‘Bundling’ amendments to general plan is imprudent

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The bottom-line is that 10,000 new housing units is no small matter.

Debate about the newly considered general plan amendment bundles has covered a wide variety of concerns, from the legitimacy of bundling general plan amendments to the safety of residents who might move into the proposed developments.

Questions abound.

The three bundles would include seven projects and roughly 10,000 units across north and south county. Should such large changes be made to the general plan in one year?

The bottom-line is that 10,000 new housing units is no small matter.

Debate about the newly considered general plan amendment bundles has covered a wide variety of concerns, from the legitimacy of bundling general plan amendments to the safety of residents who might move into the proposed developments.

Questions abound.

The three bundles would include seven projects and roughly 10,000 units across north and south county. Should such large changes be made to the general plan in one year?

Reports are showing that the lack of infrastructure, roads leading in and out of development sites, could potentially endanger the lives of residents in the case of a fire evacuation. Should so much land in the backcountry be rezoned for housing, especially areas already deemed to be hazardous during fire season?

Should developments with so few affordable housing inclusions be approved when the county is facing a homelessness and housing crisis? Will these luxury homes be bought up by San Diegans or will draw outside residents into the area, and is that something the community should be concerned about? Or might the sale of luxury homes to San Diegans open up more affordable homes in the region?

All three bundles are set to appear before the board of supervisors before the November elections. Is there cause for concern that these approvals are getting pushed through the county before voters have an opportunity to have a more direct say? Should these decisions be rushed for approval?

For the record, Lilac Hills Ranch was put to the voters in 2016 and soundly voted down.

On the one hand, there is a need for more high-end homes in north county to save people from the commute from Temecula. There is certainly plenty of room in the backcountry and smart development of it could greatly benefit certain San Diego communities.

The landscape of San Diego is changing, the population is growing. That cannot be avoided.

My dad remembers his high school days when he could see dairy farmers chasing their cows around what is now the Mission Valley mall.

Those same farmers ended up selling the land to developers at enormous profit.

The point is, times change. Coffee is no longer fifty cents, no one RSVPs anymore and parking spots just about anywhere in the county are not as plentiful as they used to be.

We adapt.

There is definitely a case to be made for affordable housing. Insufficient housing has created a housing bubble that has out-priced the income of the average-wage earner in San Diego.

But it is doubtful that there is a need for 10,000 luxury housing units and if there were affordable housing stipulations in these developments, of which, in actuality, there seem to be few, they will be useless in the backcountry. The general plan is geared towards building affordable housing near places of transit to ease the community into functional growth, to avoid crowding the highways, to keep residents near the jobs.

Although the amendments are being bundled, they will still be inspected individually by the county board of supervisors, reviewed and approved on their own individual merits. To some, that may be enough to satiate concerns regarding the decision-making process.

Each development will have its day in court, so to speak. Each will have to prove to the county board that it can address fire safety concerns, water and infrastructure limitations, environmental standards and provide community benefits.

And it may be possible that each of these developments could, individually, make a case to justify its approval.

But this is where umbridge must be taken.

Individually, all these developments may have some amount of net benefit. Combined, however, their benefits negate each other.

Were the board to simply be looking at two or three projects — as would be fitting the policy of only allowing three amendments to the general plan each year — issues like overcrowding and infrastructure complications would not be as big a concern. But to cram the approval of seven developments into San Diego in one year is reckless and unproductive.

Time might allow Caltrans and SANDAG to accommodate new communities off I-15, and the slow and methodical development of communities into the countryside would, hopefully, reduce the impact on traffic.

Can it be assumed that no one wants to see LA-esque traffic infect San Diego freeways?

Time might even give supervisors clarity on where to prioritize future building — though the ten years that went into developing the general plan should be clarity enough.

It behooves the county to consider that simply because something can be done legally, or technically, does not mean it is the wisest choice.

In this case, rushing to approve housing developments — for reasons still unclear, and we are generously assuming that money is not the driving factor — would be imprudent.

Much like journalism, policy approved in a rush is liable to be erroneous and lacking.

Mission Valley may not have cattle anymore, but it took decades for that change to come.

Let the growth of San Diego be slow, steady, strategic. Let it follow the wisdom outlined in the general plan to build affordable housing in areas that make sense for the residents who will be buying those units. Let it account for both the development and careful preservation of our backcountry that all of San Diego has the benefit of enjoying. Let it make measured movements towards developing reliable roads and water systems.

There is no hurry here, so let San Diego take smart steps towards big change.