Setting the stage for yet another political showdown over development, the group Prevent Los Angelization Now announced plans Thursday to try to qualify a comprehensive growth-management initiative for next year’s ballot.
The initiative, similar to one that PLAN proposed last year, would link the rate of growth to traffic congestion standards, force developers to pay for the public facilities and services necessitated by their projects, and require that at least 20% of future housing be “affordable” for modest-income families.
To prevent new development from worsening the city’s water shortage, the measure also would compel developers to retrofit existing homes with water-saving devices that would completely offset new houses’ water demands.
At a news conference outside City Hall, the initiative’s sponsors hailed it as a means to “protect the quality of life in San Diego into the 21st Century,” adding that it would save San Diegans more than $2 billion in taxes or reductions in public services.
Building industry representatives, however, sharply criticized the proposed initiative, charging that it could raise housing prices, cost thousands of jobs and lead to other economic and logistic headaches counter to its professed aims.
“This is just one more smoke and mirror idea that not only won’t solve the problem but will exacerbate it,” said Bob Morris, executive vice president of the Building Industry Assn.
The timing of Thursday’s announcement--3 1/2 weeks before Councilwoman Linda Bernhardt’s recall election--also raises questions about whether it was designed at least in part to boost the candidacy of a PLAN member who is one of seven challengers in that race.
Though PLAN leader Peter Navarro denied that that was a consideration, the candidate, Les Braund, was prominently featured at Thursday’s news conference.
In unveiling its proposal, PLAN added a new page to one of the oldest and most familiar scripts in San Diego politics. Since the city’s famous “Smokestacks versus Geraniums” mayoral campaign early this century, the volatile growth issue has been a staple in local campaigns, becoming an almost annual entry on the ballot in recent years.
Indeed, the early battle lines that formed in response to PLAN’s latest proposal duplicated those seen in the half dozen city and county growth-related elections of the past three years--a debate that neither side professed eagerness to repeat.
The impetus for their campaign, PLAN leaders said, was the City Council’s failure to honor its 1990 pledge to enact a growth-management plan that encompassed the major components of the group’s earlier proposed initiative.
“The City Council has absolutely failed to come to grips with the severe growth-related problems gripping San Diego,” said Braund, PLAN’s water adviser. “This dismal performance . . . has left PLAN absolutely no other choice than to resume its initiative drive.”
To qualify the issue for the June, 1992 ballot, supporters must gather 56,585 signatures over about the next six months--a figure that represents 10% of the registered voters in the last citywide election, according to city officials.
Called the Planned Growth and Taxpayer Relief Initiative, the plan is aimed at ensuring that new development pay its fair share in order that existing San Diego residents and businesses do not have to subsidize growth through higher taxes or reduced public services, Brand explained.
Among the guidelines that the plan would establish is one that would tie future development to stringent traffic congestion standards and public transit improvements.
If adopted, the measure also would require developers to fund the parks, libraries and other city facilities and services needed because of the population growth generated by their projects. Specifically, it would require new development to provide hundreds more police officers over the next decade, thanks to a provision that no construction can be approved if it causes a reduction in officers per capita citywide.
Another of the guiding tenets of the PLAN proposal, Braund said, is that “existing residents should not have to pay higher water rates or restrict water usage to accommodate growth.”
Accordingly, the initiative would create a “water offset” requirement specifying that, before a developer could receive any building permits, he would first have to find “verifiable, quantifiable, enforceable” ways of reducing existing water consumption. Those methods, which would include installing water-saving devices in existing housing, would have to produce at least a 100% offset of new projects’ water needs.
As they have been in the past, builders and related industries’ officials were as sharply critical Thursday of the specifics of PLAN’s proposal as they were of Navarro and his motives.
“This would be devastating for the city and Draconian in its impact on the lives and livelihood of people,” said Mac Strobl, a consultant whose firm often represents developers before the council. “Navarro faults the city for not doing what he thinks it should, but that’s because what he wants it to do is absolutely flawed.”