Faced with 150 people eager to speak their minds, the San Diego City Council on Monday night began wading through hours of public testimony on whether to adopt strict limits on how fast the city can grow.
The testimony was the necessary prelude to an anticipated council vote on whether to accept an interim ordinance that would, for the first time, put a limit on the number of residential units developers could build in each neighborhood throughout San Diego.
Lining up firmly against the ordinance were business and development interests, who have been saying for weeks its adoption would have dire economic consequences and throw the local economy into a tailspin.
But at the beginning of the public hearing, council members heard dozens of neighborhood residents appealing for the limits, saying, in the words of one speaker, that it was time to stop the "slam-bam-thank-you-San Diego-type of development."
Those supporting the interim measure included members of planning groups from North City West, Pacific Beach, University Heights and Southeast San Diego and slow-growth activists who are threatening to pass an initiative that is even more strict if the proposed ordinance fails.
"We watch horrified as the voracious growth machine destroys San Diego's precious non-renewable resources, her unique land forms and irreplaceable sensitive habitats," said Linda Martin, chairwoman of Citizens For Limited Growth.
The proposed measure--called the Interim Development Ordinance (IDO)--would apply the brakes to growth by setting a lid on the number of housing units developers can build in each of the city's neighborhoods. In the Mid-City area, for instance, the lid would allow 516 homes, apartments and condominiums where developers have averaged 1,042 a year between 1983 and 1985.
In addition, the measure would allow a cushion, or "float," of 700 residential units that could be parcelled out around the city by the City Council.
In all, the measure would allow 9,300 units citywide each year, a sharp reduction to the 14,874 added in 1986, a boom period fueled by low interest rates.
The proposed cutback has moved developers to issue sharp warnings about economic ramifications.
In a prelude to Monday night's meeting before the council, the Building Industry Assn. took out several full-page newspaper ads, costing a total of $30,000, predicting an economic doomsday if the IDO is passed.
"As many as 130,000 jobs may be affected," the ads say. "Not just the 55,000 jobs in the construction trades are in jeopardy. So is the summer job your teen-ager has at the neighborhood nursery. And the part-time job at the corner convenience store that means the difference between comfort and charity for your retired aunt. Your next-door neighbor who runs a furniture store is in trouble, just like the newspaper delivery boys and girls, the carpet cleaners, and the telephone installers . . . ."
Developers also asked their employees to attend Monday night's meeting to protest the IDO, said Joann Johnson, aide to Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer.
Several developers said they posted signs at construction sites asking workers to attend the council meeting and warning that passage of the IDO could imperil their jobs, according to Johnson.
And prior to the meeting, which took place in Golden Hall before a throng of developers, construction workers and their families, a spontaneous press conference was called by a coalition of local business leaders to announce their opposition to the interim ordinance.
The phalanx of civic leaders, including Chamber of Commerce President Lee Grissom and the presidents of Home Federal Savings and Loan and Great American First Savings Bank, took the opportunity to inveigh against the IDO, reemphasizing the arguments that have become familiar countywide in debates about growth-control measures.
Ordinance Called Unfair
Among other things, they charged that the ordinance was unfair to the poor and to newlyweds trying to buy their first home and would drive the price of housing up astronomically. Sandy Goodkin, an authority on local real estate who works for the Pete Marwick Mitchell accounting firm, called the measure "racist," saying it was anti-retiree, anti-student and anti-blue collar.
Goodkin also said the proposed ordinance reflected a civic "hypocrisy."
"Why have a convention center, because you're going to bring a lot of strangers here who are going to fall in love with the place," he said, adding that the Super Bowl and possible hosting of the America's Cup by San Diego also would lure more residents.
Great American President Jim Schmidt, meanwhile, said he believed residents seeking growth restraints have a misconception about what causes it: "Many of them do believe that a new subdivision causes growth. That is not true. It is the result of growth."
And Richard Peiser, a professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the Unviersity of Southern California, called the plan to place a cap on building "unwise."