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It's time for urban growth boundaries

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
August 21, 2003


"Where there is no vision the people perish." — Proverbs 29:18

Whereas most elected officials refuse to admit conservation efforts in San Diego County are failing miserably, those not worried about re-election can speak honestly about the steady demise of our natural environment and Southern Californian ecosystems. Smart Growth is just another way of spinning continued development while feigning concern. Hopefully voters will soon see the charade for the spin it is we can stop denying that the status quo is at a dead end.

Needed is an unvarnished discussion of population and density. Turning the current paradigm on its head, new development must become the exception to the rule if native flora and fauna are to remain. On the coast the battle has been lost. As one of the combatants, I can a testify to the carnage. Now instead of rolling hills of coastal sage scrub we have a rolling gridlock of single-family homes.

Urban habitat is replacing all else.

Extinction of native species is inevitable because nothing is sacred except the bottom line and the holy grail of campaign contributions. Common sense died long ago, and paradise has become little more than a parking lot. Where does it end? Carlsbad is indistinguishable from Vista, Oceanside, and San Marcos. Stucco and strip malls may be our fate, but do we really wish that for Ramona, Alpine and Julian?

First and foremost it is time for local governments to start thinking like a region. A bioregion to be precise, where human population is balanced with the amount of local precipitation, potable water, arable farmland, landfill capacity and quality of life considerations such as undeveloped wilderness and regional parks. Protecting watersheds must be government's first priority.

Up to this point, planners have done nothing but plan for more of everything, without honestly considering the cost of subsidizing suburban sprawl. Everything is game. When an area is cleared and ecological viability lost, those who profit from over population and over development move on to their next project, and will continue to do so until there is nothing left to lose. Meanwhile elected officials wax poetic about habitat conservation plans, while unwilling to acknowledge that without urban growth boundaries all is futile.

The flaw in planning is cultural. Despite the best intentions of elected officials such as Supervisor Pam Slater, the conservation, preservation and restoration of biotic communities in our overcrowded region have never moved beyond the politics of least resistance. Biology, geology, hydrology, and ecology, hardly matter when cities are looking at ways of increasing their tax base without pissing off active special interests. Land speculators are not only active; their deep pockets depend on converting open space habitat into unsustainable housing tracts.

Politicians depend on those deep pockets. It's time for the voting public to show some initiative.

For years now I have been bidding my time while attempting to form a solid foundation from which to comment on the Save our Forests and Ranchlands (SOFAR) initiative as proposed by Duncan McFetridge. A committed environmentalist, unwilling to roll over and play dead, Mr. McFetridge and SOFAR continue their attempts to redirect the growth machine away from the rural back country and toward the 800 square miles of urban landform currently existing in San Diego County.

The Clean Water and Forest Initiative, also known as the Rural Lands Initiative is the best bet for preserving the little open space remaining, while directing development interests to the redevelopment of the coastal corridor. Currently buckling under the strain our moribund infrastructure is insufficient to meet the perceived needs of populations projected for the next 20 years and beyond. Regional sprawl should be rejected and suburban renewal embraced.

The State of California requires municipalities to absorb population growth. An unfunded mandate if ever there was one, cities must seek inventive ways to accommodate the huddle masses destined for the land of the gnatcatcher. While not perfect, and incomplete in regards to density transfers and redevelopment incentives, the Rural Lands Initiative is far superior than anything being offered by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) or the county Board of Supervisors.

Who can deny that communities throughout the San Diego region have merged into a conglomeration of corporate municipalities, sans water, sans agriculture, sans a vision beyond the panacea of "smart growth?" Hoping to run out the biological clock, foot dragging has become the official policy, while bulldozers continue to erase the biodiversity in the name of progress and property rights. In fact, it seems area governments have adopted the strategy of delay. Sad, isn't it?

It's time for an urban growth boundary. It's time for suburban renewal. It's time coastal cities to support SOFAR and the Rural Lands Initiative.

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