San Diego County voters are facing a number of important choices this November. From president on down, the future of our nation, state and local community seems to be hanging in the balance in this election.
At the local level, San Diego County’s Measure B stands out as a particularly bad deal. Whether you are passionate about stopping climate change or preventing unnecessary public spending, voting no on Measure B should be a no-brainer.
Measure B would allow a private developer to set its own terms for building a town the size of Del Mar in the middle of agricultural land. Lilac Hills Ranch would consist of more than 1,700 homes and 90,000 square feet of retail space on land that is zoned for 110 homes and farming.
Lilac Hills Ranch is a poster child for the worst kind of sprawl development. The land has no existing infrastructure to support a community of this scale; sewer, fire and police, and other basic services would need to be extended (the majority of which will be ultimately paid for by taxpayers) to support growth on this scale.
While the developer is peddling a vision that paints Lilac Hills Ranch as a sustainable development, nothing could be further from the truth.
Lilac Hills Ranch would make our freeways more congested. Future residents would face significant car commutes to work or school because of its remote location. Five-thousand people will be left to wind through miles of narrow country roads before reaching a major thoroughfare to take them to jobs, errands or places of worship.
The county estimates that Lilac Hills Ranch would contribute significantly to regional gridlock, ultimately requiring more than $1 billion in freeway and road improvements. Measure B only requires the developer to contribute $5 million toward its fair share – leaving taxpayers to cover the rest.
Bad Project, Bad Process
An independent report drafted by San Diego County showed that Measure B would leave the majority of required road and public safety improvements to county taxpayers. That conclusion should be no surprise to anyone who has been following the sordid tale of this proposed development, which has been in the works for more than a decade.
The developer sought endorsement for Lilac Hills Ranch from the Planning Commission and intended to pursue approval from the Board of Supervisors. Those approvals were required because Lilac Hills Ranch goes directly against the county’s $18 million general plan and therefore required a general plan amendment.
The Planning Commission offered tentative approval for the proposal, but under a series of conditions that would have limited its environmental and public safety impacts. When it became clear that the Board of Supervisors would not approve the project under these conditions – in no small part because Supervisor Bill Horn had a conflict of interest and was forced to recuse himself from the vote – the developer pulled the application and decided to try its luck with voters instead.
Where the Planning Commission required significant upgrades to local roads to improve traffic flow and safety, Measure B cuts corners on exactly what standard those roads should meet. And while the Planning Commission required the developer to meet county requirements for emergency and fire response times, Measure B bakes an exception into those rules just for Lilac Hills Ranch, allowing response times to almost double for future residents.
These variations between Measure B and the Planning Commission’s approved version of Lilac Hills Ranch mean that taxpayers would be left to make up for developer shortfalls on investments in traffic and safety. This measure essentially blesses the insidious process where developers buy land cheap and then beg, borrow and steal to maximize profits, public impacts be damned.
Land use approvals at the ballot box mean that the developer gets to write its own ticket. Under Measure B, Lilac Hills Ranch can be built without any further environmental review, and with no opportunity for appeal. If voters approve Measure B, they are sending a troublesome message to deep-pocketed developers: With enough money, you can build anything anywhere.
As voters head to the ballot box, here are some key facts to keep in mind. Lilac Hills Ranch is far from transit, jobs and services and is therefore projected to add 19,000 more car trips to county roads and freeways every day. This type of leapfrog development is explicitly avoided in the county’s general plan and is completely unnecessary to meet demand for new housing. Land is already zoned to accommodate more than 70,000 new homes in the unincorporated parts of the county. Developers that buy land zoned for housing can build quickly without pursuing these types of extraordinary approvals from voters.
San Diego voters should make it clear once and for all this November that we will not allow corrupt projects like Lilac Hills Ranch swindle voters through glossy campaign ads. We should send a signal that housing belongs near existing housing and services, not in the middle of precious farmland. And we should make it clear that we are looking for more investment in transit and affordable housing, not houses that will cost more than half a million dollars and cater only to the well-to-do.
San Diegans should soundly defeat Measure B.
James Gordon and Mark Jackson are members of Citizens and Taxpayers Against Lilac Hills Ranch Measure B.