The quiet Carmel Valley neighborhood of Pacific Highlands Ranch is celebrating after the passage of Proposition C, which removes a restriction that limited development there to 1,900 homes until a nearby freeway interchange was complete.

Prop. C passed easily with 70 percent of the citywide vote Tuesday night, bringing the community a step closer — at least in theory — to getting amenities like parks, a library, and a shopping center that could not have been built until the neighborhood had the population density to support it.

The ballot initiative removes an unusual restriction that was put in place in the late 1990s when the suburban bedroom community was just developing. Nearby residents feared a crush of car traffic would accompany the new neighborhood’s growth. They placed a restriction on Pacific Highlands Ranch prohibiting it from growing too much until the completion of a nearby freeway that could ease the traffic.

The freeway’s construction schedule did not go as planned, and isn’t expected to be complete for at least 10 years, meaning all growth would stop in Pacific Highlands Ranch.

At the same time, the construction of public amenities like parks and a library — funded privately through a special tax on homeowners there — is tied to population growth, which of course can’t happen until new homes are built.

The result was an unfinished neighborhood stuck in limbo, which supporters said had forced residents to leave Pacific Highlands Ranch because it didn’t have its own amenities.

With the passage of Prop. C, the city will remove the restriction tying growth to the freeway — whose construction the city does not control — and tie it instead to the construction of public amenities, which it does.

Growth can continue in Pacific Highlands Ranch, but only if the city builds the public facilities needed to support it. That will give residents more power to lobby the city to build the facilities if the city wants to continue issuing lucrative building permits. If the city does not build them, Prop. C supporters, including District 1 Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, hope to prohibit the city from issuing those building permits.

Proposition C removes an important barrier, but whether or not the neighborhood’s parks and libraries will actually get built is another matter. The city has drastically cut park and library services and severely delayed or halted the construction of many new planned facilities because it can’t afford to operate or maintain them, even in communities like Pacific Highlands Ranch, where construction money is available.

Tuesday’s failure of Proposition D, the sales tax/financial reform measure, makes it likely the city will scale back on public services even more, not expand them.

But Pacific Highlands Ranch residents said clearing away the existing growth restriction was the first step to getting the facilities they’ve been waiting for.

The next step, they said, is convincing the city of its responsibility to build and operate the amenities and make the neighborhood whole.

“This is something the community really wanted and needed and we’re all so pleased to have accomplished this,” said Manjeet Ranu, a resident and co-chairman of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Group. “We look forward to working with the community to implement Prop. C and complete the vision that is Pacific Highlands Ranch.”

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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