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Struiksma Retreats on Housing : Court Rules Drive to Force Vote Valid

Times Staff Writer

In a major concession to a citizens group attempting to block development of the hills north of Lake Miramar, San Diego City Councilman Ed Struiksma Monday proposed scrapping the development agreement that sets the terms for construction of 3,360 homes on 1,200 acres in the city’s northern tier.

Struiksma’s surprise, conditional offer came shortly after a Superior Court judge upheld the legality of the Save Miramar Lake Committee’s petition drive for a citywide referendum on the Miramar Ranch North project.

Struiksma, who represents the district, said in a memo to the council that he would “immediately request that the council rescind its action on the development agreement” if the 4th District Court of Appeal upholds Superior Court Judge Kevin Midlam’s decision that the petition drive was conducted legally.

After a monthlong signature-gathering effort, the Save Miramar Lake Committee last month qualified for the ballot its demand that the council-approved development agreement be rescinded. The victory came despite a $450,000 campaign by a rival, BCE-sponsored group, which collected 54,000 signatures in favor of the project but unsuccessfully tried to persuade city residents not to sign the community group’s petitions.

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‘Very, Very Pleased’

The Save Miramar Lake Committee, which opposes only 658 of the homes, an industrial park and a four-lane road proposed for the hills on the lake’s northern shore, said it had no choice but to seek rescission of the entire agreement in order to make the changes.

J. Gary Underwood, the organization’s co-chairman, said he was “very, very pleased” with Struiksma’s offer, which he claimed that Struiksma made out of fear that the referendum would hamper his re-election bid this September if the two appeared on the same ballot.

“I’m just glad that I was able to ram this back down his throat, since he called me a liar on Dec. 14,” during a council hearing on the development project, Underwood said.

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Struiksma, who has been targeted for defeat by slow-growth and environmental activists, faces former City Councilman Floyd Morrow and attorney Michael Eckmann in the city’s first district-only election this fall.

Struiksma denied that his concession was motivated by his re-election bid, saying “this action on my part is an action for, and on behalf of, Scripps Ranch.”

The two appear headed for further discord over the second half of Struiksma’s proposal, which calls for immediate creation of a task force composed of Scripps Ranch community group members who would attempt to “accommodate the interest” of the Save Miramar Lake Committee.

Underwood said the task force as proposed by Struiksma would be dominated by pro-development interests to such an extent that an accord would be impossible. He suggested instead that an impartial arbitrator or negotiator be brought in to fashion a settlement.

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“Nothing would be accomplished by the task force Struiksma is trying to establish,” he said. Struiksma called for the group to include representatives from the Save Miramar Lake Committee and its rival, the Committee to Protect Your Community, as well as BCE, the Miramar Ranch North Planning Group, the Scripps Ranch Planning Group, the Scripps Ranch Civic Assn. and three other civic groups.

People From Community

Struiksma, calling Underwood’s comments “regrettable,” said the task force would be composed of people from “the community of Scripps Ranch, the community he lives in, the community he’s a part of, and, I would hope, the community he would try to work with.”

Underwood also said he will not compromise on his group’s demand that the industrial park and the four-lane road not be built. Struiksma said that, because the industrial park has already received final approval from the council, it could not be rescinded.

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Underwood proposed instead that the city buy the land on which the industrial park would be built and preserve it as open space.

In a separate request made before Struiksma made his proposal public, Underwood asked that the council delay a proposed April 11 rezoning of part of Miramar Ranch North land from residential to industrial. In a letter to Struiksma, Underwood said the land may be needed as an alternate site for the homes that his organization wishes to keep off the hills north of the lake.

The flurry of proposals followed Midlam’s ruling in a court hearing that Underwood’s organization had legally collected about 45,000 signatures--37,718 of them valid.

BCE lawyers, contending that the referendum should be invalidated because the Save Miramar Lake Committee did not present the entire 25-page development agreement to each petition-signer, had asked Midlam to prevent San Diego City Clerk Charles Abdelnour from “certifying” the referendum and sending it to the City Council for placement on the ballot.

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Midlam disagreed, saying that the city ordinance included on the group’s petition blanks “clearly sets forth in very plain language . . . what the development agreement is all about.”

BCE attorney James Milch immediately announced that he will appeal Midlam’s decision as early as today, an action that could again freeze City Council consideration of the referendum while the 4th District Court of Appeal reviews the matter.

Chief Deputy City Atty. Ted Bromfield said the matter will be ready for council consideration by Monday. The council has the choice of rescinding the development agreement or placing it on the ballot for citywide consideration within the next 11 months.

Abdelnour has suggested the Sept. 19 election, when four council Republicans will run in the city’s first district-only election, as the most economical time to hold a special citywide election.

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