In what could be the first vote required under Proposition A, the City of San Diego and Genstar Southwest Development Co. are planning to swap land that would add open space to the Los Penasquitos Canyon while giving the company prime land for an industrial park in the Sorrento Valley.
The deal would require the city to give Genstar 162 acres of public land in the Sorrento Valley, adjacent to Interstate 5, that is now part of the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve. In exchange, Genstar would pay the city $933,500 and give the city 291 acres it owns near a small waterfall on the Los Penasquitos Creek further east in the preserve.
The proposed swap, which would include a change in the land's status that would make it eligible for development, would need approval by voters because the city land is designated as part of the urban reserve, more than 50,000 acres that the city's General Plan says is off-limits to development until 1995. Proposition A, the city's slow-growth initiative passed last November, requires that San Diego voters approve any plans to change the status and permit development of land in the urban reserve.
Brian Laidlaw, Genstar's vice president of operations, said the company hopes the swap will be placed on the November ballot, a move that would make it the first Proposition A vote.
Genstar originally requested a spot on the June ballot, but there was not enough time for the proposed exchange to be reviewed by the planning department and the City Council, said Jack Fishkin, the city's assistant elections officer. The company would pay the elections costs, estimated at $40,000, city officials said.
Prospects for the exchange have pleased environmentalists and canyon preservationists.
"The land swap looks to be a win-win situation for the preserve and for the developer," said Pam Stevens, chairman of the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Citizens Advisory Committee.
"We're very interested in getting that land north of the waterfall," Stevens said. "It's an area that is very important to maintaining the wilderness character of the canyon. It was an area that was identified as a priority acquisition area at the time the preserve was first started."
In return, Genstar will be trading and buying back 162 acres in Sorrento Valley that it originally donated to the city in 1979. The 162 acres, while technically part of the preserve, are separated from the rest of the canyon by a ridge.
Bruce Warren, Genstar's lobbyist, said the land would be useful to the company because it is adjacent to its Sorrento Hills industrial-research park development. "It's ironic that Genstar is buying back some land that it gave away," said Warren, adding, "we should never have given this to the city."
When Genstar officials were first wishing they could get back the Sorrento Valley land, the company received inquiries from then-San Diego County Supervisor Roger Hedgecock about a possible public purchase of its waterfall property, Warren said. Those discussions led to the agreement to swap land, which was approved in concept by a City Council committee in 1983.
The exchange has since been studied further, and appraisals show that, even with the trade, the preserve land in Sorrento Valley is still worth $933,500 more than the property Genstar has to offer. The company has agreed to pay the difference, along with all other costs associated with the transaction, city officials say.
Warren said the swap shows that Genstar "has always been able to work with the preserve advocates . . . . This is a case where Genstar saw that both can benefit."