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Defeat of Growth Measures Dooms Limits on Housing

Times Staff Writer

The staggering defeat of slow-growth Proposition H in Tuesday’s election appears to have doomed the possibility that the San Diego City Council will impose citywide housing caps, but other aspects of the growth-limitation plan may be enacted in coming months, City Council members said Wednesday.

Even as they continued to insist that a majority of voters favor growth control, council members agreed that home-building caps, the most controversial part of the plan they placed before voters, do not appear to be part of the continuing debate over how to handle the problems of rapid population expansion.

‘Not Going to See a Cap’

“I think the vote means that you’re not going to see a cap on the number of housing units,” Mayor Maureen O’Connor said during an impromptu news conference before a council meeting.

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Councilman Bob Filner agreed that “the whole notion of growth caps was basically forced on us by (rival Proposition) J. At least some people felt the necessity for it. I was never comfortable with it.”

Rival Propositions H and J, which would have applied to the city of San Diego, and competing Propositions B and D, which would have applied to the county’s unincorporated areas, were all defeated by substantial margins in voting Tuesday, the apparent victims of a $2.4-million campaign by the construction industry against the four measures.

All four plans would have imposed annual caps on home building and enacted protections for hillsides, canyons, flood plains and wetlands. Propositions D and J, sponsored by Citizens for Limited Growth, were generally regarded as the strictest programs.

No Measure Close

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But none of the four captured anything close to a majority. In the city, council-backed Proposition H won 44.5% of the vote, and Proposition J received just 41.2%. In the county, Proposition B, sponsored by the Board of Supervisors, captured 41.5% of the vote and Proposition D garnered 42.6%.

The victorious building industry offered to sit down with city leaders and the slow-growth citizens movement “anytime, anywhere” to hammer out answers to the traffic congestion, vanishing open space, air and water pollution, and crowding that sparked the growth-control measures.

“I think support for growth control is as strong as it was 17 years ago,” when Pete Wilson, now U.S. senator, was elected mayor of San Diego, said Mike Madigan, spokesman for the building industry’s political committee and an executive with Pardee Construction Co. “Unfortunately, none of the four measures that were before the voters offered solutions.”

“People are willing to support specific solutions,” Madigan added. But the solutions must address “how to ease traffic on I-15, how to solve the sewage problem in Mission Bay, how you provide schools at the time they’re needed.”

O’Connor, conceding that she has little leverage with which to force the triumphant builders to the bargaining table, urged developers and slow-growth activists to try to work out their differences.

“I wish they would try to sit down at the table. We tried it before and it didn’t work. I wish they would sit down and try it again so we can move this city forward. . . . In the long run, the battle is not over,” O’Connor said.

Leaders of Citizens for Limited Growth said they, too, are willing to compromise--but only in a limited fashion. Peter Navarro, an economic adviser to the organization, said members will press the council for a “measure that looks like (Proposition) H, without loopholes, but with some of the features everyone agrees now were beneficial in (Proposition) J.”

Richard Carson, another economic adviser to the citizens group, said the organization wants to meet with O’Connor and other council members, but has no interest in devising compromises with construction-industry leaders.

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And Navarro promised that Citizens for Limited Growth will place another slow-growth measure on the November, 1989, ballot if the council fails to enact stiff growth controls. Navarro said the group will also support candidates opposing some City Council members during 1989 council elections, particularly District 5 Councilman Ed Struiksma and District 7 Councilwoman Judy McCarty.

New Tactic

“We’re going to form the ‘Punch Ed and Judy Committee,’ ” Navarro said.

On the chaotic day after the sound thrashing of a growth plan they took 18 months to write, council members began to consider methods of instituting growth control without defying the results of the vote.

Insisting that the rival propositions failed because the city’s substantial slow-growth majority was divided between the two measures, many council members suggested that they would like to impose the environmental restrictions and protections against destruction of single-family homes. Both would have been enacted under Proposition H.

“Let’s put the (environmentally) sensitive lands (protections) in place. Let’s initiate the neighborhoods program, and maybe that’s what we do for now,” said Councilman Ron Roberts, who led the committee which wrote much of the council plan.

Temporary Limits

The council is under no immediate deadline to accomplish either objective because its Interim Development Ordinance, which limits housing starts to 8,000 annually, will not expire until Feb. 21. A set of temporary environmental protections also expire the same day.

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The council also has imposed a temporary ban on replacing single-family homes with multifamily housing.

In the meantime, the council agreed to poll a sample of city residents to determine why they rejected Proposition H and which parts of the measure should be enacted by ordinance. The council will begin to consider long-term measures at a workshop on growth issues Nov. 30.

The council also agreed to enter into discussions with the county’s other municipalities on establishment of a blue-ribbon committee that will begin to investigate regional oversight of growth planning. The regional approach to growth was overwhelmingly backed by voters, who approved advisory measure Proposition C in Tuesday’s election.

Councilman Bruce Henderson called Tuesday for implementation of mandatory staggered work hours for employers in the wake of the victory of city Proposition K, also an advisory measure.

Henderson asked City Manager John Lockwood to prepare a “six-month action plan” to “alert, educate and motivate employers with 25 or more employees to offer staggered work hours, flex time and other alternatives.”


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