Commission sends GP2020 to supervisors

   San Diego County’s Planning Commission voted 6-1 to send a recommended general plan update to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, but commissioners will hold a separate hearing on equity mechanisms, which will then be incorporated into the recommendations to the supervisors.

   The meeting, open to the public, will be in the Planning Commission Hearing Room, 5201 Ruffin Road, Suite B, San Diego, on Friday, May 7, from 10 a.m. to noon.

   In a separate 6-1 vote this month, the commission directed Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) staff to develop an equity mechanism program using criteria developed by a subcommittee.  The combined meeting of the public, Steering Committee and Interest Group on May 7 will discuss the proposed Transfer of Development (TDR) Program.  Items for discussion will be the initial comments on the development of a TDR program, specific criteria for inclusion and any potential issues that could arise in the development of a program.  An agenda will be posted prior to the meeting,

   The supervisors’ hearing is expected to occur this fall.

   Public comment, discussion and recommendations on specific properties and roads took place at four previous commission hearings.

   Some of the speakers on April 16 addressed specific properties or roads while others focused on the lack of an acceptable equity mechanism, a term that has been used as part of the General Plan (GP) Update to refer to means of reducing negative economic impacts to property owners that may result from the GP Update. Since the initiation of the GP Update, one aspect of the project has been the substantial reduction in planned densities in certain areas of the unincorporated county. It was acknowledged that these reductions would have both a real and perceived impact to property owners and agricultural operations. Therefore, potential equity mechanisms have been discussed as part of the update.

   During previous commission and board of supervisors hearings on the update, farmers had said that the equity of the land is a critical factor in enabling farmers to obtain loans and thus leave the land in agriculture.

   In June 2003, the supervisors referred equity mechanisms to the interest group providing input on General Plan 2020. The interest group consists of representatives from business and environmental interests, including the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

   Equity mechanisms include a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program in which a jurisdiction purchases development credits to preserve those lands from further development and a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program that transfers development credits from one location to increase development potential at another location. The county is also in the final stages of negotiating a contract with the American Farmland Trust to serve as a consultant as the county develops and initiates a Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) program.

   The staff recommendation was to focus on a PACE program and to consider possible PDR and TDR programs following the adoption of the general plan update. 

   “There is no legal requirement for a TDR program,” said Devon Muto, chief of DPLU’s Advance Planning Division.

   Implementing a TDR or PDR program after adoption of the update, including the downzoning, would not compensate farmers for the loss of their equity. 

   “I can’t support the program as it is,” said Commissioner Adam Day. “It’s got to be a TDR.”

   Day also cited the existence of 80-acre minimum lot sizes in his reason for opposing the recommendation to send the plan to the supervisors. John Riess cast the vote against the TDR recommendation. 

   “I have seen TDRs.  It doesn’t work,” Riess said.

   “We as farmers have been engaged in this process for close to 10 years,” said Mike Mellano, farm bureau president. “It’s very discouraging to us that we’ve come to the ninth hour and still don’t have an equity mechanism in place.”

   “The farm bureau message the past 10 years has been consistent and simple:  protect the farm equity,” said Al Stehly, farm bureau past  president.

   “This plan is not complete as it does not address several key issues,” Stehly said. “I don’t think it’s ready.”

   Duncan McFetridge of Save Our Forests And Ranchlands opposed equity mechanisms. 

   “We can lose the benefit of large lot zoning,” he said. “You don’t have a vested right in zoning.  You have a vested right in the actual use on your property.”

   David Van Ommerling, who owns the last remaining dairy in Lakeside, addressed claims that downzoning was not a take of property through the loss of equity. 

   “If it gets downzoned, who’s going to take?  The bank will take,” he said.

   “That is a central issue of being able to carry financing from one year to the next,” Ramona grove owner Carl Teyssier said of equity.

   “I do use that land as collateral,” said Bonsall nursery owner Gerald Church.

Church said he utilizes a line of credit of approximately $3.5 million for his nursery which has 220 full-time and 150 seasonal employees. 

   “The unintended consequences of your actions are going to be felt by many nurseries throughout the county,” he said.

   “We need this complete package,” said Eric Larson, farm bureau executive director. “You need to have something to the board of supervisors that allows equity mechanisms to go forward.”

   Larson said equity mechanisms are a conservation and ag preservation tool.

   “You don’t have to do this, but it is the right thing to do,” he said.

   Henry Palmer, who represented the Twin Oaks Sponsor Group at the April 16 hearing, said that steep slope constraints were detrimental to farmers. 

   “Some of the farmers in our area are suffering because of this application of minimum lot size,” he said.

   Some speakers noted the consequences of insufficient housing.

   “When you build one house you create a movement of families,” said retired banker and East County resident Jim Schmidt.  “Affordable housing is a supply problem.”

   Valley Center resident Pegi Prior noted that decisions were being made by older citizens. 

   “It’s the young people who will have to live with their decisions,” she said.  “Traditionally any community that chases out their youth to other places or cities has not prospered well.”

   Campo-Lake Morena Community Planning Group Chair Kristi Kor noted that tax and developer fee revenue for schools and other services are also casualties of downzoning. 

   “We are very concerned about the economic impacts of the drastic downzoning,” she said. “We believe there is a better way to have a reasonable amount of density.”

   The elements of the recommended general plan update were acceptable to Valle de Oro Community Planning Group Chair Jack Phillips. 

   “This general plan update is going to be pretty good for our type community,” he said. “We still are concerned and have reservations on the effect of the conservation subdivision ordinance. It’s something we can live with.”

   
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