San Diego's MSCP works under fire

Lisa Ross
ROSS is a writer and member of the Carmel Valley Planning Board.

06-Aug-1998 Thursday

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

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.

Copyright Union-Tribune Publishing Co.