By Cody Petterson
There's been a lot of lying and betrayal over the last couple of weeks regarding the SOS ballot measure (Measure A), which is par for the course when the Building Industry Association (BIA) and a dozen of the region's most notorious sprawl developers hire Tony Manolatos to smear an environmental measure.
But the other day the organization "Planning Today for San Diego's Future," a BIA front, pushed out a Facebook ad that would've made Donald Trump blush. It demands a rebuttal. Toward that end, here are the facts.
If you find genuine errors, inform me and I'll correct them. Unlike the opposition, the environmentalists volunteering our time to draft, qualify, and pass Measure A actually care about the truth.
"What is Measure A?"
The fight to pass Measure A, i.e. the SOS initiative, is a brawl between environmentalists and developers over the future of land use in our county. That's what it is.
It's the Sierra Club, Endangered Habitats League, San Diego 350, Climate Action Campaign, San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, Sunrise Movement San Diego, California Native Plant Society, San Diego Audubon, Cleveland National Forest Foundation, Volcan Mountain Foundation, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, California Chaparral Institute, Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association, Fallbrook Land Conservancy, Escondido Creek Conservancy, along with the League of Women Voters of San Diego, Citizens Coordinate for Century III (C3), and our labor allies in the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 1931 and Unite Here! Local 30.
Those who are against the SOS initiative include the Building Industry Association, California Association of Realtors, Lincoln Club, Chamber of Commerce, Republican Party, and a murder of Southern California sprawl developers, including Newland Sierra, KB Homes, Shea Homes, Baldwin and Sons, California West, Fanita Ranch, Brookfield, Lennar, and the paid propagandists at the Manolatos Nelson Murphy public relations firm. That's the whole story. They've been successful in flipping some of our allies in office and in the affordable housing community, but that's to be expected when we're broke environmentalists and they're the region's most powerful, deepest-pocketed interest group. They have plenty of inducements. We have only our principles and our commitment to climate action and habitat protection.
The goal of the Measure A Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside (SOS) ballot measure is to discourage the sprawl and leapfrog development that continues to destroy our native habitat, undermine the integrity of our county's General Plan, defeat our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stave off climate catastrophe, and prevent housing from being built where we need it — near jobs and transit.
The goal of the opposition is to preserve their ability to reap massive windfall profits by inducing compliant county supervisors to grant them General Plan Amendments (GPA) for sprawl and leapfrog development. The San Diego region has been the plaything of land speculators and developers for nearly two centuries. Our sprawling, traffic-choked suburban landscape is largely the product of their machinations and profit-seeking. Instead of focusing their investments in areas zoned for residential density in our region’s smart growth plans, the building industry continues to try to build in fire-prone rural areas — precisely the wrong places.
"What would Measure A do?"
First of all, Measure A doesn't alter the General Plan in any way. Not a single word, not a single zoning designation. It wouldn't affect Board of Supervisors decisions on any parcels other than those zoned rural and semi-rural in the unincorporated portion of the county — no cities, no county towns, no rural villages.
In concrete terms, Measure A would "require voter approval of amendments to the General Plan that increase residential density in semi-rural or rural areas" of the unincorporated county, unless the increases are minor (five additional units or less), the parcels are within a village or rural village area, or the amendment is "required to implement state or federal housing law, including laws related to the provision of affordable housing." That's it.
By requiring voter approval of supervisor-approved GPAs in rural and semi-rural parts of the unincorporated county, Measure A would provide an additional check on the rent-seeking and regulatory capture that is the stock-and-trade of our region's sprawl and leapfrog developers.
Rather than buy appropriately-zoned urban parcels and building up, developers find it more profitable to buy elected officials and land whose value is depressed by rural zoning restrictions, and then have their bought officials hand them massive upzoning windfalls. This game has been played for so long that sprawl developers have come to think of it as their right, and to think of the General Plan as something that applies only to suckers without the connections, consultants, capital, projects, and contributions to corrupt elected officials and other stakeholders. Some of us disagree.
"What's so bad about sprawl development?"
Many in the environmental community are deeply committed to protecting the native habitat, wildlife, and vegetation of our county, which is still the most biodiverse in the nation.
Long before anthropogenic climate change was recognized as the greatest threat to life on Earth, conservationists were fighting against the suburban sprawl that was steadily destroying our open spaces. But with the rise of the climate emergency, stopping suburban sprawl and fostering transit-supportive urban density has become the single most important thing San Diegans can do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, half of which come from transportation.
