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Oceanside Sued by Builders Over Slow-Growth Law

Times Staff Writer

Launching a frontal assault on Oceanside’s tough new slow-growth law, the Building Industry Assn. of San Diego County filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the constitutionality of the landmark measure.

Stressing that they are “out to prove a point,” leaders of the builders’ group said they were seeking nothing short of total repeal of the voter-approved law, called Proposition A.

“This is the weakest slow-growth ordinance that has been approved in the state,” said Louis Wolfsheimer, a San Diego land-use attorney who is representing the organization. “There is no question it’s unconstitutional and will be overturned by the courts.”

But leaders of the association stressed that the lawsuit against Oceanside should not be seen as a precursor to similar litigation against San Diego, where the City Council in late June approved a cap on the number of dwelling units that may be built each year.

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Individual Builders Also Sue

“We have not done anything in reference to any other city or municipality,” Michael Reynolds, president of the BIA, said during a press conference at the group’s headquarters Monday. “That will be looked at later.”

Oceanside officials said that they were not surprised by the lawsuit, noting that other cities that have adopted slow-growth ordinances have faced similar legal challenges.

Aside from the BIA lawsuit, several builders have individually sued the city seeking monetary damages and to dash Proposition A. On Monday, the developer of Ivey Ranch, a 750-acre project that includes 3,500 dwelling units and an industrial park, filed a lawsuit against the city asking for $53 million in damages and for repeal of the slow-growth law.

“I think we anticipated a certain amount of litigation,” said Debra Corbett, assistant city attorney.

Backers of Proposition A agreed, arguing that the BIA lawsuit, filed in Vista Superior Court, was little more than a rehash of legal challenges to slow-growth laws in other cities across the state.

“A lot of this is sound and fury signifying nothing,” said Melba Bishop, a leader of the slow-growth forces in Oceanside. “A lot of these issues have already been resolved in the courts. They’re playing it again. I think Humphrey Bogart is a card-carrying member of the BIA and saying, ‘Play it again, Sam,’ in every city.”

Proposition A has been in effect in Oceanside since April, when it garnered 56.6% of the vote in a special election, easily defeating Proposition B, a rival, council-backed measure favored by 47% of the electorate.

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The building association’s lawsuit contends that Proposition A, which sets a strict limit on the number of dwelling units that can be built in Oceanside each year, discriminates against home builders because similar restrictions are not placed on industrial development.

Called Unconstitutional

Wolfsheimer said that the exclusion of any restrictions on industrial development “is an unconstitutional favoring of one group over another.” He argues that industrial and commercial construction, not the development of homes, are the root cause of growth.

Backers of the lawsuit also claim that Oceanside’s slow-growth ordinance fails to take into account state laws that require cities to accept a fair share of the growth that occurs in a region.

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They contend that, under state regulations, Oceanside was slated to absorb an average of 1,733 units a year through 1991; Proposition A would allow far fewer dwellings to be built. The slow-growth measure limits construction to 1,000 units in 1987 and 800 in each subsequent year through 1999.

With fewer homes being built in Oceanside under Proposition A, other cities in the area will be forced to absorb additional development, the builders contend. Oceanside has “created a legal moat around itself, and other cities in the region must pick up that housing that Oceanside now refuses to take,” Wolfsheimer said.

The builders also say that adoption of Proposition A has “wreaked havoc” by putting the city’s various land-use elements “out of sync with each other.” In addition, Proposition A promises to create a climate in which mostly senior-citizen dwellings and “extremely high-income housing” will be built, Wolfsheimer said.

By adopting a law that promises to allow mostly expensive homes, “Oceanside has unilaterally thumbed its nose” at low- and middle-income residents, Wolfsheimer said. “This cannot be done, and I feel certain the courts will overturn this very basic attack on the fundamental housing laws of this state,” he said.

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But Bishop and other slow-growth advocates in Oceanside contend that Proposition A is constitutional and will fare well against the various legal challenges.

Although the builders group insists it is out to win in court, Bishop maintained that the true motive of the developers is to bleed the city of funds through drawn-out litigation, creating a climate of fiscal uncertainty in which residents might turn against Proposition A.


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