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Skirmish Over Growth : Lake Miramar Provides Next Battleground

February 05, 1989|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

A nasty intra-community conflict over the future of the undeveloped hills on the northern shore of Lake Miramar, now primarily a picturesque backdrop for boaters, fishermen, hikers and joggers, is emerging as the next test of the city's beleaguered slow-growth movement.

A handful of slow-growth leaders, working in concert with a local 200-member volunteer commitee, have seized on the debate over the lake's future as a rare opportunity to attack a large developer and incumbent San Diego City Councilman Ed Struiksma simultaneously.

By allying themselves with a referendum campaign to block construction of homes and an industrial park scheduled to be built on the hillsides, slow-grow leaders say they can force another citywide test of voters' slow-growth sentiments at the same time that Struiksma, the council's most pro-development member, must run for re-election in the city's first district-only election.

'Back at the Table'

Eager for a more narrowly focused scrape with the development industry after being clobbered in city- and countywide referenda on growth management last fall, some slow-growthers have donated money and time to the Save Miramar Lake Committee petition-gathering campaign.

"I think that many of the environmental community leaders see that qualification of this referendum puts us back at the table regarding growth management policy and shows that we still have the strength and grass-roots network to participate in the political process," said Bob Glaser, co-chairman of San Diegans for Managed Growth and political consultant for the Save Miramar Lake Committee.

One candidate who has her eye on Struiksma's seat, Linda Bernhardt, once an aide to Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer, has participated in campaign strategy sessions as an "adviser," and is likely to look to opponents of the planned Miramar Ranch North housing development for support if she runs.

Another possible candidate, attorney Mike Eckmann, said he has attended three Save Miramar Lake Committee meetings and three other meetings on the issue, but has taken no position in the conflict.

Former City Councilman Floyd Morrow, an undeclared candidate for Struiksma's seat, said, "I don't think I need (the issue), but I will be using it, just as I will be using other land-use issues where (Struiksma) has sided with developers against the citizens."

Bernhardt declined to comment on her activities.

Struiksma and his advisers are not yet losing sleep over the citizens group, which claims it has gathered 31,500 signatures, enough to force a citywide referendum on the 3,360 homes that the council authorized BCE Development to build north of Lake Miramar.

City Clerk Charles Abdelnour will not determine whether the referendum qualifies until next month at the earliest. Even if it does, the council has 11 months to schedule a special citywide election.

Uncharted Waters

Although Abdelnour has recommended the Sept. 19 council primary as the most logical and economical date for a 1989 citywide election, the four Republican council members diving into the uncharted waters of district elections will have ample incentive to oppose placing the referendum on the ballot beside their names. A citywide referendum would increase voter turnout, which historically means a larger Democratic turnout.

Struiksma, who overwhelmingly won reelection in 1985 and runs particularly well in Scripps Ranch, can also point to a rival petition-gathering campaign, financed primarily by BCE Development, that has collected 20,000 to 25,000 signatures in support of the development project.

"If that's the best thing that (Miramar Ranch North opponents) can reach out for, I'm not at all worried," Struiksma said, "because I am, frankly, very pleased with the fact that I have represented the wishes of my planning groups, whether in that community or any other community."

"We are watching it," added Jim Johnston, Struiksma's political consultant, who said he does not believe the initiative will qualify for the ballot. "Right now, we're just looking at the smoke. We're going to wait and see if there's any fire."

Still, Struiksma does not deny that the campaign is a magnet for slow-growthers and his political opponents. He charges, in fact, that they have orchestrated the movement from the outset.

However, J. Gary Underwood, co-chairman of the Save Miramar Lake Committee, said that his organization's effort is dominated by volunteers from the lake area, who have done the bulk of the fund-raising and leg work.

Some leaders of 1988's unsuccessful slow-growth campaign, working with Save Miramar Lake Committee include Richard Carson, Citizens for Limited Growth's economic adviser. Carson contributed $750, the second-largest donation, as well as organizing expertise, Underwood said.

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