively polluting and non-sustainable development pattern of sprawl. Let's have smart growth in SD. Let's build affordable housing in mixed-use projects. Let's phase transit with growth and provide alternatives to cars each step of the way. On the same ballot, voters will have the chance to support Props K and M which help address the challenges of responsible growth.

If you are committed to maintaining the overall quality of life in San Diego for the long run, Prop B is best for the back country and all San Diego County. Props K and M show the way toward how to create partnerships for growth that works. Vote Yes on B, K and M.