Homes under construction
New homes under construction in North County. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The wording of a controversial ballot initiative designed to limit housing development in rural areas will remain as is, after a county attorney told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that it is too late to make any changes.

If passed by voters next year, the Safeguard our San Diego Countryside Initiative would require a countywide vote for any housing development with six units more than currently allowed by zoning.

Supervisor Jim Desmond called the original ballot language “complicated” and asked the chief administrative officer to submit amended wording for the initiative, which will be listed on the 2020 ballot as Measure A.

The original ballot language which will now appear unchanged on the ballot is:

“Shall this Initiative be adopted for the purpose of amending the San Diego County General Plan to require voter approval for General Plan amendments that increase residential density for property designated by the General Plan as Semi-Rural or Rural?”

Desmond’s proposed amendment was:

“Shall this initiative amending the San Diego County General Plan to require a countywide vote, in addition to the current county approval process, when any General Plan amendment seeks to add 6 or more homes in rural and semi-rural areas, effective through 2038, excluding purely non-residential developments and developments in villages, located in areas such as Julian, Ramona and Alpine; to prohibit density transfers from higher to lower density parcels; and, to prohibit new Specific Plans through 2038, be adopted?”

Backers of the initiative argue it will protect natural areas and farmland from land speculators and developers who want to build suburban-density housing developments in areas where they currently aren’t allowed.

“The last-minute attempt to change the official description of this community-led ballot measure makes it clear why San Diego County needs the SOS initiative,” said Susan Baldwin, president of San Diegans for Managed Growth. after the decision on the ballot language. “Once again, we see an elected member of the Board of Supervisors acting at the behest of the building industry instead of supporting a transparent and democratic process.”

Opponents of the measure say it would essentially stop construction of new, medium-priced housing across a vast area of San Diego County, allowing only the largest and most expensive residences to be built.

Supervisors voted in November to clarify another growth-limiting ballot measure, which seeks to halt the 2,100-home Newland Sierra project near Escondido.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.