Resource protection under attack in San Diego
Resource protection is needed - now, more than ever. It's not the time
to throw away the rule book - but that is exactly what the county supervisors
by Dan Silver
"San Diego is that place south of Southern California."
ou may have heard this line quoted by citizens proud
of the way San Diego protects its communities and its natural heritage.
If there is indeed a difference between San Diego and the monotonous sprawl
of Orange and Riverside Counties, the major credit goes to a visionary ordinance
enacted by the Board of Supervisors in 1989 called the Resource Protection
Ordinance, or RPO.
In the late 1980s, when faced with rampant mass grading
of hillsides and ridges, loss of wildlife habitat, and deteriorating community
character, the Supervisors wisely recognized that a clear-cut set of rules
laying out acceptable development standards was needed. They recognized
that without hard-and-fast rules, known and understood by all parties in
advance, the outcome would be endless variances and inappropriate development.
Thus, instead of free-for-all attempts at political manipulation, the Resource
Protection Ordinance has created a level playing field for landowners and
a stable reference point for elected officials.
RPO has several components, each of which protects the
community. Where there are steep slopes, it restricts disfiguring grading,
so that aesthetic landforms continue to enhance property values. It ensures
that the developer will provide mitigation for impacts where sensitive plants
and animals exist. Where development in wetlands and floodplains would cause
flood damage to properties downstream, such development is prohibited, and
streams can't become concrete sewers like the "Los Angeles River."
Without RPO in place, exception after exception would
be allowed. After a while, those exceptions would add up to irreversible
damage to communities and to the very nature of the county.
RPO is now under heavy assault by some members of the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Bill Horn introduced a motion to totally eliminate RPO, and it
was seconded by Supervisor Greg Cox. Supervisors Jacob, Slater, and Roberts
- eventually joined by Cox - succeeded in slowing down this anti-community
and anti-environmental freight train. The next showdown will come January
That is not to say that RPO cannot be improved consistent
with the streamlining initiatives of Supervisors Jacob and Slater. For well
over a year, a citizens committee has looked at RPO and evaluated options.
Positive steps would include the elimination of redundant slope calculations,
clarifying mitigation guidelines, reducing the paperwork needed for wetlands
definitions, and the amendment of RPO so that it can more effectively build
a comprehensive habitat protection system. That would be a sensible package
with benefits to all parties.
The citizens committee is split between development
and environmental interests, however, and consensus is unlikely. Thus, major
policy decisions will appropriately be laid squarely at the feet of the
Board, where development interests will call for more permissive slope criteria
and for the elimination of ordinance-level protection. They will also ask
for the deferral of habitat issues to exemption-ridden state law, and for
abdication of local responsibility for wetlands protection.
What is the real agenda behind the attack on RPO? It may be to open up San
Diego's unincorporated area - meaning its scenic, rural backcountry - to
more intensive development. Such a misguided strategy would not only lead
to loss of economically productive farmland and tourist revenue, but permanently
burden the taxpayer with subsidizing expensive infrastructure and human
services for these outlying areas. New highways, water mains, and sewage
treatment plants, as well as police, fire, and ambulance would be some of
the costs to be borne.
Growth without the protections of RPO is unlikely to
be "smart" growth - that is, growth which maintains quality of
life. More sensible ways to meet future housing needs can be pursued and
are indeed coming forward because of the RPO. The uniqueness of San Diego
within the wall-to-wall sprawl of surrounding counties is hardly an accident,
but rather the result of the well-established rules of RPO. If these are
thrown to the wind by the Board of Supervisors, it will be a major step
down the road to homogenization with Orange and Riverside Counties.
Elected officials need to hear support for continued
resource protection. Contact your County Supervisors about protecting RPO.
If you have any questions or would like to be placed on a list of concerned
citizen volunteers working for resource protection, please call or write
Carolyn at Earth Times, 272-0347.
Dan Silver is Coordinator for the Endangered Habitats League, an organization
of Southern California conservation groups and individuals dedicated to
ecosystem protection, improved land use planning, and collaborative conflict
Call to action - what you can do
he draft staff report on repealing RPO from the County
Dept. of Planning & Land Use is recommending a 60-day continuance (from
January 24) of the Board hearing so that Planning and Sponsor Groups and
the Planning Commission can review it. The staff report is 40 pages long,
and the Board's RPO subcommittee hasn't even come up with their own recommendations
yet (they will do so sometime in January). But remember, the Board is not
obligated to follow the recommendation to continue, and Supervisor Horn
is quite capable, on January 24th, of making an immediate motion to repeal
RPO. He has made that motion before, and Supervisor Cox has seconded it.
The Earth Times encourages everyone to support the staff's continuance recommendation.
Please call - or even better, write - your supervisor and Chairperson Ron
Roberts to say that not only do we support the continuance, we expect it.
This is a critical issue to this county, and the public deserves adequate
notice. There is a lot of material to review, some of which isn't even available
County Board of Supervisors
1600 Pacific Highway, S.D. 92101
Call your supervisor:
Dist. 1: Greg Cox 531-5511
Dist. 2: Diane Jacob 531-5522
Dist. 3: Pam Slater 531-5533
Dist. 4: Ron Roberts 531-5544
Dist. 5: Bill Horn 531-5555