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Slow-Growth Backers Urge Housing Cap in Oceanside

Times Staff Writer

Worried that housing construction here is outdistancing needed public services, a group of citizens Monday launched a new bid to persuade the City Council to adopt an annual cap on growth.

Backers of the proposal say it is needed to slow runaway growth, improve the quality of housing in the city and prohibit “leapfrog development” in outlying areas.

“Oceanside has the very best with the ocean and the hills and the river, but right now it’s being hurt by this rapid growth,” said Don Rodee, chief backer of the slow-growth plan. “There’s not only been too much growth, but disorderly growth.”

Like a proposal expected to be on the November ballot in Carlsbad, the slow-growth scheme would limit the number of housing units that could be built over the next decade.

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Rodee, an airline pilot and resident of the rural Morro Hills region of the city, said the plan was sparked in part by fears that slow-growth campaigns in other North County communities would push even more development into Oceanside, where 3,500 housing units were under construction last year.

“This will give the City Council a chance to look around and see what’s happening in every other city outside of Oceanside,” said Rodee, who drafted the slow-growth proposal with a handful of other residents. “They should be able to see the handwriting on the wall. Initiatives in other cities are going to create a real onslaught of developers coming into Oceanside with anything and everything.”

If approved by the council, the plan will set a ceiling of 1,200 units in 1987 and 1,000 for each year thereafter through 1996. The program then would be subject to council review.

Council members, who were given a 14-page draft of the proposal Monday, seemed wary of the idea.

Mayor Larry Bagley said he would be willing to have the Planning Commission study the proposal but thinks it probably would do more harm than good. The plan would virtually block development, he said, stripping the city of builders’ fees needed to pay for new parks and roads.

“I think we’re finally in a place where we’re getting quality growth,” Bagley said. “I think this might have a very detrimental effect on that.”

Councilman John MacDonald agreed that he was willing to study the proposal but suggested that a compromise might be more in order.

“In the long run, I think moratoriums or slow-growth initiatives are counterproductive to a progressive city because there has to be a balance between growth and industrial and commercial development,” MacDonald said.

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Nonetheless, MacDonald said he recognizes that the proposal is “an expression on the part of citizens that they feel things are going too fast and we ought to stop and take a look at what’s going on.”

MacDonald said he will raise the issue for discussion, probably at the council’s meeting in two weeks. Backers of the proposal say they hope the council will hold a public hearing on the matter in June.

Rodee conceded that he holds little hope that officials will approve the plan, but said he wanted to present it to them “as a courtesy” and to gauge each member’s position on the issue.

If the council balks at the idea, Rodee said, he and other residents are prepared to begin collecting signatures to qualify the slow-growth plan for the November ballot.

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“Of the citizens we’ve talked with, nobody has been against it,” Rodee said. “They all see it as something to their benefit.”

The dozen residents pushing the plan have not yet given their organization a name. Rodee said many of the proposal’s backers were once members of the now-defunct citizens’ groups called Oceanside Taxpayers for Orderly Growth and Citizens for Orderly Growth. Those two groups pushed for reforms in the city’s land-use plan a few years ago.

Skeptics like Bagley maintain the slow-growth proposal would result in construction of a spate of low- and moderate-income housing projects, which would be exempt from the building limit.

Rodee, however, contends that the plan would prompt better housing projects. Under his plan, proposed residential developments would be judged on their proximity to parks, schools and other facilities, in addition to their effect on capacity of roads and sewers. Developers who provided recreational amenities with their projects, for example, would receive a more favorable evaluation.

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That would prompt developers to both build projects with more public facilities and to locate the housing units closer to existing tracts, eliminating leapfrog development, Rodee said. Several such developments were built in the San Luis Rey Valley, he said, and now are “islands” of housing marring the grassy, rolling hills of eastern Oceanside.

The group began drafting the proposal several months ago, modeling it after a slow-growth initiative passed by voters in San Clemente in February. More than 40 California cities and two counties have passed growth-control measures since the U.S. Supreme Court refused in 1976 to hear an appeal challenging a law limiting construction in Petaluma, a Northern California city.


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