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County picks Fallbrook, San Dieguito, Bonsall, Ramona, Lakeside, Valle De Oro, Spring Valley, Alpine, Sweetwater for infilling

Factors: density of population, housing, access to jobs, shopping, restaurants

In Alpine, driving distances are already higher than the regional average. - Image by Alan Decker
In Alpine, driving distances are already higher than the regional average.

Facing the watchful eye of environmental groups, county planners last week presented several options to guide development in San Diego's backcountry.

Since more than 99 percent of the unincorporated area depends on cars, development is leaning towards the urban core, where housing is more expensive.

"As staff has shown, the harsh reality is there will be very little development in the unincorporated county in the foreseeable future," said David Grubb, transportation chair of Sierra Club San Diego.

Under a 2013 state law aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the county must analyze the transportation impacts, or "vehicle miles traveled," of new projects during environmental review. How they first went about it prompted a lawsuit and the end of their transportation study guide, leading up to last week's meeting of the county board of supervisors.

In 2020, the county adopted a method that sprawl opponents considered an end-run around the law, creating a study guide for applicants preparing transportation analyses for backcountry projects - but it was based on miles traveled only within unincorporated areas.

According to a county report, the Governor's Office of Planning and Research had not made specific recommendations about the boundary that should be used to establish driving impacts.

Critics said the approach ignored the far-flung driving patterns that result from sprawl. Cleveland National Forest Foundation, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, and the Sierra Club sued, saying it violated state law.

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Last summer, the state released new guidance stating that the unincorporated areas should use the entire county as a basis for analyzing how much driving new projects would generate.

That shrank 45,444 acres the county considered vehicle efficient down to 2,467 acres.

At the same time, the county still has to build its share of regional housing. As part of the 6th Cycle Housing Element (2021-2029), it was found that there aren't enough sites with the densities needed within vehicle-friendly areas of the county to meet housing production goals.

In light of the new guidance, the board of supervisors voted unanimously to rescind their transportation study guide, and the petitioners dismissed the lawsuit.

County staff was directed to come back with more information about auto impacts on projects in the unincorporated areas, infill development, creation of transit accessible areas, affordable housing, and mitigation programs.

The options include a phased approach that would allow projects to move forward in areas deemed appropriate for infill, excluding very high fire hazard severity zones.

But what exactly is infill in the country?

According to a county report, to define “infill development” in the unincorporated areas, they considered the density of population, housing, employment and intersections, along with access to jobs within a 15-mile radius and shopping and restaurants within a one-mile radius.

The locations "are close to incorporated cities and within the sphere of development for urbanized San Diego. Specifically, core areas of Fallbrook, San Dieguito, Bonsall, Ramona (along Main Street), Lakeside, Valle De Oro, Spring Valley, Alpine, and Sweetwater all meet the definition."

Within the infill areas there is a housing capacity of up to 2,900 units.

Duncan McFetridge, co-founder of Cleveland National Forest Foundation, says the proposal defines infill so broadly it would exempt much rural development from state requirements to reduce traffic impacts.

In places like Alpine, driving distances are already higher than the regional average, he says. “This isn’t true infill development, and it will increase rather than reduce" driving.

Other groups criticized the use of transportation demand management. "I see it over and over again in the developer-proposed sprawl projects," said Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League. "I think it has mostly been a fig leaf on sprawl development."

Staff proposed expanding the infill areas to include two buffer options that incorporate adjacent areas having "similar urban characteristics."

Supervisor Terra lawson-Remer said she supported an option that looks at exempting 100 percent affordable housing no matter where it's built, and another that champions affordable housing as well as climate protection.

But some of the options "are likely to land us in court."

Especially versions of the auto-inefficient infill and buffer options. She suggested adding another option that includes exemptions for infill areas that may improve their auto profile within 10-15 years as rapid transit comes along.

"I envision exemptions in the southwest edge of our urban core; East Otay, Sweetwater, Spring Valley, Valley de Oro, perhaps southwest Lakeside."

She called for a new transportation study guide as soon as possible, so developers have the certainty they need to build infill. A few developers asked to have their current projects exempted as infill.

Chair Nathan Fletcher said the board will return in two weeks "to try to land the plane on some of the recommendations."

Representatives of the building industry and realtor groups were opposed to the regional approach. Many warned of a depleted housing supply.

Chris Anderson, president of the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors, said that unlike other regions that have an established urban core, "our communities are comprised of villages dotting the entire region. The county has historically offered new opportunities for ownership, so if you can't afford the coast, you just keep going inland," she said.

