Measure A, the initiative that would have limited development in San Diego County, was narrowly defeated by local voters – handing homebuilders, local REALTORS® and other supporters a victory on the issue of regional growth. But, voters ultimately sent a mixed signal by also defeating Measure B, which was on the same ballot to allow a specific housing project in San Diego’s backcountry.
Measure A, which appeared before County voters as part of the newly established March presidential primary election, would have subjected to a referendum each new housing project that involved a change to the County’s general plan. Had it become law, homebuilders developing six homes or more would need the blessing of County voters before moving forward with their project.
Just a few weeks before the election, Measure A enjoyed broad support and was predicted to win easily. However, the initiative lost by just under 20,000 votes after leading earlier in the evening. Absentee ballots haven’t yet been counted but officials reported that the election outcome is unlikely to change.
Ironically, a deceptive, last-minute advertisement by initiative supporters may have made the difference. The ad was purportedly funded by the billionaire-owner of the Golden Door Spa, Virginia businessman Bill Conway. His “wellness” resort is located in the unincorporated area of San Diego County. The ad was widely criticized for its inaccuracies and false promises and may have mobilized prospective NO voters to go to the polls on March 3.
Remarkably, the same voters who turned away Measure A – and thereby preserved the authority of supervisors to decide new housing in the County – defeated Measure B, which would have concurred in an earlier-approved project called Newland Sierra. The election loss of the Newland Sierra project overturns an okay of County supervisors and further delays a years-in-the-making, master-planned development – serving only to drive up area housing costs.
The coalition opposing Measure A contended a small group of County residents and companies were using a megaphone to say no to growth in the region by promoting the ballot initiative. Opponents also noted several loopholes in the measure and exemptions for new developments like hotels, resorts and casinos.
They also said the current system did not need to change and the initiative would only add another regulatory layer to new homebuilding in a county already plagued by a lack of supply. Unhappily, San Diego is among the nation’s top five least affordable housing markets.
Meanwhile, a large majority of County voters were responsible for the defeat of the Newland Sierra housing project, as contained in Measure B. Opponents of the initiative, who produced the lopsided vote, argued that Newland was urban sprawl, which leap-frogged over existing communities.
They also said they objected to the project’s lack of affordable housing pledging to “ensure that positive, long-term decisions are made for affordable housing, traffic and transit and our precious resources.” It remains to be seen if County voters would really welcome to their backyards high-density, affordable housing.
The victory over Measure A was a significant one. But, the defeat of Measure B equally shows County voters are leery of new housing. Developers beware.