Escondido, CA

County readies to disrespect the voters—big time

Anyone who knows me knows I generally turn up my nose at conspiracy theories. But there is something going on at the County’s planning department that is worthy of the word “conspiracy,” one that involves the ultimate disrespecting of the voters.

Unless I’m missing something, it also has the unspoken complicity of the lame duck members of the Board of Supervisors who will exit the board at the end of 2018.    Something this big could not be carried forward by the staff of County Planning and Development Services without their knowledge and tacit approval. 

Fortunately, we don’t need to look for proof of this conspiracy, all we have to do is watch and listen to this video:

That’s Mark Wardlaw, director of the department. The scheme is nothing less than pulling the rug out from under the voters of San Diego county before they can vote on a matter of land use that is worth billions of dollars. 

Earlier this month I ran an April Fool’s article that predicted the County was preparing to pass a bunch of general plan amendments before the voters could gather enough signatures to qualify the Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside (SOS) Initiative for the November ballot.

That was a joke.  Ha ha! From my clown face to God’s ear! The joke was on me. 

As Mark Wardlaw, the director of the department explained recently to the Planning Commission, state law limits the number of General Plan Amendments that can be passed in a calendar year to four. It so happens that this year there are quite a few General Plan Amendments in the pipeline, including the Lilac Hills Ranch reboot and Newland Sierra.

Rather than simply process each General Plan Amendment in its turn, Wardlaw has proposed “bundling” them so they can be voted on all at once. Thus, eight or nine developments can be approved in one year.

Now, why would the County want to do that? Why, for instance, shouldn’t Lilac Hills Ranch—which tried to jump ahead of all of the other developments by use of the initiative process two years ago—not be forced to  the end of the line and be voted on after everyone else?  I’m a process person. I’m less interested in whether a development is approved or how many units it has than how it got there. Rewarding arrogance violates my sense of justice. 

What’s the hurry? Well, the hurry is that several supervisors will be termed out at the end of this year, and this process allows them to approve these General Plan Amendments before they leave office. This way none of the incoming supervisors will be tarred with the brush of having not only ignored but acted in total contempt for the will of the voters, who by a margin of 66% two years ago turned thumbs down on Lilac Hills Ranch. 

Another way of looking at it is that it allows the incumbents to slip these developments under the door before any no growth or slow growth candidates can take office. 

Yes, we know, LHR is a “reboot” as the new developer, Ranch Capital, informs us. So like I said earlier, it should go to the back of the line!

I’m less concerned about circumventing possible supervisors like Jacqueline Arsivaud or Michelle Gomez than I am about contemptuously flicking aside the voters themselves—like lint. To me, scheduling a vote on a “bundle” of developments to slip them in before the voters approve or disapprove of the initiative that would make that sort of thing impossible is the ultimate sign of disrespect. It says to the voters, “Go ‘way, you bother me!”

Putting it before the board months if not weeks before the people may be voting on whether to take this power away from the board is neither, illegal, immoral or fattening, but it is despicable. It is also corrupt. 

It is the County’s “deep state” thumbing its nose at the people who pays its salary.

Members of this SOS group are actively collecting signatures. I don’t doubt they will gather enough to put the measure before the voters. I’ll wager better than even money the voters of San Diego County will approve of it. Our county is remarkably anti-developer considering how many people live in homes that were built by developers—but there is no accounting for hypocrisy. 

I’m not a member of that group, and I’m not especially sympathetic to their goal of removing a major portion of the board’s power and influence and handing it to the people. Making the voters, not the supervisors, the final arbiter in the matter of land use. 

I’m a believer in representative democracy, not direct democracy. I won’t be signing one of the petitions and I’ll doubt that I’ll vote for the measure.

However, I’m even less sympathetic to some old pols, term-limited out of office, who nevertheless insist upon one final attempt to affix a dead man’s hand onto the future of San Diego’s undeveloped land. 

I’m equally contemptuous of a County warhorse like Wardlaw shepherding through this huge bundle of development, and then retiring into obscurity and prosperity as a land consultant wise in the ways of San Diego’s labyrinthine regulations.  How do I know he will do this? I don’t. But it’s the way to bet.  

Many cities in this county already operates under such an amendment to the city charter. The SOS initiative would extend that power to the people in the unincorporated areas. If you are worried about urban sprawl you have every reason to be concerned that the County is maneuvering to render your concerns and your vote moot.

Attention, attention must be paid to the voters of San Diego county! And it starts with those voters who ought to demand that the County show them some respect. 

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

2 responses to “County readies to disrespect the voters—big time”

  1. patricia borchmann says:

    It’s not often I’m on same page as David Ross on issues about land use, but this is one of them. I am impressed and grateful how Ross’ Opinion column (May 1, 2018) accurately frames the dark side of Wardlaw’s view on legal authority for ‘bundling GPA’s, to expedite the approval process (they hope), before the November general election cycle, when new Supervisors will be chosen by voters in San Diego county.
    I like how Ross described this bundling process signals County of San Diego’s disrespect of voters, who overwhelmingly rejected Lilac Hills Ranch in 2016, by defeat of Measure B by margin of 66% of all registered voters in San Diego.
    Most ‘informed voters’ were not stupid then in 2016, and are not as stupid now either as the group of developers, owners, investors, real estate and development business consultants hope we are.
    By the way, this ‘new’ Lilac Hills reboot project still proposes the same/similar ‘footprint’, and same number of units. The newest Lilac Hills Ranch Specific Plan proposes superficial minor changes, and a lot new marketing narrative was added, but project impacts were not reduced. In fact, in some EIR topics like traffic, GHG greenhouse gas, climate change mitigation proposed using purchase of carbon credits far from Escondido, far from San Diego region have already been identified as being far from resolved, and multiple court cases are already pending. Lilac Hills Ranch project will still have extreme public infrastructure deficiencies that new owner/developer does not propose to mitigate or offset through project redesign, and deficiencies will be worsened (fire response, substandard roads, absence of secondary access), inability to evacuate or even shelter in place create extreme public liability. Based on newest project plan for Lilac Hills Ranch, it is obvious extreme project impacts will not be mitigated by current owner/developers, and expensive infrastructure upgrades, and perepetual staffing/maintenance costs of expanded public service demand will be imposed on existing taxpayers. In 2016, ‘informed voters’ didn’t buy it, and won’t buy it in 2018 either.
    Compliments, and many thanks to David Ross for ‘telling it like it is’ in Opinion column in Escondido Times Advocate.

  2. Camille Zeleny says:

    Ms. Borchmann and Mr. Ross comments on the County’s disregard for protecting our communities quality of life, property values, and safety are correct. What is also obvious is the pervasive corruption among the Planners and Supervisors. What I do not understand is why these actions have not been over turned in the courts more often?

    I have witnessed first hand, no matter how many people and groups demonstrate the damage these GPA’s will do, it falls on deaf ears, and for all intent purposes, is a forgone conclusion they will go through.

    We should not have corruption in our County government, nor have to sue them for just representation!

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