What may have been the opening volleys of the 1988 mayoral race were fired last week over the issue of San Diego's growth. Though that may not seem like good news in the sense that political posturing can get awfully old in a year and a half, at least it holds out the prospect that the next mayor's race will be waged over the issue that is central to San Diego's remaining the livable city that it is.
Mayor Maureen O'Connor and prospective challenger Councilman Ed Struiksma began the debate with dueling press conferences in which each proposed serious restrictions on new development within the city. O'Connor called for limiting construction to a level tied to population forecasts made in 1984--effectively a 60% reduction in the city's growth rate. Struiksma was even more dramatic, urging an immediate ban on building permits while the city develops and enacts permanent growth controls.
Most striking about the turn of events was Struiksma's burning-bush revelation that growth here must be curtailed and his sponsorship of a plan so restrictive it would make the Sierra Club blush. If nothing else, it shows that Struiksma, who has been one of the council's steadiest pro-development votes, is adept at checking which way the political wind is blowing, and in San Diego County the breeze has definitely been in the direction of tighter growth policies for the past couple of years.
Both the O'Connor and the Struiksma proposals spring from a report given the city last month by consultant Robert H. Freilich, principal architect of the city's existing Growth Management Plan. That plan, adopted in 1979, emphasizes "infilling," or building out the already developed portions of the city before extending the "urbanized" areas. Freilich now has been hired to work with a city task force to begin updating the plan.
Freilich says San Diego's growth in recent years has been so much faster than expected that he fears an "irrevocable detrimental effect upon the city" if it is not slowed down during the two years while the Growth Management Plan is being revised.
Struiksma proposes accomplishing that by freezing the issuance of building permits while a referendum is prepared for the November, 1988, ballot that would limit the number of residential units that could be built annually in each neighborhood. O'Connor favors adoption of an interim ordinance linking new growth to projections made in 1984 by Sandag, the regional council of governments. When modifications are made in the Growth Management Plan, the plan would be submitted to voters.
O'Connor's plan seems the more reasonable of the two. But we welcome Struiksma to the side of those who want to see San Diego grow intelligently. It will be interesting to see whether he is serious about trying to build a consensus around his proposal or whether he is merely introducing "run-on" legislation, a blue-sky plan with no chance to succeed but one that sounds great when described in a 30-second television commercial.