04/20/11

A Word from Chairman Bill Horn

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GPU and the Future of San Diego County

This month, the Board of Supervisors made a decision on what I consider the most important issue I have dealt with during my 16 years as your County Supervisor. The vote was to move ahead with the County's General Plan Update (GPU), a document that sets the course for land use decisions in the unincorporated area of the County for decades to come. The greatest percentage of that land is in the Fifth District.

While I had hoped to bring more than twelve years of work on the GPU to a conclusion, it was critical to me that we approve a plan that was fair, workable, and above all respected the constitutional guarantees for private property owners. That is not the plan before us. With a little more work, we could have produced the right plan. Instead, the vote was for the "right now" plan, which arbitrarily downzones many parcels of land, drastically reducing the value of property, some of which has been in family hands for generations. I did not support that and was the lone vote in opposition.

As a County Supervisor, private property rights are at the core of my fundamental beliefs. That will not change. I believe the GPU tramples on the constitutional rights of private property owners. With the final vote in August a mere formality, the Board will have made a decision that portends harmful immediate ramifications and long range damage.

To give you an understanding of my thoughts on what happened in the meeting and why I voted in opposition, I want to share a summary of comments that I made just prior to the 4-1 vote that approved (for now) the GPU.

  

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I have listened to my colleagues and I have listened to DPLU (Department of Planning and Land Use) staff, I have listened to the Planning Groups, the environmentalists, the farmers and the property owners. And through it all I have never wavered from my position.

  

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I believe today, just as I did when this process started over a decade ago, that this is STEALING. That is not meant to be rhetoric and I do not use that term lightly. It is a tremendous decline in value. 

Our County Counsel has assured this Board that this massive downzoning is legal. I simply do not agree, but I'll leave that to the courts.

Just because something is legal, does not make it right. I'll say it again. For a government agency to take the value of your land by redefining its use violates the spirit of the 5th Amendment of the Constitution. This is stealing and I believe it is unethical.

The spirit of the Constitution upholds property rights - one of the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded.

There is no doubt about it; this plan harms my district and the County's economic future. I was re-elected in November in large part because of my position on property rights.

Why are we, as Supervisors, here if not to protect property rights?

One of my colleagues mentioned community interests in our last meeting - I'm wondering if the community is "interested" in paying property taxes for everyone in their community.

It is appropriate that yesterday this Board voted to support the creation of an "Advanced Post-Disaster Recovery Initiative". If this County chooses to downzone our many neighbors who have come before us over the past 13 years...Post-Disaster Recovery is exactly what they will need.

Many have said that any project of this size is going to make some people happy and others upset. But, this isn't that simple. It boils down to whether this Board will come down on the side of property owners or extreme environmentalists.

Downzoning without compensation is stealing and I cannot support that. If government wants open space - it should pay for it.

I'm disappointed that we do not have a viable equity mechanism in this plan. By the way the PACE (Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements) program is an admission that wealth is being transferred by government caveat, which is in contrast to the economic analysis provided by Keyser Marston.

Interestingly, this Board heard Keyser Marston's rebuttal to the Rea and Parker analysis, but Rea and Parker has not been allowed to rebut Keyser Marston.

I believe there is a lot of new information that the public has not had the opportunity to speak about.

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I have been hearing from property owners who have said that there are errors in the analysis of their property, but they have no way of correcting the record because the public hearing closed on December 8.

I would like to see public testimony re-opened, so that we can continue to have a dialogue with those most affected by this proposed plan.

I believed that this Board would have a  choice today and I guess technically we do - choose what I consider to be a flawed and incomplete plan or nothing. That's a shame.

In 2004, this Board voted to endorse the staff recommended map and the Board Referral Map. Staff made the Referral Map the project map for the EIR review.

Consistently throughout this process, this Board has been told that the Referral Map is the project and that anything within the Referral Map would be 'allowed' as it would be studied specifically in the EIR. However, this is not the case. There are Board-directed referrals that are classified as "red" meaning they would require a recirculation of the EIR.

How can a referral, directed by the Board and studied in the EIR of the project map, possibly be considered a "major change" from the project map? This makes no sense!

There is a fundamental difference of opinion here. I believe that discussions of realistic density should be had at the project level. We already have ordinances like the RPO (Resource Protection Ordinance) in place to deal with 'realistic' density. We don't need more regulation at the General Plan level.

I believe I have been led down the primrose path, being reassured all along that the Board would have options when it came to adoption of this plan. That the Board could approve the Referral Map or any other map studied in the EIR.

This, however, is not the case and I feel like I have been painted into a corner with the choice of a plan I disagree with or nothing.

As I look at the Guiding Principles, I note a few that are in my estimation inconsistent with the staff recommendation.

Guiding Principle #10 says and I quote "Recognize community and stakeholder interests while striving for consensus."

We heard 3 days' worth of testimony that will tell you that many in the community and numerous true stakeholders, or landowners' interests are not being 'recognized' and that we are most certainly not anywhere near a 'consensus'. In fact, this whole process started because the County was sued over the Ag element. And, yet, the farmers oppose this plan.

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I cannot believe that this Board would support a plan that the 5.1 BILLION dollar (annually) agricultural industry in this CountyOPPOSES!!

I have heard derogatory language calling the property owners who have protested this plan "land speculators". I don't believe that generations' old family farms such as the Hillebrechts' are the result of speculation and it's outrageous that some have resorted to that rhetoric. It minimizes and discredits hard working taxpayers.

Reducing the carrying capacity of land drives down land values, which reduces wealth. Farmers and families will walk away from their land. I know one person who already has.

I believe this Board has an obligation to protect the economic future of this region.

This plan is simply not ready. I recognize that we have come a long way and I know there are many competing interests, but I believe that the opinion of the landowners matters more than that of out-of-town environmentalists.

I believe that there are numerous factors involved now that didn't exist 12 years ago, but that today constrain development.

The water shortage will impact our growers' ability to farm and many may choose to use their land for something else. The reality is houses use far less water than farms.

The economy is bad. Land is less plentiful. These conditions are growth reducing, not growth inducing. This process was to plan for growth, instead we're killing it.
 

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As I reflect on what has happened since that vote, people have asked me what happens next? First, County staff will return with a few GPU revisions August 3; however, it is basically a done-deal.

There is a so-called "clean-up" plan for the remaining properties and owners to seek a change. In my opinion, this will be a long and cumbersome process.

I will continue to be a voice for property owners and to uphold their constitutional rights.

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