County supervisors agree to new transportation guide to comply with state law

Entrance from Route 125
An entrance to Route 125 near the border. Courtesy of SANDAG

County supervisors voted 4-1 on Wednesday to adopt a new transportation study guide that provides criteria for analyzing the transportation impacts of proposed developments in unincorporated areas — an effort to comply with the requirements of the State to take into account the number of vehicle-kilometres that the projects could generate.

The council voted following a presentation from planning and development departments, with some members noting the county was trying to balance policies aimed at tackling climate change and the need to meet demands for affordable housing .

Board Vice Chair Nora Vargas said supervisors weren’t going to “make everyone happy today” but needed to do their best with such a complex issue. According to the county’s Land Use and Environment group, the total number of miles traveled by vehicles “will likely affect where and how much future housing is built, at least until a mitigation program is in place” to give residents more options to drive less.

In September 2021, supervisors voted 4-0 to rescind a previous transportation study guide, after the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research issued new instructions stating that developers must use the set of the county – not just unincorporated areas – as a basis for analyzing the number of vehicle miles traveled by the projects.

The Cleveland National Forest Foundation filed a lawsuit against the county’s original TSG in San Diego Superior Court, claiming it violated state law.

The previous TSG passed in June 2020 and included the requirement for vehicle mileage analysis – as required by State Senate Bill 743 which was signed into law in 2013. But the 2020 plan only considered kilometers traveled by vehicles in unincorporated areas.

The newly passed TSG is the first phase of the county’s efforts to meet SB 743 requirements. In February, the council narrowly approved steps to accelerate new housing development, including aligning projects with national goals. and premises for air quality and emissions.

County planning staff are expected to research a sustainable land use policy on how development will proceed in unincorporated areas and present their findings to supervisors in December.

Planning staff are also expected to return to the board within about a year with updated California Environmental Quality Act guidelines for projects in areas of higher wildfire risk, as well as an updated fire protection plan.

Based on a suggestion from Supervisor Joel Anderson, the county will also explore other transit opportunities in unincorporated areas and allow for an expansion of wineries in communities such as Jamul and Ramona.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said in a statement that the revised TSG “represents an overhaul of our land use models to prioritize infill development, transit connections and the fight against against climate change – while building more homes in the unincorporated area.”

Ahead of the vote, Fletcher told colleagues that the county’s transportation guide should align with SB 743, even though change is difficult. Fletcher said SB 743 became law nearly 10 years ago, but county supervisors didn’t get involved until 2020. Because state laws are explicitly clear about adopting a regional average in calculating vehicle miles traveled, it would be “recklessly irresponsible” for the council to do anything else, he says.

Supervisor Jim Desmond, who argued the county should stick to the unincorporated area standard — despite state advice — was the only no to vote Wednesday.

Desmond described vehicle-kilometres traveled as “a wrench in the ointment”, which reduces the possibilities of building affordable housing. Desmond said from what he understands, a regional approach is not mandatory.

“Now is the time when we should be building housing,” Desmond said.

Desmond said it’s noble to want more housing near public transit, but not everyone wants to live like a 27-year-old, and some would prefer a single-family home and a backyard.

Desmond’s proposed amendment, also supported by Anderson, to retain the original VMT measurements failed in a 3-2 vote.

In a statement, Anderson said the original VMT metric kept housing capacity at 18,000 homes, but the new one reduces the number of potential homes to around 5,870. Anderson said he doesn’t oppose the rules VMT if properly implemented.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, who called the new transportation guide a win-win, said if the county doesn’t comply with the state, “we’ll have permanent uncertainty, which is fundamentally worse for everyone. world”.

During a public comment period, representatives from environmental groups and other supporters said that a uniform VMT policy was necessary for better and greener development.

“Now is the time to take bold action to create cleaner air and reduce climate emissions,” said Cristina Marquez, leader of Local 569 of the International Brotherhood of Environmental Workers.

Opponents, some of whom are developers, said further restrictions would only make home ownership more difficult for middle-income residents, including teachers and first responders.

Douglas Barnhart, county planning commissioner, said his group had recently proposed using the entire county map to determine the VMT baseline, while eliminating dense urban areas.

“A lot of people try to make it a lot more complicated than necessary,” Barnhart said. “A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for this diverse county.”

Robin Joy Maxson, chair of the Ramona Community Planning Group, urged the council not to stigmatize towns like hers as “inefficient VMT.”

She also praised the important role these rural places play in agriculture, habitat protection and various popular events.

“Don’t penalize our cities and citizens – work with us to create a healthy future,” she added.

City News Service contributed to this article.

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