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— Remember, jobs were a prattling point in the selling of the ballpark, too, although it was obvious that the only significant jobs that would be created were those in construction, which are short-lived. Hamburger flippers and beer vendors would simply move over from Qualcomm to take low-paying jobs at a new location.

Growing up (high-rise) instead of out (sprawl) presents natural risks, too: earthquakes, for example, notes Henderson.

All things considered, McFetridge is proposing the most sensible solution for San Diego: a Rural Lands Initiative that would restrict the number of houses to one per 40 acres in areas just east of county cities, one per 80 in rural areas, and one per 160 in areas outside the County Water Authority boundary. "It's good for the preservation of water resources -- more water will flow into drinking-water reservoirs," says McFetridge.

"It's also helpful on the fire front," he says. "If there is a wildland fire, firefighting resources can manage that, not be diverted to structure protection."

The matter is headed for the ballot in March. Developers and agricultural interests are already lining up money to fight it. They may pull out an old one: save the family farm. But that was always an emotional non sequitur. What the developers have always wanted is to pave over the county, à la Manhattan. They will subliminally note that concrete doesn't burn.

Developers "are already talking the economy, jobs," says McFetridge. They are blowing smoke to exploit a tragic fire.

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