San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock and Councilman Uvaldo Martinez set the battle lines Friday for what promises to be a lively, high-stakes campaign surrounding Proposition A, the growth-management initiative on the Nov. 5 city ballot.
Proposition A would require a citywide election on any proposal to build in the city's urban reserve. The reserve is 18,000 acres in north San Diego that, according to a growth management plan championed in the mid-'70s by then-Mayor Pete Wilson, was designated as exempt from development until 1995.
With Hedgecock's blessing, the drive to qualify Proposition A for the ballot began last year, after a controversial council decision approving the 5,100-acre La Jolla Valley Project, which is in the reserve area. Supporters collected more than 75,000 signatures favoring placement of the initiative on the ballot.
In a debate Friday before the Republican Associates of San Diego, Hedgecock said that failure to approve the measure would create urban sprawl and result in the "Los Angelization" of the city.
Martinez, who has emerged as the primary spokesman for opponents of the initiative, said approval would bring "Los Angeles into our inner-city neighborhoods."
La Jolla Valley, which will include a Christian graduate university and a 750-acre industrial park, was not the first development the council allowed in the reserve. North City West, a 4,500-acre residential project of 16,000 homes and condominiums that eventually will house almost 40,000 residents, was approved several years ago amid similar controversy.
Debate over Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, an exclusive development in the reserve near Rancho Santa Fe, was muted somewhat because the development included the equestrian course used in the 1984 Olympics. Rapid approval brought San Diego County its only Olympic event.
Already, the initiative has survived one legal attack by developers. In July, Pardee Construction Co., which owns 2,000 acres in the reserve, lost a bid in Superior Court to have the initiative invalidated because addresses were listed according to the signers' address "as registered" and were not necessarily current. But the effort by the firm to quash the initiative underscored the fervor of the Proposition A opposition.
Hedgecock used the recent history of development in the reserve as a cornerstone for his argument for a yes vote. "The city has a good plan and it should stick to it," Hedgecock said. "The council has failed to enforce it, so it's time for the voters to take things into their own hands. The voters will know when there are good building proposals on the ballot, so let's leave it up to them."
Martinez, a former city planner who was instrumental in authoring Wilson's growth management strategy, argued that voters would be reluctant to approve any development at all in the reserve, which would result in channeling growth into older neighborhoods. He said the plan already has created overdevelopment of existing neighborhoods. Approval of Proposition A would exacerbate that problem, he said.
"I did a lot of work on that plan, but a lot has changed since then," Martinez said. "There are about 148,000 more people in the older, urban areas of the city than we projected in 1975, and we have in-filled so much that we have affected the quality of life in the mid-city areas.
Hedgecock countered that there is "no question that the urban reserve lands are not needed to accommodate growth. Opening up the urban reserve is not the solution to the growth problem."