An EHL-backed ballot measure to uphold “smart growth” in the unincorporated area lost by a razor-thin margin, but a referendum to overturn a habitat-consuming development project succeeded.

Measure A would have provided greatly needed voter oversight for a Board of Supervisors that has approved one sprawl development after another in locations with high fire risk and high wildlife value – and without affordable housing. Under the measure, large projects in rural locations that change the current County General Plan – which fully accommodates all housing needs – would have required voter approval in addition to the usual review process. 

Backers of Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside – Measure A – waged a strong and principled campaign. The measure garnered dozens of endorsements from pro-planning elected officials and community groups. However, proponents were outspent 4:1 by the building and real estate industries, which broadcast shameless lies. Moreover, the San Diego Democratic Party Central Committee took large sums of money from the building industry and its associates and actively campaigned against the measure. Reprehensibly, some on the “No” side even accused the “Yes” side of racist intent. 

While vote clearly showed lack of confidence in the Board of Supervisors, it is unlikely that the current anti-planning Board will change its behavior, meaning that the 49-51% loss is an ominous outcome for San Diego in the short term. In the long term, the public education achieved by the campaign may lead to greater engagement in land use decisions and closer scrutiny of the pernicious role of developer money in controlling decision-making.

But the good news – and a major victory – is that Measure B failed 42-58%, meaning that the Newland Sierra development in rural North County was decisively overturned. A massive density increase had been approved by the Board of Supervisors with no requirement for affordable housing and with no proximity to transit. Besides locking in high carbon emissions, the project was in the middle of core wildlife habitat and had inadequate emergency fire evacuation routes. The Golden Door, an ally in good regional planning, led the successful campaign, which EHL endorsed. All project approvals will now be repealed. It should not take a vote of the people to stop bad planning!