New development has been put on hold in six Oceanside neighborhoods, the first effects of the city's managed-growth ordinance, designed to ensure that residential growth does not outstrip public services.
In addition, about half of the city faces the prospect of a sewer hookup moratorium--which might last about a year--until a new sewer line is installed, officials announced Wednesday.
City officials said that the building restrictions were not intended to stop growth in the neighborhoods, but instead were intended to force builders to promise financing for critical public improvements--such as improved traffic circulation--before the projects are allowed.
The plan calls for the city staff to administratively deny building permits in the restricted areas, although builders could appeal to the City Council.
Don Rodee, spokesman for Oceanside Taxpayers for Orderly Growth, said the city's action Wednesday was little more than an "attention getter" to suggest that the city is trying to slow growth although "it really won't do anything at all. It's not a comprehensive approach to the overall problem."
The entire city's traffic flow is becoming congested because of growth in Oceanside, he argued, and merely identifying specific neighborhoods where improvements should be made to individual streets will not help the overall situation.
"It will fall far short of what needs to be done," said Rodee, whose organization spearheaded a citizens' initiative to place a separate slow-growth measure on next month's ballot.
Builders generally took a wait-and-see attitude toward the new policy.
"Obviously, anything that says we can't have building permits will be a concern to us since we've already made substantial improvements in our (Whelan Ranch) project area," said Don Steffensen, executive vice president of the Irvine-based Lusk Co.
His firm already has permission to build 80 homes in one of the targeted neighborhoods off Douglas Drive, but it wants to build 400 more units "which are now impacted by this action," Steffensen said.
He said he couldn't react more specifically to the new growth guidelines announced Wednesday because he had not had a chance to study them.
In five of the six neighborhoods, the street improvement construction would cost $200,000 or less, city engineer Ron Beckman estimated. If builders agreed among themselves how to finance the improvements, construction could occur in those areas.
In the sixth neighborhood--Morro Hills on the northeast side of the city--the issue is not money but the courts; plans for a $6.1-million water reservoir, pumping station and distribution lines are snagged in Vista Superior Court because the project is being contested by some residents. Officials say that until they can be sure that water can be provided in the area, they will not approve new construction in the 3,400-acre project, which ultimately is intended for single-family homes on estate-size lots of 2 1/2 acres or larger.
No project that has already received a building permit would be halted in the six neighborhoods, officials noted.
But developers in the central core of the sprawling city are being warned that the city's sewer system may reach capacity before their projects are completed, which could force a delay in occupancy permits of as long as a year.
The sewer capacity issue is separate from the growth management ordinance, but the city on Wednesday joined the two issues in explaining the additional hoops builders must now jump through in order to have projects approved.
"No occupancy permits will be issued until we are sure the (new) sewer main can be completed," said Jim Turner, the city's water utilities director.
He said the city has the needed $1.9 million from developers' fees to install the 30-inch sewer main parallel to an existing--but virtually filled-to-capacity--24-inch main, which links sewage lines from Mission Avenue to the city's San Luis Rey sewage treatment plant about 1 1/2 miles away.
The city's problem, Turner said, is in acquiring an easement for the line on two different parcels, including Whelan Ranch. The city expects to acquire the right-of-way and install the line within 12 months, but in the meantime, the existing sewer line is nearly filled to capacity.
"Sewage is backing up. We're monitoring the manholes and when it (sewage) gets to the danger point, we're going to have to say, OK, that's it," Turner said. But, he added, it is unlikely that any builders with building permits already in hand would be precluded from receiving occupancy permits; the risk will be taken by builders who from this point on will seek building permits before the new sewer line is completed.
The five neighborhoods selected by the city staff for traffic circulation improvements by developers are: