County supervisors order impact report for General Plan amendment vote requirement

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors ordered an impact report for an initiative which will be placed on the March 2020 ballot and would require a public vote for General Plan amendments which increase density on parcels with semi-rural or rural land use designations.

The county supervisors voted 5-0 on Sept. 11 to order the impact report while also accepting the certification from the county’s Registrar of Voters that the initiative petition has sufficient valid signatures to be placed on the ballot.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors ordered an impact report for an initiative which will be placed on the March 2020 ballot and would require a public vote for General Plan amendments which increase density on parcels with semi-rural or rural land use designations.

The county supervisors voted 5-0 on Sept. 11 to order the impact report while also accepting the certification from the county’s Registrar of Voters that the initiative petition has sufficient valid signatures to be placed on the ballot.

“The study is appropriate, but I want to make sure it’s an unbiased study,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

If the initiative passes, voter approval would be required to ratify any Board of Supervisors support of any General Plan amendment which increases residential density for any property with a land use designation of SR-0.5 (Semi-Rural, one dwelling unit per 0.5 acres), SR-1, SR-2, SR-4, SR-10, RL-20 (Rural Lands, one dwelling unit per 20 acres), RL-40, or RL-80.

The increased density would be exempt from the voter approval requirement if the increase is for no more than five dwelling units, if the property is entirely within an existing village or rural village area, or if the increase is necessary to comply with Federal or state housing law. The measure would also permanently prohibit density transfers from higher-density parcels to lower-density parcels and prohibit new Specific Plan Area designations until Jan. 1, 2039. 

The voter approval requirement would expire on Jan. 1, 2039.

“I don’t have a problem putting this on the ballot,” said Supervisor Bill Horn.

An initiative petition for a countywide vote requires 67,837 valid signatures, and 110 percent of that is 74,621. The Registrar of Voters samples three percent of the signatures to determine the percentage of signatures which are valid and extrapolates the total number of valid signatures from that percentage. If the extrapolated figure totals more than 110 percent of the necessary valid signatures the Registrar of Voters certifies the petition without further verification. 

If the extrapolated figure is between 90 percent and 110 percent all signatures are reviewed to determine whether the petition has a sufficient number of valid signatures. The petition is rejected if the extrapolated number of valid signatures is less than 90 percent of what is required.

If a petition has a valid number of signatures the governing body has three options: to adopt the ordinance without a public vote, to submit the measure to the voters at the next regular election, or to order an impact report and place the measure on the ballot during a subsequent meeting.

California Elections Code Section 9111 states that the impact report can include the measure’s fiscal impact, its impact on the consistency with the General Plan or specific plans, its impact on the use of land including the location and availability of housing and the ability of a jurisdiction to meet regional housing needs, its impact on infrastructure funding including schools and parks as well as transportation infrastructure, its impact on the community’s ability to attract and retain businesses and employees, its impact on the uses of vacant parcels of land, its impact on agriculture and open space, its impact on traffic congestion, its impact on existing business districts and developed areas designated for revitalization, and any other matters the governing body wishes to include in the impact report.

The impact report will return to the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 9. 

“To me, the impact is pretty simple – it doesn’t take a lot to analyze,” Jacob said.

Jacob asked for the inclusion of the impact on community plans; although the county adopted its General Plan update in 2011 (at which time the Board of Supervisors noted that property owners who did not receive their desired land use could utilize the General Plan amendment process to attempt amendments for their specific parcels) some community plan updates are still pending.

If a General Plan amendment must be ratified by a public vote, the potential impacts also include that a developer could utilize the citizens’ initiative process rather than the county Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) and Board of Supervisors process for project approval. 

In 2016 Accretive Investments felt that the Lilac Hills Ranch project would not receive the necessary three Board of Supervisors votes and utilized the initiative petition process to place Lilac Hills Ranch on the November 2016 ballot. Although that measure failed, Accretive had utilized the PDS process before the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission determined that Horn needed to recuse himself because his property was too close to the project and the arguments against Proposition B focused on discrepancies between the initiative version of the project and the conditions imposed by the county’s Planning Commission while also citing deficiencies in the project’s Environmental Impact Report. 

A rezone or General Plan amendment passed through a citizens’ initiative does not require an environmental statement for the rezone and General Plan amendment itself, although an environmental statement for the actual development would be required. Although the county can order an impact report on a development sent to the ballot by an initiative petition, that impact report must be presented within 30 days and would not include a full Environmental Impact Report and a statement of overriding findings would not be necessary for any impacts considered to be significant. 

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