Homes under construction.
Homes under construction. Photo courtesy County News Center

San Diego County voters won’t be getting the final say over housing developments in unincorporated areas, thanks to the narrow defeat of a ballot measure in the primary election.

Measure A on Tuesday’s ballot would have required a countywide vote on any major housing project that involves a change to the county’s general plan.

Under the measure, developers wanting to build six homes or more would have needed permission from voters — rather than the approval of just three county supervisors — if the project is outside the general plan guidelines for urban growth.

Also known as the Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside Initiative, Measure A was supported by environmental groups including the Environmental Health Coalition, land-use groups and activists opposed to urban and suburban sprawl.

According to the Save Our Countryside website, the Measure A campaign was led by San Diegans for Managed Growth, which describes itself as a “pro- smart growth” organization.

Elected officials backing the measure included outgoing county Supervisor Dianne Jacob; Georgette Gomez, the San Diego city councilwoman now running for a Congressional seat, and the mayors of Encinitas, Escondido and Solana Beach.

Backers said it would make the development process fair, while opponents described Measure A as anti-growth and anti-housing.

According to an official website, Measure A opponents included the Democratic and Republican parties of San Diego; numerous law enforcement organizations; building groups; two county supervisors; and three city mayors, including San Diego’s Kevin Faulconer.

Meanwhile, residents soundly rejected plans for the Newland Sierra housing project north of Escondido, along Interstate 15 and north of Deer Springs Road. If it had been approved, Measure B, also known as the Better Choice Measure, would have upheld the county supervisors’ approval of a general plan amendment allowing the Newland Sierra project to go forward.

Newland wanted to build 2,135 homes on the 1,985-acre site. The development would feature 81,000 square feet of commercial space, a six-acre school site, 35.87 acres of public and private parks, 19.2 miles of multi-use community trails, an equestrian staging area and 1,209 acres of open space.

Rick Schloss, spokesman for the No on B campaign, said the voters spoke clearly when rejecting the measure.

“We are optimistic that strong rejection of Newland Sierra will be fully confirmed as the vote tally is officially completed over the next days,” he said. “Newland had every opportunity to guarantee affordable housing when they originally sought the county’s approval — but they chose not to. It should be no surprise to Newland that San Diegans didn’t believe their last minute claims. No on B is proud that we stuck to the facts and held Newland Sierra accountable for the flaws in their project. We will be ready for whatever they try next.”

Supporters said 60% of the new homes would be affordable for working families, starting in the $300,000 range.

After a public hearing in December 2018, the board voted to place the Newland Sierra project on the ballot. Opponents collected roughly 117,000 signatures of North County residents hoping to block the project.

Measure B supporters included The Republican Party of San Diego County and several mayors, including Paul McNamara of Escondido and San Marcos’ Rebecca Jones.

Opponents included the San Diego Sierra Club, San Diego Democratic Party, San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action and other regional environmental groups.

This story was updated at 4:35 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, 2020.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

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