The backers of land-use initiatives in San Diego would have to perform environmental impact analyses before they could attempt to gather signatures to place the measures on the ballot under a new plan forwarded by a longtime Republican political activist.
Jan Anton, a commercial real estate broker and former board member of the Centre City Development Corp., filed notice with the city clerk’s office this week that he intends to launch a petition drive to require the “environmental impact reports” on all future citywide land-use initiatives.
“What I’m trying to do is bring some credibility and sanity to the initiative process,” said Anton, who has formed the Committee for Truth and Reform in the Initiative Process with attorney Terry Knoepp. “The initiative says that, if you’ve got a responsible initiative, do your homework, lay out the facts and put it forward.”
Anton’s plan was denounced by slow-growth activists as an attempt to take the option of ballot initiatives from poorly funded grass-roots movements and community groups.
“The whole purpose of that is just to kill the initiative process. It’s absurd,” said Leo Wilson, a member of San Diegans for Managed Growth, who helped write that organization’s environmental protection initiative last year. The group gave up its bid to place the measure on the ballot in favor of joining forces with a San Diego City Council committee writing a similar measure, but has announced plans to mount another initiative campaign, perhaps this year.
“I think it is an attempt to lengthen and make the initiative process more expensive,” said Tom Mullaney, co-chairman of Citizens for Limited Growth, which last year spent $150,000 to qualify two growth-management initiatives for the Nov. 8 ballot. Voters rejected both measures.
Wilson and Dwight Worden, an attorney who has written 10 slow-growth initiatives for Southern California cities and counties, said they doubt that Anton’s plan would hold up if tested in court.
Assistant Planning Director Michael Stepner said an organization could expect to pay at least $100,000 to hire a consultant to conduct an environmental impact study for a citywide initiative. A highly detailed study could cost several times as much, he said.
Anton disagreed, saying that an environmental impact report would cost $5,000 to $25,000.
The terms of the proposal would require a study detailing a land-use initiative’s effect on the city’s environment, economy, general plan and employment, as well as its impact on funding for schools, health care facilities, fire and police services, parkland, open space acquisition, recreation services and environmental protection services.
Assemblyman Pete Chacon (D-San Diego) proposed legislation last year that would have required initiative backers to conduct environmental impact reviews, but the measure died in Chacon’s own committee. Chacon is proposing similar legislation again this year.
A state law that took effect Jan. 1, 1988, allows cities and counties to send initiatives to their Planning Departments or private consultants for reviews, but the city must bear the cost of the effort and complete it within 30 days.
Anton can begin circulating petitions March 27 and has 159 days to gather more than 51,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. It is unclear when the San Diego City Council would place any measure before the voters because there is no citywide election scheduled for this year.