by Hon. Scott Barnett and Dr. Richard Parker
Like anything in life, there’s no use doing something quickly if it’s not going to be done right. The adage couldn’t be more relevant to the current effort to update San Diego County’s General Plan. The Board of Supervisors will soon meet again on the plan, and after years of hard work, dozens of meetings and an abundance of feedback from the community, there is an apparent rush to suddenly, unfortunately, and haphazardly complete the effort, despite very significant flaws that threaten the long-term economic viability of the unincorporated areas of our County. Rather than proceeding forward in the face of significant resident opposition and well-considered questions about the Plan, the Board of Supervisors should direct staff to get it right before it is ultimately approved.
The General Plan Update relies in part on an economic analysis that is misleading and riddled with errors. The study purports that a mere 20 percent of properties would be negatively impacted by the drastic density down-zoning proposed in the General Plan Update, and that 70 percent would be unaffected. The statistic is misleading because it relates to parcels as opposed to actual acres of land. That’s significant because it does not reflect the true burden that would be levied on property owners. An alternative analysis found that when you examine acres, about 60 percent of privately owned acreage in the unincorporated areas would be subject to considerable down-zoning under the General Plan Update as it is currently proposed
The response by County staff when confronted with this information has been untenable excuses and the defense of outmoded methodology. This is another example of County staff dismissing legitimate arguments against the General Plan Update and digging in their heels to defend a faulty study, rather than taking the more difficult road toward a solution.
The General Plan Update, as it is currently proposed, cuts the heart out of the economic value of San Diego County’s backcountry. It will result in a net loss of land value of about $1.8 billion, without any compensation for property owners. In the process, the tax base will be reduced by hundreds of millions of dollars, resulting in even fewer funds for desperately needed public safety and other basic County services.
Reduced property values and restrictions on land use resulting from the General Plan Update will devastate family farming and local businesses in the unincorporated areas. It will result in the destruction of our rural heritage and threatens access to locally grown food for our family dinner tables.
It imperils our ability to provide housing for a growing population, instead shifting that responsibility to already over-crowded cities. Research has proven that cities in the region have historically refused to accept in-fill development. Economic losses that will lead to declining school and health care services will also force existing rural populations to relocate to cities.
Simply put, the General Plan Update amounts to an uncompensated government taking of private property, and one thing is certain: the current version of the General Plan Update will invite litigation. It is unimaginable that private property owners in the unincorporated areas, which comprise 84 percent of the land in San Diego County, will stand idly by and watch as their investment in their land and local businesses are swept from under them. Costly, prolonged litigation would be a disservice to taxpayers and property owners.
While the nation struggles to emerge from the worst economic recession it has experienced in decades, we would be remiss to create a situation that would severely limit the creating and retention of jobs in the region and create a further burden on the economy. San Diego County cannot afford the unintended consequences contained in the General Plan Update.
The Board of Supervisors should be commended for asking tough questions before moving ahead with adopting the General Plan Update. As the elected body for San Diego County, the Board should be fully apprised of the impacts of the General Plan Update before making decisions that have such far reaching consequences.
Fixing the General Plan Update will take more time and hard work, but it can be done. If approved as is, it will be much harder to correct its flawed and severely detrimental impacts on a vast portion of San Diego County for decades to come. For all of the aforementioned reasons we are obligated to get it right.
Dr. Richard Parker is president of Rea & Parker Research, an economic research firm, and is a professor at SDSU.
Scott Barnett, past executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, is president of Taxpayers Advocate, a private organization which conducts economic and fiscal impact studies, and he serves as a Trustee of the San Diego Unified School Board.