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ESCONDIDO FACES GROWTH ISSUE : Slow-Growth Activists:

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DAVID BARBER

A 31-year-old case worker for the county Department of Social Services, David Barber has long dabbled in Escondido politics and is considered a moderate slow-growther. He came within 17 votes of unseating Doug Best in the City Council election four years ago, and later was appointed to the Planning Commission.

Barber helped write a city ordinance requiring that all capital projects exceeding $5 million be approved by public vote, and he has participated in several successful efforts designed to force developers to help pay the cost of sewer and water treatment plant expansions.

Currently, he heads Citizens for Growth Management, which is sponsoring an initiative drive intended to curtail the City Council’s discretion in land-use decisions by laying down certain guidelines:

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- Eight categories of residential zoning density would be designated, and developers could only seek the next higher level of density every four years.

- Spot zoning would be prohibited, meaning any given development would have to be of the same land-use--residential, commercial, industrial, etc.--as is applied to the property bordering it on three sides.

- Developer impact fees would be reviewed annually.

- For every additional 100 dwelling units built in the city, the city would have to set aside an additional one acre of land as permanent open space, to be used for recreational purposes.

- Land-use decisions by the Planning Commission could only be overturned by the City Council by a minimum four-fifths approval of the council.

The initiative will qualify for the ballot if the petitions are signed by about 4,000 registered city voters within six months; Barber is confident the goal can be met, especially given the apparent success of the apartment referendum drive which collected nearly 7,000 signatures in 30 days.

“The council is too often deaf, dumb and blind to the advice of its land use advisory board, the Planning Commission,” Barber complains. “Ninety percent of our decisions are overturned by the council.”

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He said he is more willing to compromise than Harmon on growth issues, and concedes that he has approved increases in zoning issues on more than half the issues that have gone before him as a planning commissioner.

“But I honestly feel a lot of good has come out of my willingness to compromise,” he said. “If I had been elected to the council four years ago, Jerry could have gotten 50% of his agenda across. I want to be a bridge between Jerry, who has a dogmatic response to all requests for zoning changes by denying them, and Doug Best, whose dogmatic response is to support them all. Jerry says you don’t compromise with the devil, but I don’t feel they are the devil--just people with a different vision.”

Harmon says he cannot support Barber because his position on growth has been inconsistent.

Barber’s philosophy on growth: “The property owner has the right to utilize his property, but the adjoining property owner has the right to expect that the zoning in his neighborhood will be preserved. The key is how to balance the two.”

KRIS MURPHY

If Jerry Harmon is grooming a political sidekick, if not an heir apparent, it is in 25-year-old Kris Murphy, the owner of a frozen custard business.

Harmon unabashedly praises Murphy as “one of the most astute persons, politically, I have ever met. Never have I met someone who has a sixth sense for politics as much as Kris.”

Harmon hopes Murphy will ride his coattails to election next year, and Murphy is well on his way to establishing a strong political base, having come within 133 votes of unseating Ernie Cowan last year and more recently having shepherded the referendum drive against the City Council.

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He is confident he can keep the momentum, despite suggestions by some that Escondidans are generally apolitical and will soon lose their anti-growth fervor. “I don’t foresee any of the problems--traffic, schools, crime--getting any better. If this is a flash-in-the-pan, then it’s just the flash before the real fire takes hold,” he said.

“The pro-growth philosophy of the council majority will prove to be their own undoing politically because the negative impacts are catching up to them. Developers have ridden a crest of pro-growth support, utilizing the majority to push through as many projects as they could knowing that one day the tide would turn, the pendulum would swing. That day has come.

“What we were able to do was harness all the animosity that’s out there against the council majority, focus it on the Bernardo Avenue apartment project, and send a clear message back to City Hall that they had better start listening to their neighborhoods.”

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