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Riverside County OKs Growth Plan

Supervisors unanimously OK a project to control development that took five years and $11 million. Critics already quarrel with its zoning restrictions.

October 08, 2003|Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writer

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted a sweeping general plan in an attempt to better shape growth, including new housing and roads, in this booming county in coming decades.

But after five years, $11 million worth of planning costs and a unanimous vote by the board, reviews of the plan are mixed.

"The county hasn't had a clear vision of itself.... It's really the beginning of a new era," said Richard Lashbrook, director of the county's Transportation Land Management Agency, who spearheaded the exhaustive design effort.

"Now we need to do a lot of work to implement it."

But Bill Johnson, who owns 9,000 acres in southern Riverside County that he would like to turn into a resort, said the new plan is "appalling. This amounts to the largest taking of private property in the history of the United States."

Under the new plan, Johnson's land will remain zoned for one house per 20 acres, and there will be a five-year wait before he or any other property owner can apply for a land-use change.

His property also has been designated as having high conservation value for endangered species.

"I feel for property owners like Mr. Johnson," said Supervisor Marion Ashley. "But this comes down to: Are we going to have unmanaged growth, or haphazard growth?"

General plans, required under state law, force counties and cities to forecast and map potential housing and commercial needs, necessary roads, open space and other major zoning considerations.

Riverside County was sued more than a decade ago by the Sierra Club for a list of violations, including failure to have an overall map showing basic zoning.

That suit was settled, and county officials began work on a comprehensive planning effort that includes not only the general plan, but also a major exemption from the federal Endangered Species Act in exchange for preserving blocks of habitat, and also deals with the issue of transportation funding.

Landowners and environmental groups are considering challenging the plan.

"Honestly, the new general plan is a mixed bag. Definite progress was made toward smarter patterns of growth," said Dan Silver, head of the Endangered Habitats League environmental group, which is considering a legal challenge because of traffic problems that could be created by growth allowed under the plan.

Silver said he was also disappointed that innovative "community center" zoning, which would have required the development of walkable downtowns with public transportation, denser housing and other amenities, had not been required in the fastest-growing areas.

He said the plan instead allowed for continued "homogenous sprawl."

But Supervisor Bob Buster said that though he thought experimental community centers might be a good idea, he worried that such zoning could create "small, dense slums" unless adequate police and other protection were provided.

He agreed that the overall plan was far from perfect.

"Large lots with a house in the middle is what you're going to see. That's what people want," he said.

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