5-Year Building Limit Backed to Curb City Growth

Times Staff Writer

The citizens committee mapping San Diego's growth plan Wednesday recommended the imposition of a five-year cap on the number of homes to be built city-wide, a decision that could shape November's referendum on how quickly San Diego will develop.

By the narrowest of margins, the panel also recommended that the city adopt undefined "constraints" on growth to ensure that residential development not surpass the cap. The measure could prevent residential growth from even reaching the 41,829 homes the San Diego Assn. of Governments said will be needed from 1989 to 1994.

In a separate vote, the committee rejected establishing an annual cap in addition to the five-year limit. The panel had debated the housing-lid issue for 15 months.

If adopted by the San Diego City Council, Wednesday's committee decisions would mean that voters will choose between two competing--but very different--growth lids when they go to the polls in November. Citizens for Limited Growth, a community group, has already collected enough signatures on petitions to place a much tougher growth cap initiative on the November ballot.

'Without Much Hullabaloo'

"On the ballot, I think it's safe to say, will be plans that involve some form of growth caps," predicted District 2 council member Ron Roberts, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Growth and Development.

"What was done today was that the whole group voted for a cap that is about the size of the (Interim Development Ordinance) without much hullabaloo," said Ted Odmark, head of the Odmark Development Co. The city's Interim Development Ordinance, approved last August, limits growth to 8,000 homes annually while the citizens group and council develop the plan that will guide city growth into the next century.

The group also recommended the adoption of measures protecting the city's environmentally sensitive hillsides and flood plains without spelling out what those protections will be. The standards are bottled up in a six-person subcommittee evenly composed of environmentalists and development representatives who cannot agree on crucial measures, said Robert Glaser, a subcommittee member.

The citizens committee Wednesday also called for the financing of the city's $1.3 billion in public-facility needs and other measures designed to preserve neighborhood character.

The growth limit recommended in the 21-2 committee vote is much less stringent than the Quality of Life Initiative placed on the ballot by Citizens for Limited Growth. As a ceiling, it adopts the San Diego Assn. of Governments' prediction that 41,829 housing units will be needed here from 1989 to 1994 under normal market conditions.

The competing measure would limit growth to between 7,000 and 9,000 homes during the first year after its passage, and decrease that number gradually to between 4,000 and 6,000 homes by the fourth year. Those numbers would increase if the city improved its air quality, water quality, sewage system, trash disposal methods and traffic congestion.

In a 13-12 tally decided by Roberts tie-breaking vote, the citizens committee also linked the growth cap to still unspecified "constraints," which Roberts said could include transportation, sewer, water and air-quality conditions.

Those items will be decided later this summer, after the City Council reviews the broad conceptual outlines approved by the committee Wednesday. The council begins its deliberations Monday.

Linda Martin, co-chairman of Citizens for Limited Growth, rejected the notion that the two plans are becoming increasingly similar, calling Wednesday's committee vote "business as usual."

"I don't see any evidence that they're going to be anywhere near as stringent as ours," she said. "There's only going to be one growth limitation initiative on the ballot, and it's going to be ours."

Kim Kilkenny, general counsel for the Construction Industry Federation, also condemned the growth-limit idea as an artificial constraint on development.

Called Bad Policy

"We oppose caps," Kilkenny said. "I oppose a five-year cap. I oppose a one-year cap. It is bad public policy. I hope the council will see the wisdom of our arguments."

But the cap won the endorsement of most representatives of the development industry on the 28-member citizens committee, along with a concession by one of them that the opposing initiative will win in November if voters are not offered a numerical cap to soothe widespread resentment over the city's rapid growth rate and mistrust of elected officials.

"The general electorate perceives a specific limit on housing units as something they can identify with," Odmark said. "I don't agree with (a cap), but it's something we need to keep us from chaos."

Still to be decided is the crucial question of which plan Mayor Maureen O'Connor will endorse. Tim O'Connell, the mayor's aide for land-use matters, said that O'Connor probably will not reach that decision until June, when the details of the committee plan are penciled in.

"Until they come up with a consensus position, the mayor has indicated she's not going to stick her nose into it," O'Connell said.

The committee scheduled another meeting for May 4 to finish its outline. After the council completes its review of the broad plan, it will be sent back to the committee for work on details. The council will review the entire plan again, probably in July, before placing it on the ballot.

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