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San Diego County eases rules on rural housing

County reverts to old way of counting driving miles

Escondido Estates would not have to address vehicle miles.
Escondido Estates would not have to address vehicle miles.

As early as the end of next month, some housing projects in the backcountry would be able to skip a step on the road to approval.

The San Diego County Planning Commission has made its recommendations for a new transportation study guide – used by developers to analyze the traffic impacts of their projects. Critics say rural infill like Escondido Estates (20 single-family homes on 10 acres) would not have to address vehicle miles.

Environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act for other topics would still be required - only traffic impacts and mitigation would be spared.

Ramona's planning group, for one, welcomes more housing and growth. But making it easier to build in the backcountry wasn't what environmental groups had in mind when they sued the county in 2020 over its old transportation study guide.

State Senate Bill 743 requires driving, the state's major source of greenhouse gas emissions, to be part of the environmental analysis of new development, yet "the county chose to exempt the vast majority of potential new developments," the complaint by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation reads.

For rural development, the county had based its study guide on vehicle miles only within the unincorporated area, making projects seem far less auto-centric. The county said the state hadn't specified the geographic boundaries to use.

Under state guidelines, projects that generate fewer than 110 trips per day are generally assumed to cause a less-than-significant transportation impact.

The state has since issued guidance, which now requires developers to use the entire county when analyzing vehicle miles. The county rescinded the old transportation guide.

However, the planning commission's first recommendation for the new version is a return to the old way of counting vehicle miles in the rural areas, notes a letter from an attorney for Cleveland National Forest Foundation.

In February, when the board of supervisors approved new rules to spur development in unincorporated villages that have the potential for transit – "transit opportunity areas" – they said it would allow 4,025 new homes in areas that don’t pose high fire risks.

The planning commission's recommendation for these more populated infill areas excludes only very high fire severity hazard zones (such as North Magnolia Avenue in Santee), while in high fire hazard zones (Santee's Oak Creek Drive), development can occur.

Another would define affordable housing as 120 percent of the area median income, which for San Diego County in 2022 is $106,900.

State law considers lower income households those earning up to 80 percent of the area.

The revised Transportation Study Guide, and commission recommendations, will be presented to the board of supervisors for consideration on September 28.

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Escondido Estates would not have to address vehicle miles.
Escondido Estates would not have to address vehicle miles.

As early as the end of next month, some housing projects in the backcountry would be able to skip a step on the road to approval.

The San Diego County Planning Commission has made its recommendations for a new transportation study guide – used by developers to analyze the traffic impacts of their projects. Critics say rural infill like Escondido Estates (20 single-family homes on 10 acres) would not have to address vehicle miles.

Environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act for other topics would still be required - only traffic impacts and mitigation would be spared.

Ramona's planning group, for one, welcomes more housing and growth. But making it easier to build in the backcountry wasn't what environmental groups had in mind when they sued the county in 2020 over its old transportation study guide.

State Senate Bill 743 requires driving, the state's major source of greenhouse gas emissions, to be part of the environmental analysis of new development, yet "the county chose to exempt the vast majority of potential new developments," the complaint by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation reads.

For rural development, the county had based its study guide on vehicle miles only within the unincorporated area, making projects seem far less auto-centric. The county said the state hadn't specified the geographic boundaries to use.

Under state guidelines, projects that generate fewer than 110 trips per day are generally assumed to cause a less-than-significant transportation impact.

The state has since issued guidance, which now requires developers to use the entire county when analyzing vehicle miles. The county rescinded the old transportation guide.

However, the planning commission's first recommendation for the new version is a return to the old way of counting vehicle miles in the rural areas, notes a letter from an attorney for Cleveland National Forest Foundation.

In February, when the board of supervisors approved new rules to spur development in unincorporated villages that have the potential for transit – "transit opportunity areas" – they said it would allow 4,025 new homes in areas that don’t pose high fire risks.

The planning commission's recommendation for these more populated infill areas excludes only very high fire severity hazard zones (such as North Magnolia Avenue in Santee), while in high fire hazard zones (Santee's Oak Creek Drive), development can occur.

Another would define affordable housing as 120 percent of the area median income, which for San Diego County in 2022 is $106,900.

State law considers lower income households those earning up to 80 percent of the area.

The revised Transportation Study Guide, and commission recommendations, will be presented to the board of supervisors for consideration on September 28.

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