San Diego It seems about as likely as a sudden agreement between the heads of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia to reunite and redevelop Yugoslavia. Yet there they are, the heads of two of San Diego's most powerful and highly regarded environmental organizations -- Carolyn Chase, chair of the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club; and Michael Beck, San Diego director of the Endangered Habitats League -- telling us, in the sample ballot argument and in a slick spot-color mailer, to vote yes on Proposition M and allow Pardee Construction Company to build up to 5470 homes in the Black Mountain area of northeastern San Diego, 12 times the 455 homes permitted under the area's current zoning.
Chase's name also appears in the sample ballot as a supporter of Proposition K. This is a smaller but similar development proposal for an area due west of the one involved in M and owned by a different company, Potomac Sports Properties. Chase is in odd company on both ballot arguments; Benjamin Haddad, president and chief executive officer of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce, has also signed the arguments for K and M, and Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham has signed the one for K.
This bit of strange-bedfellowing came about as a result of the defeat of Pardee's previous attempt to win voter approval for developing this area, Proposition C, in June 1994. "Basically, the developers sought our endorsement," Chase said. "We were requested to participate in the process. These two particular projects are the first ones to come up under the County's Multiple Species Conservation Plan [MSCP], and we felt duty bound to get involved to see that MSCP is properly implemented."
The story behind K and M really began in 1979, when, after four years of deliberation, the San Diego City Council approved an elaborate plan for managing the city's future zone. It divided San Diego into five "tiers" -- Centre City, Urbanized Communities, Planned Urbanizing, Future Urbanizing, and Open Space -- and allowed developers to build immediately in the Planned Urbanizing tier. The Future Urbanizing tier, in which most -- but not all -- of the lands involved in K and M were put, was supposed to be held back as an "urban reserve" that would be developed at some time in the future but could not be built on immediately.
But by the time the city council had approved the plan, it had also granted a major exception that moved a 4300-acre portion of the Carmel Valley area from the Future Urbanizing to the Planned Urbanizing tier. The owners immediately started construction of the development that became known as North City West -- and incensed environmentalists fought this and other "phase shifts" voted for by the council with Proposition A in 1985. This initiative set up the current propositions by requiring that any shifts of land from Future Urbanizing to Planned Urbanizing must be approved by a vote of the people.
One significant area escaped protection, however: Carmel Mountain, at the north end of Carmel Valley. Because Pardee Construction, owner of Carmel Mountain, had already filed a site plan for developing it, it had been moved into the Planned Urbanizing tier before Proposition A passed. "Originally, in the community plan, it was slated for quite a bit of development," recalled Craig Adams, then a Sierra Club official and now a staff member for City Councilwoman Christine Kehoe. "The people did not say, 'Save Carmel Mountain.' It was new information about its unique qualities that led to the effort to save it. Pardee has come up with several plans to develop it over the years, and the city council has rejected them."
"Carmel Mountain is the most biologically significant land in San Diego, acre for acre, and it has a high-development value," said Beck of the Endangered Habitats League. "That kind of inherent conflict created a phenomenally difficult negotiation that has been going on for years. This opportunity happened when Pardee decided to negotiate, which was a change in approach for them."
But while the San Diego leaders of the Sierra Club and Endangered Habitats were congratulating themselves on their success in negotiating with Pardee to end its ownership of 150 acres on Carmel Mountain, other environmentalists in San Diego County were reaching the conclusion that Pardee had taken the Sierra Club and Endangered Habitats to the cleaners in the negotiations. Alex Landon, activist attorney and 30-year Sierra Club member, is one of the signers of the ballot argument against M -- and he thinks 150 acres on Carmel Mountain is a poor trade for giving Pardee 161 acres elsewhere in the same zone and for allowing them to build at the high densities M would authorize. He's also upset at what he considers deceptive language on the actual ballot that ignores the density, traffic, and habitat implications of both M and K.
"The ballot language does not provide voters the true story on either K or M," Landon said. "Nothing is said about the increased density. The ballot language says there'll be 889 acres of open space under M, but that's space that is already protected under MSCP. And the ballot language says Pardee is selling 90 acres of freeway right-of-way for Highway 56 'at a price which is substantially below market value,' but it doesn't tell you they're actually getting $6.2 million for it."
The campaign against M is being headed by Leigh Crueger, secretary of the Rancho Glens Estates Homeowners' Association in the already developed portion of Black Mountain and a member of San Diegans for Responsible Freeway Planning. This group, Crueger explained, was formed as a coalition of six homeowners' associations, one in the city of San Diego and five in the county. Their main argument against both K and M is the massive amount of traffic that will be generated by these big increases in allowable density -- from 455 to 5470 units under M and from 421 to 4279 units under K. But Crueger is also concerned that these developments will destroy up to 20 times as much endangered-species habitat as they will protect.