Planners Lower Limits in Growth-Curb Draft

Times Staff Writer

City planners Monday released a new version of San Diego's draft growth-management plan that reduces the city's proposed annual growth cap and calls for a controversial fee on commercial and industrial developers to pay for building low-cost housing.

Release of the draft marks the beginning of the San Diego City Council's final weeks of deliberations on the plan, which is scheduled to compete with a citizen-sponsored slow-growth initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot. The council begins as many as 11 days of discussion of the blueprint Thursday, in hopes of completing it by July 31.

The plan that receives the most votes will direct the city's development into the next century by regulating home building, protecting certain "environmentally sensitive lands," and establishing goals or requirements for improvements in traffic congestion, air and water quality, trash disposal and sewage treatment.

Monday's document outlined the major disagreements among council members arising from four days of hearings last month, but the two biggest alterations were found in sections of the blueprint that planners said represented the council's consensus.

Instead of the 8,366-home annual growth cap proposal that has been debated for several months, the lastest version of the growth management document suggests limiting home building to 7,590 homes each year for five years.

The cap is based on a San Diego Assn. of Governments forecast of the city's share of regional growth for the next five years. On Friday, Sandag revised its figures, lowering the city's share and raising its estimate of the number of homes that will be built in North County and the South Bay.

If approved by voters, the new cap would set the level of home building in the city at a rate lower than the current stopgap Interim Development Ordinance, which allows the 8,000 homes annually. Perhaps more significantly, it moves the city plan closer to proposals of the citizen-sponsored initiative, which caps home building at 7,000 to 9,000 dwellings in 1989, and could decrease that level to 4,000 to 6,000 by 1991.

Although the home-building cap's value has been called symbolic because of studies showing that it will not serve as a long-term curb on growth, the eleventh-hour change prompted some officials to question the validity of Sandag's predictions.

"It changes my level of confidence in the figures," said District 7 Councilwoman Judy McCarty, one of the first city officials to call for use of the Sandag statistics as a home-building cap. "I need to know if it's a credible figure."

"The revised number should undermine the credibility of any cap and the council's faith in that cap," said Kim Kilkenny, legislative counsel for the Construction Industry Federation, which opposes home-building limits. "You wake up Friday morning, and you have a lower cap. How can you believe in that?"

District 2 Councilman Ron Roberts, who headed the citizens committee that took 16 months to write the city plan, acknowledged that he was "completely surprised" by the new figures, but said he supports the revised growth limit.

Stuart Shaffer, Sandag's deputy executive director, said the organization lowered its forecast for the city's share of growth after city planners said they were too high. In compiling the earlier number, Sandag planners erroneously forecast too much growth in Miramar Ranch North, Penasquitos, Carmel Mountain Ranch and Sabre Springs, Shaffer said.

McCarty's staff has requested a written explanation of the revised figures from Sandag, an aide said.

More debate is certain to arise from a new proposal to assess developers of commercial and industrial projects a "linkage fee" to pay for low- and moderate-cost housing needed by workers whose jobs were created by the new businesses. The proposal is modeled after fees assessed by Boston and San Francisco city governments on commercial developments built on high-priced downtown real estate.

The idea came from a discussion during last month's hearings, but McCarty, for one, said she was surprised to see it included in the plan that would be placed before voters. Roberts, however, said that he understood that planners would be adding the new fee.

Kilkenny said the federation has no formal position on the fee but said it would likely drive commercial developers out of San Diego, if fees are as high as they are elsewhere. In San Francisco, for example, developers of commercial buildings pay about $14 a square foot for housing, transportation, child care, open space and public art.

"Non-residential development is the goose that lays the golden egg," Kilkenny said. "The city makes tremendous tax surpluses off non-residential development."

Roberts, however, praised the idea, saying: "I wish we'd done it eight years ago."

Potential Costs

"Any of these things have the potential to cost lots of money," he added. "I think what you have to do is structure it in a way that's fair."

Assistant Planning Director Michael Stepner cautioned that, "in an area like San Francisco and Boston, you have very hot markets. People will do anything to build in those markets. It may work better there than it does here."

Although some of its language has been revised, the growth management plan still includes most of the major provisions written by the citizens advisory group that completed 16 months of work in May.

The environmentally sensitive lands section aims to protect the city's hillsides, canyons and flood plains from development, by making some of them off-limits to home building.

The language chosen for those provisions, however, did not satisfy activists for either side.

Kilkenny called the hillside protections "far more onerous than anything we have ever seen." But environmentalist Lynn Benn said that, "as it's currently proposed, it's not going to save anything. It's just so riddled with vague terms and exceptions."

Single-Family Protections

Another key part of the plan includes protections for single-family neighborhoods by ensuring that, in certain neighborhoods, single-family homes will not be replaced with multifamily housing. The council has considered enacting a moratorium on demolition of single-family homes in some neighborhoods before the November election.

Other important sections call for the construction of schools, parks, roads and other public facilities as needed by residents of new developments, instead of after those residents have moved into their homes.

The council now faces crucial votes on these and other important details of the plan, including:

- Whether to impose a growth cap, and if so, what the limit should be.

- Whether to exempt any areas of the city from the growth cap. The Planning Department draft calls for no exemptions.

- Whether to exempt some of the homes already in planning from a growth cap.

- Whether to link the rate of development to improvements in "regional standards" such as air and water quality, traffic congestion and sewage treatment capacities. The Planning Department draft calls for such a link.

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