A drive by San Diego officials to extend the city's northern sphere of influence to the San Dieguito River was killed Monday when the commission charged with setting boundaries concluded that the city would be unable to provide services to the area.
Dealing a blow to San Diego's efforts to control development on the city's northern fringe, the Local Agency Formation Commission voted 7 to 1 to adopt a sphere of influence that excludes 6,600 acres the City Council had sought to bring within its jurisdiction.
The territory, much of which is undeveloped and historically agricultural, lies generally west of Interstate 15, east of Rancho Santa Fe and south of the river. It includes the tiny community of Del Dios near Lake Hodges, the 4-S Ranch and an area known as Artesian Road. Also excluded from the sphere were the exclusive communities of Whispering Palms and Fairbanks Ranch, but the city endorsed that action.
A city's sphere of influence indicates its probable ultimate boundary and service area; land within the sphere is generally subject to annexation at a future date. All local governments and special districts in California must have spheres of influence, adopted by their own LAFCOs. The sphere adopted Monday for San Diego is consistent with the city's existing northern boundary.
Property owners in the affected 6,600-acre area had lobbied vigorously against inclusion in San Diego's sphere because it would subject their land to Proposition A, an initiative approved by San Diego voters in 1985 that mandates a public vote on developments in the city's so-called urban reserve. Developers with holdings in the 4-S Ranch, in particular, feared that such a move could threaten construction of a 634-acre industrial, commercial and residential project planned for the area.
The county Board of Supervisors also opposed the city's bid to control the land, arguing that the county and special fire, water and sanitation districts can best provide the area and its smattering of residents with public services. Finally, out of about 100 people at Monday's public hearing on the matter, only San Diego Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer, who is not a member of the commission, favored the city's proposal.
Councilman Mike Gotch, who serves as chairman of LAFCO, was the lone vote against the sphere ultimately adopted by the commission. Gotch, who has advocated preservation of much of the San Dieguito River Valley as parkland, said he fears that the county may approve high-density, piecemeal development that will thwart the park plan.
Wolfsheimer, who outlined the city's case to commissioners Monday, predicted that the valley's "rural character" will be undermined by county-approved development in the coming years.
"This is very disappointing," said Wolfsheimer, who has proposed creation of a 43-mile "waterway park" bordering the river from Del Mar to Ramona. "I think we'll see runaway, piecemeal development under the county from now on. It could ruin that valley forever."
But county Supervisor Susan Golding, whose district includes much of the disputed territory, called Wolfsheimer's statement "ridiculous" and argued that the county's record in approving projects in the northern area is "far superior" to the city's.
"The county developments include Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch, while the city has given us Mira Mesa and Rancho Bernardo," Golding said. "Decide for yourself. I think it's clear who approved the higher densities and who has done a better job on open space."
Golding insisted that she is just as committed to creation of a regional park in the valley as Gotch and Wolfsheimer are. The supervisor said she hopes to see creation of a 1,000-acre park that will help preserve "this oasis that is under pressure from development from the north, south and west."
Both Gotch and Wolfsheimer, however, worried that the county may be inclined to provide developers with so-called "density tradeoffs" in the valley to justify preservation of the open space.
"I would caution against that. . . . We are prepared to spend city money, Coastal Conservancy money, any money that's necessary for preservation of that valley as a park in perpetuity," Gotch said. "We are not willing to agree to developer tradeoffs."
Gotch said the city plans to ask the supervisors to sign a resolution stating that they will agree to limit densities in the lush valley.
The question of a park was not the only issue motivating the city and the county on the sphere of influence vote. Although it is sparsely developed today, the 6,600 acres will ultimately be home to industrial parks, commercial developments and residential projects that will generate tax dollars.
"Certainly the opportunity to extend our tax base was part of it," Wolfsheimer said, "though not as important as the park issue."
In determining a sphere of influence, LAFCO considers factors ranging from natural geographical boundaries to a community's social or economic ties with its neighbors.
Key to the commission's decision in the San Diego case, which has been under study since 1983, was a requirement that a city be able to provide services--water, sewer, fire protection, law enforcement, roads--to an area in its sphere of influence within 10 to 15 years.
According to LAFCO, the city has not included the northern territory in any long-range plans for new facilities and would be hampered in providing services by the growth-limiting Proposition A. In addition, San Diego's general plan calls for development to occur in areas that are already urban. A review of outlying territories and their service needs is not projected until 1995.
LAFCO is an eight-member commission with two appointees from the county, two from cities, two from special districts and one member from the public at large.