Sprawl development not only destroys and fragments habitat, it also increases commute times and total vehicle miles travelled (VMT), contributes to traffic and air pollution, burdens lower income households with significant transportation costs, and prevents us from hitting our greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. Furthermore, in San Diego, sprawl means building in fire-prone chaparral in the canyons and ridges of the coastal foothills at the urban-wildland interface.
There are also substantial externalities of sprawl development that are ultimately borne by county residents and taxpayers. The general public is eventually forced to subsidize developer profits by paying for the costly expansion of freeways and extension of fire, police, and other public services. It is a ponzi scheme paid for by future taxpayers. And, of course, our children will have to struggle to survive in the climate catastrophe it accelerates.
"How does the county's General Plan limit sprawl?"
In 2011, the Board of Supervisors passed a comprehensive General Plan update, the first of its kind since 1978. This plan was the product of $18 million of studies, 13 years of analysis and public discussion, including 212 meetings with the full planning and sponsor groups, 109 workshops, and 216 subcommittee meetings.
The update was a compromise between a wide range of stakeholders, foremost among them environmentalists and developers. Like any compromise, no one got everything they wanted, but the update won acceptance from the environmental community by implementing a modest shift of growth from the county's rural periphery to the urban core — thus reducing habitat loss and ensuring future residential growth would be in closer proximity to existing services and amenities. It also won planning awards for its innovative implementation of smart growth principles and its limits on sprawl.
This shift involved a reduction in the zoned residential capacity of many parcels in the rural unincorporated county, and an increase in the zoned capacity of some parcels in the already developed areas. The plan therefore not only constrained sprawl, but incentivized transit-supportive urban density by eliminating the need for 780 miles of road by allocating development capacity near existing roads and infrastructure.
It's important to recognize that there is an inherent competition — for capital, home buyers, and public infrastructure and service subsidies — between urban density and rural sprawl. The region's finite supply of developers and equity capital has historically followed the sprawl path (i.e. buy officials, buy rural, obtain upzoning windfall, build out) which necessarily draws investment away from the path stipulated by our institutions and our General Plan (buy urban, build up). Sprawl and leapfrog development is not an accompaniment to climate-responsible and Plan-consistent urban transit-supportive residential development — it is a direct competitor for private capital, public subsidy, and home buyers.
The 2011 General Plan Update shifted the incentives toward smart growth and urban density, and General Plan amendments are almost universally attempts to drag us back to more profitable and environmentally-destructive rural sprawl that developers prefer. That's what SOS is trying to stop.
Now, as you can imagine, when you're taking on the sprawl development industry, there's going to be misleading, disingenuous criticism. I believe it's important to confront it head on, and I have rebutted the most common criticisms below.
"But measure A is ballot box planning."
The most frequent criticism, promulgated regularly by No on SOS and echoed by a number of candidates, elected officials, and other stakeholders is that the initiative is "ballot box planning."
Let's be clear. Measure A is NOT ballot box planning. It is not a planning document at all. It does not alter the zoning designation of a single parcel anywhere in the county. There's a lot of unflattering ironies in the claim, however. It's deeply ironic that this argument is being propounded by the BIA and sprawl developers, when the term was originally applied to attempts by developers to violate general plans and circumvent municipal officials by submitting plan-inconsistent developments to public vote.
Developers can and often do engage in actual ballot box planning when it suits them. If a local City Council or County Board of Supervisors refuses to give them the sprawl-facilitating amendments they need, they can, and often do, attempt to qualify a measure for the ballot.
Many of the same developers paying Mr. Manolatos to poison the public square with "but this is ballot box planning" have themselves happily circumvented elected councils with ballot measures that dramatically upzone their parcels. Manolatos himself is general consultant for Lilac Hills Ranch, which tried to pass Measure B in 2016, which was an actual, honest-to-God ballot box planning measure. The disingenuousness of these individuals is stunning. They're luminaries of the local disinformation industry. Give them enough money to pay their mortgages and luxury car leases and they'll kneel next to their beds and lie to God.
"But what if Measure A were ballot box planning?"
Although I reject the characterization of Measure A as ballot box planning, it's worth asking the question, "So what if it were?"
From a progressive perspective, plebiscites often get it wrong. California has had some doozies: Prop. 13 (1978), Prop. 187 (1994), Prop 8. (2008). I spend a fair amount of my time wrestling with the baleful effects of some terrible state and local initiatives. On the other hand, it also won women's rights to vote (1911), the abolition of the poll tax (1912), the Coastal Zone Conservation Act (1972) which became the California Coastal Act, Prop. 65 (Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, 1986), Prop. 162 (Pension Protection Act, 1986), independent redistricting (2008), and Prop. 35 (Ban on Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery, 2012). So, much like representative democracy's record, the picture is mixed.
Actual ballot box planning — in which developers use the initiative process to circumvent General Plans and elected bodies — is certainly problematic. That said, elected representatives also frequently get it wrong. The idea that the Board of Supervisors somehow has a better record of fidelity to the General Plan, and is therefore to be trusted more than the general voting public, is dubious on its face.
The ferocious opposition of the BIA and sprawl developers to Measure A suggests they know perfectly well that the Board of Supervisors is the weak link in the planning process. If buying Supervisors weren't the cheapest, fastest, easiest way to guarantee carte blanche for their property speculation and sprawl projects, they would have been doing 'ballot box planning' instead of successfully putting more than a dozen GPAs through the Board of Supervisors over the last eight years.
Ultimately, the question of whether or not direct democracy is good or bad is facile. It's necessary to balance the potential harm of direct democracy in this narrowly-defined context against the harm of not employing it. Every form of power has its shortcomings. I don't like any form of power, don't like standing armies, don't like bosses, don't like supervisors even. But these forms of power are desirable to the extent that the harms they prevent exceed the harms they entail.
Imagine if Measure A were an initiative to give voters the right to reject private prisons, or refugee internment camps, or mandatory invasive ultrasounds. Would you say, "Well, I don't like internment camps any more than the next person, but I guess we'll have to tolerate them because I have a real problem with direct democracy." Of course not. Any reasonable person would agree that the harm of refugee internment camps dramatically exceeds any philosophical qualms about direct democracy. And that's precisely how actual environmentalists feel when BIA dupes complain about 'ballot box planning.'
"I don’t like climate catastrophe any more than the next guy, but I have a real problem with direct democracy." Really? You have more of a problem with direct democracy than climate catastrophe? Than habitat loss? Than sprawl? Than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for two hours a day? Really? Direct democracy may have its weaknesses, but when narrowly constrained to ratification of supervisor-approved General Plan Amendments that increase density in the rural and semi-rural unincorporated county, the harm of sprawl self-evidently exceeds the purported harm of direct democracy.
This is precisely why you never hear actual environmentalists — people who actually center the environment in their life and work — make the preposterous argument that we should vote against a patently environmental initiative because it might result in an excess of democracy. Even if one were strongly opposed in principle to plebiscites, it defies reason to argue that the purported sins of the plebiscite are of greater seriousness than the climate and habitat impacts of sprawl-promoting GPAs.
"But sprawl development can solve our affordable housing crisis."
No, it can't. Affordable sprawl development is a myth.
Let me say it loud for the folks in the back. There have been 17 GPAs approved or proposed since the 2011 County General Plan update and not a single one has included a single unit of deed-restricted affordable housing. That is, housing costing 30 percent or less of monthly income for a family of four making 80 percent or less of Area Median Income (AMI), which in San Diego County is $86,300.
Affordable sprawl development is a fairy tale that developers tell gullible, well-meaning progressives to help get their luxury developments past skeptical boards and councils. It's not a thing. The average price of a home in the unincorporated county is $30,000 more than in the City of San Diego. For households living on the margins, the transportation costs alone for living so far from jobs can eat up as much as a third of their income!
So let's get something clear. There is no housing in San Diego County that is naturally affordable, period. When one adds together the costs of materials, labor, engineering, architecture, land, permitting, financing, fees, and modest profits, there is no conceivable way a unit can be brought to market at a price affordable to a family of four making $85,000 (low income), $53,000 (very low income), or $32,000 (extremely low income) per year. None. Zero. Which means that affordability is entirely a function of our society's willingness to subsidize those units. And no rational society would invest in putting affordable housing in its rural periphery.
Subsidizing rural affordable housing would be wildly at odds with best practices — far from jobs, far from public and private amenities and services, and inaccessible to mass transit. The idea of choosing to house a family making 50 percent AMI in the rural periphery is preposterous. A family making 50 percent AMI is already having trouble affording transportation. Trouble affording childcare. Trouble finding work. To extended families and social networks. To jobs. It needs access to social services. The only rational place to invest in affordability, either through public subsidy or developer mandates, is in our job- and amenities-rich urban and suburban municipalities and villages.
