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Planners Tell Council to Reject Building Caps

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego Planning Department on Monday advised the City Council not to adopt a residential building cap, putting planners at odds with the advisory committee drawing up the city’s growth strategy.

The recommendation came as the council received its first official look at the growth plan it will place on the Nov. 8 ballot to compete with the citizen-sponsored, slow-growth Quality of Life Initiative, which has already won a place there.

Although the council’s 28-member advisory panel believes that the city’s growth plan should include a five-year cap on home-building, the Planning Department reported Monday that such a move might not be needed and might raise legal questions.

Effectiveness Questioned

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“We weren’t really sure that a cap would accomplish what we want to accomplish and whether it was necessary,” said Assistant Planning Director Michael Stepner. Instead, measures that would limit development if traffic, sewer, air and water conditions are inadequate might keep building below the 41,829 ceiling proposed for 1989 through 1994 by the advisory panel, Stepner said.

Senior Planner Paul Fiske said that planning staff members rejected a cap “because of the legal question of what occurs when we reach that level.” The legal questions concern whether the council could cut off development if it reached the cap before the five-year span proposed by the advisory group.

According to Paul Peterson, an attorney who represents several large developers, courts have upheld residential building lids if municipalities can prove that they are directly related to residents’ health, safety and welfare.

Report Called Confusing

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But Councilman Ron Roberts, who is chairman of the advisory panel, told the council: “I’m a little confused by the staff report. It seems to be a little different from our own decisions.”

The council spent much of Monday afternoon grappling with the same questions that advisory-panel members debated 16 months before developing the broad outline of a growth plan last week, including the effectiveness of a growth cap, the availability of funds for the city’s $1.3-billion public facility needs and the accuracy of growth forecasts.

After a presentation of just two elements of that outline--the cap proposal and a requirement that public facilities be available when newly built homes are occupied--council members had enough questions for two hours of discussion.

Councilman Bruce Henderson was the most frequent critic of growth caps. He wondered whether the cap was “a form of self-flagellation that went out with the Middle Ages,” and told the council that the limit “sounds like the mumbo-jumbo of Central Planning” in the Soviet Union.

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Perhaps more importantly, Mayor Maureen O’Connor signaled tentative support for the advisory committee’s recommendations, telling a sponsor of the opposing measure that the council will use the concepts to develop a better plan. O’Connor’s support is considered crucial to a November victory for the city plan, although she has not said which initiative she will endorse.

The advisory panel has recommended adopting a cap of 41,829 homes for a five-year period, the number that the San Diego Assn. of Governments predicts will be needed here during the next five years under normal conditions.

The Quality of Life Initiative, sponsored by Citizens for Limited Growth, is more restrictive. It calls for a cap of 7,000 to 9,000 homes in 1989, and gradually decreases the limit to 4,000 to 6,000 by 1993. Both figures link growth to other factors, such as air and water quality and traffic congestion.


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