Escondido, CA
Mostly clear
Mostly clear

The pros and cons of Measure A


Here are some random thoughts on Measure A, which would require a vote of the entire county when an amendment is proposed to the General Plan.

Both major political parties in San Diego County have come out against this one. When the Republicans and Democrats get together to agree on anything, I am reminded of Adam Smith who wrote: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

The two parties love to beat up on each other, but there are some things they can agree on, such as that the whole purpose of parties is to parlay influence into power. And how do you acquire influence? Through money. 

My point is that if both political parties agree on something like their opposition to Measure A, that the least likely reason for their opposition is the public good. It might be that both parties see that a principal source of patronage, the ability of supervisors to make sweeping land use decisions, might vanish like the dew if they can no longer amend the General Plan without a vote of the people. If you are a supervisor and you can’t make those decisions any more, what use are you to big donors?

I fully understand and sympathize with the proponents of Measure A, whose frustration with the land use approval process is palpable. And given the tendency of the Board of Supervisors to give what amounts to sweetheart deals with low cost land to developers instead of making it more attractive for them to build on land that is already zoned for housing, one can understand why some would want to give that power to the voters.

They have the example of Lilac Hills Ranch and the corrupt way that it advanced until it was just a cat’s whisker away from being approved. 

The problem with giving the power to the voters is that they know bupkis about what they will be voting on. There are reasons why the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors have to sit through days of hearings from county planners.  There are reasons why we don’t have referendums about whether to build water treatment plants or freeway interchanges. 

We are a republic with representatives elected to look after our interests, to educate themselves to the betterment of the community at large. When they don’t do that we are supposed to replace them, not take over their responsibilities.

It’s hard enough to get the average voter interested in the presidential election until a few weeks before it happens. How much more difficult to get the average voter to sit down and go through the details of a proposed General Plan amendment? The answer to that is, nearly impossible.

Which means that voters will rely on advertising, rumors, Facebook droolings by self-appointed experts, or self-serving statements by developers or opponents of developers, neither of who have any particular reason to be picky about the facts. In effect, they will be as well-informed as if they were going into the voting booth with a complete lack of information.

As morally grungy as many politicos are, at least we can hold them accountable if they are obviously corrupt. 

Finally, I am not persuaded that someone in El Cajon has the interest, or the right to be making decisions about land use matters in North County, and vice versa. 

What that means is that the default setting for most voters will be: “Oh, it’s a development? I don’t know anything about it? I’m voting against it.”

It seems more honest in the long run to simply adopt an amendment that says “No General Plan amendments, ever.” 

Except, except, we may have our ability to control taken away from us by a state legislature that is even less sensitive to our local concerns than the Board of Supervisors may be.  The law of unintended consequences then comes into play. If we remove the ability of our Board of Supervisors to react to the need for housing, the state will step in and do it for them.

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

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