There is already ample capacity in the region's General Plans for multi-family residential density where it is rational, sustainable, and equitable. The county has additional capacity for roughly 400,000 units, with around 230,000 of it zoned for multi-family residential of 20+ units per acre. That's enough capacity, and specifically multi-family capacity, to accommodate our Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) targets for residential construction for decades. Capacity is not our problem.
And SANDAG has actually reduced the RHNA housing target for the unincorporated county from 22,000 in the 5th Cycle to 6,700 in the 6th, because it's prioritizing residential density where there are jobs and access to transit, both of which are lacking in the backcountry.
It's true that some coastal municipalities have attempted to use initiatives to curtail multi-family density where it is appropriate, but the rural and semi-rural areas of the unincorporated county are not appropriate locations for affordable housing development. The entire argument rests on the premise that violating our General Plan, destroying habitat, and lampooning our Climate Action Plan by building on parcels zoned rural and semi-rural is a viable and valid avenue to achieve housing affordability. Which, obviously, the environmental community unanimously condemns. It is a sad statement of the ideological poverty of the affordable development community that some have allowed themselves to be co-opted by for-profit sprawl developers.
"But we're going to have a Democratic majority on the Board in 2020."
Another objection we hear is we're going to secure a Democratic majority in 2020, so there's no need to worry about sprawl GPAs.
First, there's no guarantee Democrats will in fact take back the Board of Supervisors. Most of those individuals pushing this argument already understand that. We'll almost certainly add D-1, but D-3 could remain in Gaspar's hands — hands that we would never trust with our General Plan, our Climate Action Plan, and the fate of our backcountry.
Second, even if we secure a majority, I have no faith that our majority would be immune to the inducements of the BIA, sprawl developers, and the various interest groups they suborn with paltry cuts of their windfall profits. I trust almost no one to consistently do the right thing for the environment. Certainly none of our elected officials. Not without sustained pressure from the environmental community. Not when there are powerful, deep-pocketed interest groups inducing them to do the wrong thing.
I know and respect candidates for D-1 Supervisor, and I've endorsed one of them, but I still wouldn't trust any of them to invariably hold out against sprawl-promoting GPAs, especially in Otay. I respect Supervisor Fletcher immensely, but even he could falter if the right project or proponent found its way to his strike zone. I trust one supervisorial candidate and that's only because she's been one of my best friends for 25 years. I'm eager to backstop all the rest. And I'm even happy to backstop her, because a truly environmentally committed and centered candidate would not be constrained in any way by this measure.
The only Board of Supervisors votes that SOS submits to countywide vote are approvals of residential sprawl projects on rural and semi-rural parcels, that are outside of village plans, that are in the unincorporated county, and that are inconsistent with the General Plan. If a supervisor can avoid that, they can avoid ever having to deal with an oversight vote at all. Easy as pie.
"But SOS is a Republican measure."
This is the lie that pushed me to write this missive.
The claim that Measure A, the Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside Initiative, is a Republican effort funded by Republican millionaires to preserve a Republican General Plan is so disgusting it makes me physically angry. As I wrote in the introduction, every single Measure A supporter I know is a Democrat. The entire organizing committee. Every single endorser. There's not a Republican in sight.
Measure A is currently exclusively a volunteer effort to preserve our open space, protect the integrity of our General and Climate Action Plans, and reduce our county's GHG emissions. It is supported by all of our county's environmental organizations and opposed by the BIA, the California Association of Realtors, the Lincoln Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Republican Party, Greg Cox (R), Jim Desmond (R), Kristin Gaspar (R), Ron Roberts (R), Bill Horn (R), Kevin Faulconer (R), John Minto (R), Steve Vaus (R), Randy Voepel (R), Bill Wells (R), Mike Diaz (R), Rebecca Jones (R), and all of San Diego's sprawl developers.
We requested contributions from local businesses and individuals who are aligned with our cause, and the Golden Door Spa provided a generous initial contribution to the SOS signature-gathering effort. The business model of the Golden Door demands solitude and natural serenity, and it has been allied with the rural communities with which it co-exists for decades. Successive attempts by sprawl developers to upzone neighboring parcels on Merriam Mountain threaten that natural setting and the surrounding communities.
