In a move that has outraged backers of a tough slow-growth initiative just approved by Oceanside voters, the City Council agreed Wednesday to exempt several large housing developments from the new law.
The council voted unanimously to allow the builders of Rancho del Oro, a sprawling residential and industrial project in the heart of Oceanside, to go forward with construction of the nearly 2,000 homes planned on the site.
City officials said the exemption for Rancho del Oro, a planned community being built over a 10-year period, is necessary because the developer and city officials had negotiated an ironclad agreement several years ago that prohibits restrictions on the project due to changes in the city's land-use laws.
In a separate action, the council agreed unanimously to adopt a policy that allows a broad exemption for housing projects intended for low-income residents or senior citizens. Under that interpretation, an additional 2,000 dwellings can go forward unhindered by the new growth-control legislation.
Implementing Proposition A
Those decisions came as the council took its first stab at implementing Proposition A, the landmark slow-growth initiative approved by voters April 21 that puts a strict cap on the number of dwelling units that can be built each year.
Backers of the measure blasted the council after the meeting, saying the city leaders had ignored the spirit of the new law.
"They're opening the floodgates to let in all the development that Proposition A is meant to control," said Melba Bishop, a former councilwoman and slow-growth advocate. "They're thumbing their noses at the voters. They're saying, 'You don't like what we're doing? Sue us.' "
The council's move clears the way for several projects that Bishop and others maintain do not qualify as senior-citizen or low-income housing under Proposition A.
While the growth-controlling initiative requires that a project be government-funded to be considered for an exemption, the projects given the green light by the council Wednesday do not meet those qualifications, she said.
Bishop also said the initiative mandates that senior-citizen and low-income housing be distributed evenly throughout the city, something the council did not take care to do.
In addition, a private development planned on land currently occupied by Sterling Homes, a dilapidated Marine Corps housing complex slated to be demolished, was deemed by the council to be a rehabilitation or remodeling project, which is exempted under Proposition A. Bishop, however, argued that the council was stretching the intent of the law to make way for the new development, called Eagle's Crossing.
Proposition A's backers will meet during the coming days to determine what course of action they will take, Bishop said. She said the group will consider suing the council or taking political steps, such as a recall.
"This council is going to force supporters of Proposition A to take a hard look at what they're doing," Bishop said. "Is this a political body that will implement the will of the people or one that is going to play games so as to nullify the results of the election?"
Slow-growth advocates are particularly eager to put the brakes on new development in light of a housing boom that was prompted in large part by the specter of Proposition A. In the weeks before the April election, more than 3,000 building permits were pulled by developers worried about the growth-control measure.
Proposition A, which limits construction to 1,000 units during 1987 and 800 units in subsequent years through 1999, proved victorious last month over a rival, council-backed measure, Proposition B, designed to ensure that public facilities such as roads and parks keep pace with growth.
Defeat of Proposition B put the council members in the ticklish position of having to enact a law they had opposed. On Wednesday, the council made it clear that they did not relish the task.
During three hours of discussion, the council wrestled over the language of Proposition A, trying to clarify exactly what is intended by the sweeping land-use legislation.
Councilman Ben Ramsey said the measure was anything but clear.
"The perpetrators of Proposition A made it so ambiguous that it's impossible to determine what it means," Ramsey said. "I think they just wanted to stop all building in the city."
In the course of the discussions, more than a dozen developers paraded before the council to plead for exemption of their projects from Proposition A.
At one juncture, Councilman Walter Gilbert noted that some of the developments included public improvements designed to help ease traffic and other problems, and suggested that such projects should be considered for exemptions from Proposition A.
Several of his colleagues agreed, saying the council should hold a public hearing to determine if voters feel that other exemptions are necessary. In particular, they said such a hearing would allow the council a chance to discuss the new law with leaders of the slow-growth movement who pushed Proposition A.
But that idea was scrapped after Mayor Larry Bagley suggested that such a hearing would put the council "out on a limb." Instead, the council agreed to hold a closed session next Wednesday with City Atty. Charles Revlett to discuss the legal implications of other possible exemptions.