San Diego County, already the most environmentally “terrorized” county in the United States, has just found itself the target of a “Green” initiative that would take all land use decisions out of the hands of elected officials and local government and put them into the ballot box.
As noted earlier, San Diego County’s land-owners have been in a regulatory strait-jacket for over a decade because the region has far more endangered species than any other county and in fact more than many states.
This factor, more than any other, has led the County of San Diego to undertake a radical rezoning of vast tracts of farm and grazing land, as well as of potential home sites outside of incorporated areas not affected by these plans.
The County is in the midst of a divisive, controversial general plan update that Gary Piro, a former planning commissioner, and one of the most influential land planners in the area, has described as “the single largest shift of wealth in the history of our region.” The plan under consideration radically “rezones” more than 1 million acres in the unincorporated areas of San Diego County. In doing so, it redistributes land-value wealth from one class of people, the large and small landowners in the rural areas, to another class, the owners of developable property near the cities.
In other words, while density is being cut in the areas containing most of the open space and endangered species habitats, it is being increased near the urban areas. This is the execution of a philosophy known as “smart growth,” which preaches building near existing services and roads, and resists the building of new roads or other infrastructure as being “growth inducing.” Such thinking has, in less than a decade, changed San Diego’s freeways from some of the most pleasant in America to drive on to a gridlock gripped network rivaling that of Los Angeles. The practical effect of this dagger aimed at the heart of suburbia is to concentrate people in the increasingly unlivable inner cities while denying them the ability to fulfill the American dream of having a house of one’s own on a good-sized piece of affordable land.
Winston Elton, a director with SOLV (Save Our Land Value), a coalition of property owners opposing this plan, estimates that on the order of $3-5 billion will be transferred from one group to the other.
Rural land owners don’t expect nor do they get sympathy from the Brie and Perrier set who support large-scale downzoning. When such types are confronted by angry owners who complain that their investments are going up in smoke, they sneeringly reply that no one is guaranteed an investment will pay off, and that buying land in hopes of a profit is speculation. The proper retort is that speculation is far different from buying a parcel of land for a certain price and seeing that value deliberately cut in half by one’s neighbors when the number of homes that can be built on it is cut in half or even by two-thirds.
These same Brie and Perrier people are lining up to sign petitions that would put an initiative on the ballot that would make the radical changes proposed by the County appear quite mild in comparison.
Called the Rural Lands Initiative, it would downzone large tracts of open space, in some cases changing the density from one house per ten acres to one house per 160 acres. And in a direct attack on representative democracy and local control, it would require that any housing project in the unincorporated areas receive backing from the entire County’s voters to win approval.
From the decks of their condos watching the sun set on the placid waves of La Jolla, the environmental elitists, who would fight tooth and nail to ban off-roaders and three-wheelers from frolicking in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park which they as taxpayers own a piece of, dream of voting themselves a free, vast park made up of land that they don’t own and don’t pay taxes on. They want to “protect” farmers from the building industry, but the farmers don’t necessarily want to be protected. They just want to be left alone to grow their crops, and when it becomes economically unfeasible to continue doing that, to be able to sell off pieces of their land at a profit. Ironically, the biggest single loss of farmland in San Diego County is not to urban encroachment, but to agencies buying farmland and putting it into open space.
The Rural Lands Initiative needs 66,000 signatures by September to qualify to be put to a vote in March. No one doubts that it will get it. Heretofore, such draconian demonstrations of the tyranny of the majority (two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner) have been limited to towns and medium-sized cities in the Golden State.
But with the example of one of the most livable counties in the nation voting to cut its own throat, who’s to say that this particular form of insanity won’t spread like a human strain of mad cow disease?