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MSCP is a winner in San Diego County

San Diego's controversial Multiple Species Conservation Plan emerged from

last week's elections as the land-use policy that will shape the landscape

of northern San Diego and define neighborhood planning into the next


By approving the MSCP-planned Pacific Highlands Ranch and Black Mountain

Ranch (Propositions M and K) and rejecting the Rural Heritage & Watershed

Initiative by considerable margins, San Diego voters affirmed the MSCP

style of negotiated land-use planning over a broad stroke ballot box

rezoning approach.

There can be no question that the "Ranches" passed muster with the voters

because of environmental organization and local planning board support,

each of which exacted its own pound of flesh from property owners during 20

months of hard negotiations. Both developments had to be pedestrian

friendly, place an unprecedented amount of lands into the habitat

conservation program, and for the first time, contribute close to a $100

million into regional freeway improvements.

But earnest support from environmental organizations was not enough to

gather much voter enthusiasm for the Rural Heritage & Watershed Initiative.

Voters rejected out of hand this broad sweeping downzoning of the county's

backcountry in spite of intensive campaigning by the Sierra Club.

The Rural Heritage & Watershed Initiative, which sought to draw an

urban/rural line that would impose 40-acre and 80-acre lot sizes on 600,000

acres in the East Country. But voters resisted the temptation to fight

sprawl the easy way through a one-size-fits-all zoning initiative.

The differences between the county and city measures were as much about

process as content. The Rural Heritage & Watershed Initiative was a fossil

of the no-growth era when groups fighting sprawl sought to determine

land-use policy through blanket ballot box land-use restrictions.

Propositions M and K were the result of planning around the city's MSCP

guidelines, putting public interest groups and land owners at the

negotiating table. Voters liked the results.

And when San Diegans approved Pacific Highlands Ranch, they got a lot of

bang for their vote. Over $160 million worth of MSCP habitat preserve and

recreational open space went with the deal at no taxpayer expense,

including San Diego's crown jewel property, Carmel Mountain. This was a

major victory for environmental organizations and the Carmel Valley

Planning Board, who spent the better part of the decade battling for

open-space preservation and to keep bulldozers off of Carmel Mountain.

The Rural Heritage & Watershed Initiative gained its appeal because of

frustration with the San Diego County Board of Supervisors' abrogation of

stewardship over the backcountry in favor of zoning rules favoring sprawl

development. The refusal of the board to seriously cope with the specter of

Los Angeles-style sprawl is evident in its weak-kneed habitat preservation

program and recent upzoning of land in the East County into nice

developable parts.

Unlike the city of San Diego, whose mayor champions MSCP, county leadership

on habitat conservation is rarer than a gnatcatcher.

That the first project built around MSCP guidelines will be undertaken by

San Diego's largest and most influential developer, Pardee Homes, is a

dramatic first step for the city's conservation plan. Crafted by

environmental and planning groups, Proposition M requires the builder to

restore and conserve 1,300 acres of recreational open space and habitat

preserve, build 15 miles of equestrian and hiking trails and design a

pedestrian oriented village style community. These requirements cannot be

changed without a vote of the entire city.

The "greening" of Pardee is an environmental victory of huge proportions.

The Pacific Highlands Ranch experiment carries a big financial risk for a

company used to doing business the old fashioned way. No one has marketed

this type of community before. But faced with voters reluctant to cover

their city in concrete, Pardee shifted gears and asked San Diego's

environmental and community groups to help design a plan. The process paid

off at the polls. Pardee's leadership can't help but influence future

neighborhood planning to the benefit of the entire region.

The MSCP received its most powerful validation to date by the voters who

rejected strict growth restrictions in favor of balanced planning. As a

result, negotiations on a project-by-project basis around the principles of

balancing development with habitat and open-space preservation will be the

San Diego way into the next century.

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