As families and individuals we often rely on reason, experience and commitment when planning to responsibly pursue our life’s desires.  We know if we act on impulse or gamble against our better sense, negative ramifications potentially await.

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The need for reasoned, responsible planning is a tenant of our government, too. Hence, we recognize the value of, and need for, planning resulting in comprehensive strategies like the newly adopted SANDAG regional transportation plan, various cities’ general plans and their supportive community plans.

In the face of a region-wide, decade-long and intensive effort to craft San Diego County’s general plan, our first opportunity to sit back and rely on this plan to guide us toward our future has proven to be an opaque exercise in how to circumvent it. In these early forays into the implementation of the general plan it seems critical to uphold its intent to set the proper course and uphold the integrity of the planning process.

Smart growth and sustainability  are core components of the plan. One of its strongest underlying premises is to conserve natural resources and develop lands and infrastructure more sustainably. These principals are reflected further in the various community plans that support the general plan. We know them well: promote environmental stewardship, protect agricultural lands, consolidate new growth around existing infrastructure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In essence: Think and act to better our future.

So along comes Lilac Hills Ranch, the first in a series of proposed developments that will test our commitment to the county’s general plan. While Lilac Hills Ranch appears to incorporate many sustainable building and design practices, it is clear this development in its proposed location severely undermines the smart-growth tenets of the general plan.

Lilac Hills Ranch is not adjacent to an existing community or existing infrastructure. The SANDAG regional transportation plan does not extend transit service to this location for the next 30 years. That means it would result in people driving more, not less, an outcome that directly conflicts with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Further, the project’s projected increase in daily traffic alone does not approach accepted standards to spur mass transit development.

Invariably, arguments will follow to allow even more development to press for more transit and other infrastructure, bolstered by the realization that the agricultural value in this region will have been substantially degraded. Establishing a large urban development within an agricultural region like this, (counter to the general plan’s guiding principle of preserving agriculture as an integral component of the region’s economy), greatly increases its susceptibility to crop diseases born by suburban insect pests unintentionally introduced. This will also result in the introduction of chemicals and pesticides detrimental to the regional environment.

County staff, in supporting Lilac Hills Ranch, is discounting the project’s deficiencies in meeting county-adopted basic environmental standards that include looking at the overall design of a project and how it integrates with and enhances its surrounding environment. Problematically, the county has chosen to point to a building industry-produced “equivalent” set of standards that doesn’t address regional impacts.  In other words, just because the project may look environmentally friendly inside its own fences, doesn’t mean it’s smart or sustainable when you look at the far-reaching effects on the rural landscape around it.

The ramifications of the supervisors approving Lilac Hills Ranch are telling. Amendments should be consistent with the underlying principles of the general plan, not ways to navigate around them. Overlooking clear contradictions to the core goals of the general and community plans would be a renunciation of commitment to the plan and the vision, comprehensive reasoning and concerted effort vested in it.

The county invested more than 14 years into developing its general plan. Adoption of the proposed amendment to approve Lilac Hills Ranch will represent a severe blow to the integrity of the planning process, undermining both the clear intent of the general plan and the role of civic engagement in our region, not to mention opening the gates for a wave of misplaced developments to inundate and adversely impact our region from this point forward.

Roger Lewis is president of Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, a citizen-based advocacy organization focusing on good planning, design and governance in the San Diego region. Lewis’ commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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