Anti-sprawl Measure Defeated for Second Time
San Diego County voters, Tuesday, turned down the Rural Lands Initiative that was patterned after Portland, Oregon's thirty-year ban on growth.
Proposition 'A' would have restricted development on nearly 700,000 acres of rolling hills and farmland by establishing minimum lot sizes of 40, 80 and 160 acres.
The measure was supported by environmentalists who believe government should dictate how private property is used. Farmers and landowners, however, have a different view.
"Rural people want to have control of their land," said Janet Kister, president of the San Diego Farm Bureau. The Board of Supervisors feared Prop. A would derail the county's overhaul of its long range growth plan, one that has had considerable input from unincorporated areas.
Environmentalists who authored Proposition A said they did not trust county supervisors (elected representatives) to sensitively manage growth in the backcountry.
Backcountry initiative takes a drubbing
By Lori Weisberg
March 3, 2004
A countywide initiative designed to stave off urban sprawl on nearly 700,000 acres of rolling hills and farmland in San Diego's backcountry was headed for a resounding defeat last night.
It marks the second time in more than five years that environmental activists have failed to win over an electorate long frustrated by traffic-choked freeways, polluted beaches and unaffordable housing. In both instances, the measures took a sound drubbing from voters.
Proposition A, patterned after the urban growth boundaries pioneered in Oregon three decades ago, was designed to curb development in the county's eastern and northern reaches by establishing minimum lot sizes of 40, 80 and 160 acres.
"The really interesting thing is that (in the 1998 campaign) we outspent our opponents substantially, but this time there was a level playing field, and the results appear to be the same," said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, which led the No on Proposition A campaign.
"I think it proves voters of San Diego County are knowledgeable and like the concept of good planning," Larson said.
Backcountry activist Duncan McFetridge, who helped spearhead the Proposition A effort, was disconsolate last night after seeing early returns.
"We're deeply disappointed," he said. "We think the opposition, with its big developer money, ran a very deceptive campaign and it confused the voters. We had a tremendous coalition, fought a good fight and we're going to keep fighting."
The Rural Lands Initiative, which qualified for the ballot last fall, quickly became an emotionally divisive issue, pitting environmental groups against a coalition of longtime farmers and landowners who had the financial backing of development and real estate interests.
The campaign was a costly one, with both sides together spending more than $2.2 million, delivering their messages largely through the airwaves and mass mailings.
Without the protections afforded by the initiative, its supporters argued, San Diego's backcountry is destined to go the way of Orange County and Los Angeles, overrun by sprawling subdivisions and plagued by worsening traffic congestion and polluted waters.
They said the proposition represented "smart growth" because its limitations on backcountry development in unincorporated areas would force growth toward urban centers that already have the basic infrastructure needed to accommodate an increased population.
Opponents, however, bristled at the notion that urban dwellers had the power to shape the destiny of rural landowners. They said the initiative would cripple family farming and devalue people's backcountry holdings.
The requirement of large lot sizes would lead to a peppering of San Diego's rural lands with mini-estates and make it more difficult for farmers to expand their operations in the future, the opponents argued.
Well aware of tactical errors made in 1998 when a similar initiative was on the ballot, Proposition A proponents were determined not to be outspent in this campaign. Backers this time were able to buy $400,000 in TV ads, thanks to the contributions of a few wealthy donors.
But voters may have been confused by the competing claims in the dueling television ads of the initiative's backers and opponents. According to the proponents' television commercials, approval of Proposition A would save the backcountry from unfettered, suburban-style development.
The No on A commercials countered that a yes vote on the Rural Lands Initiative would force farming families off the land, opening it up to uncontrolled growth.
Besides significantly stepping up their spending in the campaign, Proposition A backers succeeded in attracting an impressive array of endorsements, including the Sierra Club, San Diego League of Women Voters, American Lung Association, a majority of the San Diego City Council and local labor.
Allied with the opposition campaign were the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, various Realtor organizations, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and dozens of rural community planning group members.
Proposition A was especially galling to the Board of Supervisors, which for the past six years has been shepherding an overhaul of the county's long-range blueprint for growth. The so-called 2020 plan is not expected to be adopted for another year, but supervisors feared the initiative would derail a planning process that has had substantial participation from unincorporated communities.
While the Rural Lands Initiative and the proposed county plan both would cut future population growth in unincorporated areas by 100,000, authors of Proposition A said they did not trust county supervisors to sensitively manage growth in the backcountry.
Lori Weisberg: (619) 293-2251; email@example.com
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