"We usually call that in my profession you drive till you qualify."

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In Alpine, driving distances are already higher than the regional average. - Image by Alan Decker
In Alpine, driving distances are already higher than the regional average.

Facing the watchful eye of environmental groups, county planners last week presented several options to guide development in San Diego's backcountry.

Since more than 99 percent of the unincorporated area depends on cars, development is leaning towards the urban core, where housing is more expensive.

"As staff has shown, the harsh reality is there will be very little development in the unincorporated county in the foreseeable future," said David Grubb, transportation chair of Sierra Club San Diego.

Under a 2013 state law aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the county must analyze the transportation impacts, or "vehicle miles traveled," of new projects during environmental review. How they first went about it prompted a lawsuit and the end of their transportation study guide, leading up to last week's meeting of the county board of supervisors.

In 2020, the county adopted a method that sprawl opponents considered an end-run around the law, creating a study guide for applicants preparing transportation analyses for backcountry projects - but it was based on miles traveled only within unincorporated areas.

According to a county report, the Governor's Office of Planning and Research had not made specific recommendations about the boundary that should be used to establish driving impacts.

Critics said the approach ignored the far-flung driving patterns that result from sprawl. Cleveland National Forest Foundation, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, and the Sierra Club sued, saying it violated state law.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Last summer, the state released new guidance stating that the unincorporated areas should use the entire county as a basis for analyzing how much driving new projects would generate.

That shrank 45,444 acres the county considered vehicle efficient down to 2,467 acres.

At the same time, the county still has to build its share of regional housing. As part of the 6th Cycle Housing Element (2021-2029), it was found that there aren't enough sites with the densities needed within vehicle-friendly areas of the county to meet housing production goals.

In light of the new guidance, the board of supervisors voted unanimously to rescind their transportation study guide, and the petitioners dismissed the lawsuit.

County staff was directed to come back with more information about auto impacts on projects in the unincorporated areas, infill development, creation of transit accessible areas, affordable housing, and mitigation programs.

The options include a phased approach that would allow projects to move forward in areas deemed appropriate for infill, excluding very high fire hazard severity zones.

But what exactly is infill in the country?

According to a county report, to define “infill development” in the unincorporated areas, they considered the density of population, housing, employment and intersections, along with access to jobs within a 15-mile radius and shopping and restaurants within a one-mile radius.

The locations "are close to incorporated cities and within the sphere of development for urbanized San Diego. Specifically, core areas of Fallbrook, San Dieguito, Bonsall, Ramona (along Main Street), Lakeside, Valle De Oro, Spring Valley, Alpine, and Sweetwater all meet the definition."

Within the infill areas there is a housing capacity of up to 2,900 units.

Duncan McFetridge, co-founder of Cleveland National Forest Foundation, says the proposal defines infill so broadly it would exempt much rural development from state requirements to reduce traffic impacts.

In places like Alpine, driving distances are already higher than the regional average, he says. “This isn’t true infill development, and it will increase rather than reduce" driving.

Other groups criticized the use of transportation demand management. "I see it over and over again in the developer-proposed sprawl projects," said Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League. "I think it has mostly been a fig leaf on sprawl development."

Staff proposed expanding the infill areas to include two buffer options that incorporate adjacent areas having "similar urban characteristics."

Supervisor Terra lawson-Remer said she supported an option that looks at exempting 100 percent affordable housing no matter where it's built, and another that champions affordable housing as well as climate protection.

But some of the options "are likely to land us in court."

Especially versions of the auto-inefficient infill and buffer options. She suggested adding another option that includes exemptions for infill areas that may improve their auto profile within 10-15 years as rapid transit comes along.

"I envision exemptions in the southwest edge of our urban core; East Otay, Sweetwater, Spring Valley, Valley de Oro, perhaps southwest Lakeside."

She called for a new transportation study guide as soon as possible, so developers have the certainty they need to build infill. A few developers asked to have their current projects exempted as infill.

Chair Nathan Fletcher said the board will return in two weeks "to try to land the plane on some of the recommendations."

Representatives of the building industry and realtor groups were opposed to the regional approach. Many warned of a depleted housing supply.

Chris Anderson, president of the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors, said that unlike other regions that have an established urban core, "our communities are comprised of villages dotting the entire region. The county has historically offered new opportunities for ownership, so if you can't afford the coast, you just keep going inland," she said.

"We usually call that in my profession you drive till you qualify."

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