Under the original General Plan 2020 maps — known as the Alternative III maps and drawn by the planning group leaders on the Steering Committee — future land-use and zoning decisions would have been made using population density. Rules regarding future development would have been stricter and less open to the individual discretion of the supervisors.
However, on January 10, 2001, the board of supervisors rejected Alternative III. The board then created a new advisory body, titled the Interest Group Committee. This was a selected group of developer and environmental leaders who met monthly to craft new zoning maps and land-use goals for the region.
But in the nine years since the Interest Group Committee was created, no plan has been brought to the supervisors for approval. This has further fueled critics’ charges that no plan will be in place until major projects, including Merriam Mountains, are approved.
“The Board has been dragging its feet on General Plan 2020 so projects could get approved and into the pipeline,” noted former San Diego Planning Commissioner David Kreitzer. “[Supervisor Ron] Roberts said the original zoning proposed under the Alternative III maps was unacceptable. They were afraid of lawsuits by property rights groups.”
Youde bluntly told Shibley and the property owners on November 14, 2000, of the estimated costs involved in putting pressure on the supervisors and county staff.
“Stonegate is presently paying the political consultants and land use attorney fees to protect you from the effects of Plan 2020. In addition to processing a project under the existing General Plan, Stonegate has submitted a letter on behalf of each of you requesting suitable density in the event Plan 2020 is successful,” wrote Youde, who placed the costs of their efforts at close to $200,000 at that time.
After Stonegate’s efforts proved successful, Youde dispatched another memo.
“PLAN 2020 DERAILED!!” begins the February 28, 2001 memo. “Due to the concerted effort of David Shibley of the SOLV [Save Our Land Values] GROUP and hundreds of angry landowners, the Board of Supervisors squelched Alternative III of the General Plan 2020 update,” wrote Youde. “It is well known at the Planning Department that it was our initial submittal to Planning that unearthed Plan 2020 and we sounded the alarm that led to the organization to oppose Plan 2020…[now] we are able to sell [our] plan directly to the Supervisors on a one-to-one basis and insure political support.…”
Youde felt confident Stonegate’s efforts were beginning to show results. Two months before the board of supervisors eliminated the Alternative III maps and formed the Interest Group Committee, Youde applauded Save Our Land Values for its work. He even asked the property owners to send money to Save Our Land Values.
Save Our Land Values was not the only entity Youde suggested the developers assist in their attempt to delay the General Plan 2020 process. The supervisors themselves were also described as beneficiaries of Stonegate’s political efforts, specifically North County supervisor Bill Horn, who represents the area that includes Merriam Mountains.
“Support Bill Horn! Without Supervisor Bill Horn and his strong advocacy of property rights, we would have no chance at all. Mr. Horn has announced his intention to run for re-election to the Board of Supervisors and expects a challenge from the environmentalist lobby. We are including a campaign contribution envelope for your use. We are supporting Mr. Horn to the maximum extent permitted under the law,” wrote Youde in his February 28, 2001 memo.
Three months later on June 1, 2001, Youde wrote to the property owners that Stonegate had organized “two tables of supporters” at Horn’s May 22 reelection campaign fund-raiser.
“The fundraiser was very successful and raised over $200,000,” said Youde. “That gives Supervisor Horn a substantial war chest and dissuades challengers from attempting to unseat him.”
In the aftermath of the defeat of the Alternative III maps, Save Our Land Values earned a seat at the table of the Interest Group Committee. Shibley has actively participated in the committee’s meetings since then.
Former San Diego Sierra Club president Eric Bowlby served on the Interest Group Committee for four years. Bowlby said the central problem with the makeup of the committee was that development and real estate consultants serving on the committee were also representing projects seeking approval.
“The conflict of interest was acute, and there was no denial of the conflict of interest,” says Bowlby. “There were consultants working on their own specific projects and shaping the new maps to accommodate those projects.”
The Merriam Mountains development project still requires formal approval by the board of supervisors. But as early as August 2001, Youde felt confident the board would support it.
Youde wrote to Shibley on August 23, 2001, “In this process we expect to be turned down at all local levels and ultimately approved by the Board of Supervisors.”