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OK Asked Under Initiative Rule : Voters to Use Prop. A in Land Swap Decision

Times Staff Writer

San Diego voters will get their first opportunity to use Proposition A in November, when they will be asked to approve a land swap between a private developer and the city that would add more than 200 acres to Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, north of Mira Mesa.

The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ask voters for permission to remove 178 acres of prime land in Sorrento Valley from the city’s “urban reserve” and trade it to Genstar Southwest Development Co., which would have the land zoned for industrial use.

In return, Genstar would give the city 291 acres in Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve and pay $933,500 to make up for the difference in value between the two parcels.

Because the city parcel in the swap is in the urban reserve--more than 50,000 acres that the city’s General Plan says is off limits to development until 1995--Proposition A requires that voters must first approve the zoning change. The November vote would be the first held under Proposition A, the 1985 slow-growth initiative that was sponsored by environmentalists.

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The land swap itself has the unanimous support of the council, the city’s planning staff and slow-growth advocates such as the Sierra Club, San Diegans for Managed Growth and Citizens Coordinate for Century III. All agree that the plan would concentrate much-needed industrial development near Interstate 5 and give the city more open space in the preserve.

However, some say their support of the project rests on the city putting in writing exactly what it intends to do with Genstar’s 291 acres before the issue is put on the ballot.

“It’s got to be real clear to the voters what the benefit is and what we’re giving up,” said Jay Powell, conservation coordinator for the Sierra Club’s San Diego chapter. “The city’s got to nail these things down. We’re trying to take the wiggle out of this. I think that’s what Prop. A was a reaction to--the wiggle got to be too much. The council was making these deals and not looking at everything comprehensively.”

Specifically, the Sierra Club wants the city to dedicate the 291 acres as park land, not just open space, to prevent the council from changing the property’s designation later, Powell said. The group also asked that the $933,500 be earmarked for park maintenance.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council members agreed to spend the money from Genstar on the preserve but said they were unsure whether the city could legally dedicate property it does not yet own as park land. The council directed City Atty. John Witt to research the matter.

Additionally, the Sierra Club wants to make sure the land given up by the city will be used for large-scale industrial development and not redesignated for commercial uses. Powell noted that the dearth of industrial property in San Diego was cited by the council as a justification for permitting development in La Jolla Valley.

“Either we’ve got to supply that industrial land or we don’t,” Powell said. “They can’t play this game of saying there’s an economic crisis because there isn’t enough industrial land and then let some guy come through and do commercial (development).”

But Allen Jones, the city’s deputy planning director in charge of long-range planning, said Powell is premature in castigating the planning staff for its lack of specifics about the swap.

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“The only item on the agenda today is the phase shift” to change the designation of the 178 acres, Jones said. “The kind of measures he’s concerned about will come up during rezoning and amending the community plan. At that point, we can make all the things he’s concerned about conditions of approval.”

However, the Sierra Club’s wariness about wanting to see the details of the land swap ironed out before the election was shared by Councilman Mike Gotch.

“Their concerns are valid because history has shown that more often than not this council has not done its homework,” Gotch said, expressing hope that voters will subject the matter to greater scrutiny.

“This is the first opportunity the public will have to vote and it’s critical that they have at their fingertips all the facts, that what we’re giving is industrial and what we’re getting is park land,” Gotch said.

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