County Supervisors Vote to Advance Sustainable Land-Use Policy

News Date

Article written by Elizabeth Ireland. Click here to read this article on The San Diego Union Tribune website.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to advance a land-use plan in connection with its climate action and development policies.

“This will give staff and the community clear guidance about the board’s policy goals and priorities, allowing the county to more effectively navigate how to balance housing production and sustainability, conservation and resiliency, while advancing equity in an accelerated way,” a Land Use & Environment Group statement said about the Sustainable Land Use Framework.

Supervisors voted Wednesday after receiving an update on the framework, along with a vehicle miles traveled mitigation program and a development feasibility analysis.

In a news release, board Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer said the land framework is “a new vision for the development of homes and other projects in the San Diego region, bringing the county closer to moving past a period of costly litigation that resulted in years of delays for critical climate action measures.”

Last September, supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of a new transportation study guide that provides criteria for analyzing transportation-related impacts of proposed developments in unincorporated areas, in an effort to comply with state requirements on the number of vehicle miles that projects might generate.

A previous TSG was adopted in June 2020 and included the required analysis of vehicle miles traveled — as mandated by state Senate Bill 743, which was signed into law in 2013. However, the 2020 plan only considered vehicle miles traveled within unincorporated areas.

A VMT mitigation program is considered a tool “through which projects outside of VMT-efficient zones can reduce their impacts by providing funding or directly developing supporting infrastructure or add to a mitigation bank,” officials said.

Options include:

  • an in-lieu fee, in which funding is used for additional sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, or other pedestrian and transit infrastructure
  • a mitigation bank, where project developers can buy VMT reduction credits from the county or other jurisdictions with existing infrastructure like sidewalks
  • an exchange program allowing developers to build more infrastructure for  credits that reduce VMT

County Planning & Development Services staff will return to the board with further recommendations later this year.

In crafting its VMT mitigation plan, the county is looking to partner with several regional agencies, including the North County Transit District, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and San Diego Association of Governments.

SANDAG, which is working on a regional transportation plan, may not be able to participate, a PDS official said.

Some elected officials have criticized SANDAG for pushing a plan they say is unworkable and unrealistic in a county where many rely on private vehicles for their daily needs, rather than buses or trollies.

Supervisor Joel Anderson said the climate proposal is flawed in that it has the county abdicating its authority to SANDAG.

“Rather than 100 percent focusing on abandoning poor, disadvantaged communities,” the county should think about bringing better transportation to them, he said.

Anderson said 500,000 county residents living in unincorporated regions have no voice on SANDAG.

“We’re gonna tell them: ‘We don’t care that you’re disadvantaged …we’re only going to look at it from one direction, and that is to meet VMT by excluding you instead of inclusion,” Anderson said. “I support inclusion.”

Board Chairwoman Nora Vargas, who also serves as SANDAG chairwoman, said she does so representing the entire county, both rural and urban, in a very thoughtful manner. She said she agreed with Anderson about prioritizing better transportation in unincorporated areas, but such a plan still has to be regionally based.

“We want people to spend less time on freeways and more time with their families,” Vargas added.

Supervisor Jim Desmond, who has previously criticized the VMT concept, said if SANDAG won’t partner with the county on a VMT mitigation plan, it’s best to “charge ahead without them.”

The board needs to ensure that decisions on land use remain within the county’s control, he said.

“I understand they have a very good chair at SANDAG, but she’s not always going to be there,” Desmond said in reference to Vargas.

“We’ve got to find a way to allow for growth and services in all communities,” as developers are the ones who build homes, and more obstacles will keep prices high, Desmond added.

City News Service contributed to this article.