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Council Adopts Landmark Limits on City's Growth

July 22, 1987|RALPH FRAMMOLINO | Times Staff Writer

A bare majority of the San Diego City Council on Tuesday gave final approval to a landmark interim development ordinance aimed at drastically curtailing the rate of growth that officials say is overwhelming city streets, sewers and schools.

But the precise effect of the ordinance was still unknown late Tuesday as council members met late into the night to decide what kind of exemptions should be included in the measure.

Council members scored a significant environmental victory when they approved in concept an amendment to the interim measure that includes tight development controls on environmentally sensitive lands, such as hillsides, wetlands and flood plains.

The amendment, offered by Councilman Mike Gotch, was passed, 7-1, and will now go to an ad hoc task force on growth and to the Planning Commission before returning to the council for fine-tuning Aug. 7.

Extends Coastal Restrictions

The Gotch amendment, which like the interim ordinance would last 18 months, takes development restrictions imposed along the city's coastal areas and extends them throughout the city. It supersedes other protective measures that city Planning Department officials acknowledge are weaker. The amendment applies to all environmentally sensitive lands except those on the floor of Mission Valley. The amendment drew opposition from Councilman Ed Struiksma, whose district includes Mission Valley.

Struiksma voted against the amendment because he said the city needs more man-made parks, not open space.

"We have open-spaced ourselves to death without taking into account the needs of the community. Where are the kids going to play ball?" Struiksma said. He added that environmental controls like those proposed by Gotch preserve "bushes nobody can appreciate except if you live on the rim of a canyon."

Land-use attorney John Thelan, reflecting the building industry's position, told council members during public testimony that the Gotch amendment was "inappropriate." If it had been in place before, he argued, it would have prevented the development of thousands of acres of industrial buildings in western Mira Mesa, where there is an abundance of hillsides. Another lobbyist said the measure would have prevented the development of Tierrasanta.

Thelan said the city's current hillside review process is restrictive enough.

82,000 Acres Left to Develop

Environmentalists, however, urged passage of the Gotch amendment. Emily Durbin, part of an organized presentation by Citizens for Limited Growth, a slow-growth group, told council members that government figures show there are 82,000 acres left to be developed in the city as of this year.

A third of that land--28,000 acres--would be covered by the amendment, said Durbin, also the county land-use chairman for the Sierra Club.

While council members agreed that the city should allow the construction of no more than 8,000 dwelling units during a 12-month period, an amount that represents about half of the residential construction completed last year, they were still debating late Tuesday how that allocation should be distributed among San Diego neighborhoods.

They were also mulling over what to do with the 5,751 dwelling units caught in the planning "pipeline"--projects that were approved but failed to receive their building permits by late April, when news of the interim ordinance became known.

The Planning Department proposed applying community-by-community limits toward the pipeline cases, a procedure that would mean some of the projects would be prevented from going forward.

An amendment by Councilwoman Gloria McColl, however, would lift the community limits and allow all of the projects to be built, but count the 5,700 units against the citywide 8,000 unit cap. The amendment received the hearty endorsement from several representatives of developers with projects at stake.

Amendment Vote Postponed

A final vote on the amendment--which includes a study of who has "vested" development rights--was postponed until Aug. 7, to allow the council more time to study it.

Slow-growth proponents praised the council earlier in the afternoon for giving final approval to the interim development ordinance. Linda Martin, the group's president, said the measure was the first "step toward preserving the city's quality of life and topography."

The council voted, 5-4, to approve the measure, which will go into effect Aug. 21.

The vote differed from the 8-1 majority that passed the ordinance in the wee hours of June 23 after arduous testimony before a sometimes stormy crowd in a packed Golden Hall. Tuesday's afternoon meeting was, by comparison, relatively tame with only 250 people scattered throughout Golden Hall.

The council majority supporting the ordinance, called the IDO, dwindled when its more conservative members raised objections about the lack of time to study the thick planning department report on the ordinance, as well as the language proposed by the department for protecting environmentally sensitive lands.

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