When war is your only business, the last thing you want is a lasting peace treaty. That's why hold-outs from the old environmental war days on both sides of San Diego's land use battles want to scuttle the Multiple Species Conservation Plan (MSCP), a national model for balancing open space conservation and development that is keeping land use planning out of the courts.
Soon to celebrate its first anniversary since passage by the San Diego City Council last summer, the MSCP has sent warring factions to the negotiating table to plan San Diego's newest communities. Like making good sausage, the process may not be a particularly interesting or pretty sight, but the development plans that are emerging should please everybody interested in smart growth for San Diego.
For example, two new communities planned for the city's Future Urbanizing Area -- in the southwest portion of Carmel Valley east of El Camino Real and Interstate 5 and south of
state Route 56 and Carmel Valley Road -- will go before the voters in November. This move comes after a year-long planning process that included property owners and a broad range of environmental, community planning and public interest groups whose only previous relationship was to trade insults via a protracted media war or to duke it out in front of City Council or a judge.
This remarkable process was driven by the MSCP, which laid out the development footprint guidelines and provided a model for an open and inclusive planning process. Both projects are MSCP compliant, conserving and restoring some of the nation's most important habitat and open space while allowing development to go forward without expensive and duplicative permitting through state and federal regulatory agencies.
But the road to peace is littered with mine fields planted in the early battles over San Diego's remaining open space. There are certainly plenty of people with financial resources or time on their hands to nudge these often fragile negotiations back into a state of war where planning decisions are made by a judge.
Some simply want to stop all development; others won't be happy until they incarnate Los Angeles south. And many still bear scars that breed resentment and distrust.
The pot stirrers will certainly find inadvertent assistance from environmental reporters who having become accustomed to covering land use issues like war correspondents are straining to find stories in this new milieu. The "if it bleeds, it leads" mind-set doesn't jibe with the world according to MSCP.
This is a world where development footprints are drawn according to habitat protection guidelines set by MSCP. Property owners wanting to change their MSCP boundaries when they request a zoning change to allow more intensive development of their land must justify those changes to the public.
Under these conditions, property owners are already helping to preserve San Diego's most pristine lands through land trades that benefit everyone.
If approved by the voters, the Pacific Highlands Ranch project in the Future Urbanizing Area will conserve and restore 1,300 acres of habitat and open space set by MSCP guidelines. In return for MSCP boundary adjustments that increase the development footprint on agricultural land within the project, Pardee Construction Co. will give 150 acres of San Diego's most important habitat, Carmel Mountain in Carmel Valley's Neighborhood 8A, to the public as part of a Torrey Pines State Park East wildlife preserve.
Extreme property-rights advocates find MSCP coercive because they reject zoning laws out of hand. These folks would have us return to the cattle-sheep wars where land use is decided mano a mano between warring neighbors. And there are still a few developers who believe that they have a God-given right to zoning changes to insure their investments, just as there are environmentalists who use the same sanctimonious ethic to claim someone else's property as their own.
In spite of the ominous warnings that MSCP would stifle growth, construction permits in the city of San Diego are at their highest in years. Development maps winding their way through the approval process are keeping the city's Development Services Department machinery churning full time. And leading that queue are at least three projects for the Future Urbanizing Area planned under MSCP guidelines.
If those vested in the politics of confrontation do not prevail, San Diego's newest communities planned for construction over the next decade will prove that habitat and open space protection set the parameters of smart growth, preserving the city's natural heritage while creating truly livable communities.