From the Publishers

Planning for growth: An eagle's eye view

by Carolyn Chase

y challenge has been how to boil down thousands of pages representing 5 years of often technical negotiations into 3,000 words encompassing the current complex machinations relating to land use throughout the County of San Diego ... with an engaging amount of charm and wit, of course.

Why I would attempt to do such a thing? The answer is simple: current plans and lawsuits will affect every resident in the county to one degree or another, whether you realize it or not. So, I guess this is one of those "don't say no one tried to warn you" kind of things. The decisions are being made now to shape our future quality of life.

What's at stake? Battles for "developable" land rights are being waged for most of the 4,200 square miles of our southwestern-most corner of the country. Proposals which could lead to the subdivision of San Diego's remaining "backcountry" ranches are coming before the County Board of Supervisors in February, along with related court hearings. Policies will be brought before the City of San Diego that will change the face of conservation and development agreements both locally and under the Endangered Species Act for decades to come. This is an era of great change. It remains to be seen if the responses to those changes will be so great.

The City of San Diego is nearing completion of a rework of all its development regulations in the Municipal Code. This so-called "Zoning Code Update" contains the implementing regulations for the city's multiple-species planning effort (MSCP). There are a lot of trade-offs in the deal that many are coming to question. The "powers-that-be" are pressuring to move forward, claiming that sufficient planning has been done and sufficient review has been done. They assert that the deal must be done that grants the developers what they want: permits from the federal Fish & Wildlife Service to "take" 87 local species and their habitats. In theory, these plans are a great improvement over current practice. But will the plan perform as designed and brokered? Will it protect species? What will really be saved versus what would be lost without the plan?

I decided to take a look from the perspective of just one species being listed in the plan. Eagles seemed a natural as well as patriotic place to start. After all, eagles are on our currency and in our corporate logos; we revere them in song and wear them on clothing. So I wondered, how is the real thing doing locally? How will the region's "multiple-species" planning efforts affect eagles? Will these efforts improve the fate of these majestic birds in our County?

Everyone agrees that the current system definitely leads to loss and endangerment of species. With the population increases being predicted for our region many consequences follow. The regional plan is to support between 3 and 5 million people here: and we are planning to support that growth. The powers-that-be are moving to import and store the water; the developers and elected officials are moving to continue urban sprawl. In the shuffle, there somehow doesn't seem to be associated regional plans to handle the increased sewage and wastewater, but that's more of the status quo, isn't it?

There's a lot of language in the plan which states that "local populations are not critical to and the plan will not adversely affect the species (sic) long term survival." Translation: government experts are saying that even if we kill or drive out all our local eagles, there will still be eagles somewhere. Ultimately, it boils down to this: will we leave a place here for our eagles? Or will they be reduced to only symbols in San Diego?

In the face of local plans to support the projected population, we surely need a workable plan to help conserve species, open spaces, ranches and farms. But is the MSCP the right plan? Could we ever get a better one. given our current political leaders and lobbying groups? Will we leave a place for any of these species and will the places that are chosen by our political processes be the right places? And will we chose to pay for it? I hope so, but no one can really know.

Check out our special section which takes a look at this sea change in our local lands, from a eagle's eye view.

Meet others helping to make a difference in this town and learn how you can help. Come to a party for the citizen's political action committee: Californians for Quality of Life. $5 for members, $10 non-members. Includes some food and drink. Questions or RSVP: C-QUAL voicemail at 496-3361. Party will be Tuesday, February 18th from 6:30-8:30pm at Callahan's in the Mira Mesa Mall, NW corner of Camino Ruiz and Mira Mesa Blvd. Hope to see you there.