As it happens, the Golden Door is fighting a parallel, unaffiliated battle against the proposed Newland Sierra development, which was approved as a General Plan Amendment by our pro-sprawl County Board of Supervisors. If voters defeat it, Measure A would incidentally add an additional hurdle to future attempts to upzone the Merriam Mountain parcels.
But that welcome infusion of cash was confined to the signature gathering phase. It's just passionate environmentalists and our cash-starved committee now. All volunteers. All committed to preserving our county's open space. Preserving our climate. Preserving our planet from the greed that's destroying it. It's the same folks who show up to City Council, to the Board of Supervisors, to SANDAG. The same folks that march, and canvass, and phone bank. The same folks who set up booths at Earth Fair and come out for beach clean-ups. Who lead hikes on weekends. Or plant trees. Or fix trails. Or manage community gardens. Who volunteer as docents at the Natural History Museum or Mission Trails Interpretive Center. That's who we are. That's who Measure A is.
Measure A would implement a narrowly-limited form of direct democracy, confined to the ratification of approvals by the Board of Supervisors of density-increasing General Plan Amendments (GPAs) in Rural and Semi-Rural parcels in the unincorporated county, excluding those within Village and Rural Village plans. Whatever qualms some individuals may have with direct democracy per se, the benefits of preserving our open space, protecting the smart growth strategy enshrined in our General Plan, facilitating equity and affordability, and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions far outweigh any hypothetical harm of this narrow application of direct democracy.
Please, join San Diego's environmental community and our allies in civil society and the Labor movement in supporting Measure A — the Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside (SOS) initiative. The future of our smart growth General Plan, our Climate Action Plan, and our beautiful, dynamic, and diverse county depends on it.
By Tommy Hough
Cisterra Development's "Preserve at Torrey Highlands" office complex was approved by a 6-3 vote of San Diego City Council on Aug. 5, by way of an amendment to the Torrey Highlands Community Plan that will enable construction of the office park over the objections of neighbors, the Rancho Peñasquitos Community Planning Board, the Del Mar Mesa Community Planning Board, and almost every major environmental outlet focusing on land use within the city. It was upheld by council on its second reading on Sept. 10, again by a 6-3 vote.
Located south of State Route 56 near Del Sur and just west of Rancho Peñasquitos, the 420,000 sq. ft. multi-story, multi-structure complex will be built on an 11-acre notch surrounded on three sides – through a fluke of previous ownership – by the city-owned Del Mar Mesa Preserve.
San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action and our allies have noted, in a variety of forums, the environmental effects the construction will have on the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, which contains not only the last remaining portions of native San Diego coastal habitat left in the city, but the last remaining acreage of this ecosystem in California. This area was considered so vital and so worth keeping at arm's length from development, even the route of State Route 56 was altered in the early 2000s to give the area as wide a berth as possible.
Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped developers from picking away at virgin acreage on either side of the 56 freeway. Over the years we've seen the strip malls and 24-hour gyms and gas stations and casual dining restaurants move in to the north, while office parks eat away to the south toward the preserve, and space for habitat and nature is left ever more denuded – sliced away from the wholeness of our remarkable countryside and larger natural ecosystems.
We have a housing crisis and a housing shortage in San Diego. There is no doubt about that. We don't have a shortage of office parks or office space. Opposition to this project isn't about trying to prevent housing, it's about radical upzoning of property that benefits a select few. It's about neighbors saying, loudly, this is an absurd place for a needless office complex. It's about protecting one of our city's great natural preserves from the death by a thousand cuts it is currently suffering from. There is no meaningful transit in the area, and the Cisterra project does nothing to advance our city's Climate Action Plan. On that basis alone, it should be rejected, and another site found for it. It is indefensible.
Representatives from Cisterra admitted in testimony before council on Aug. 5 that they are essentially "built out" in UTC and Carmel Valley, and need to move on to find new areas to build in. Why do we owe them that pleasure? Especially since there is abundant empty office space in the area, and in areas like Kearny Mesa and Miramar that are already within our built footprint, closer to neighborhoods, homes, and potential transit.
And this is not a matter of the Cisterra development being a "one and done" project beside Del Mar Mesa Preserve. Rather, it's just opening the door. The Preserve at Torrey Highlands is the vanguard of other developments to follow, and more concrete to be poured alongside the preserve, joining Merge 56 and the inevitable holiday traffic jams of the incoming shopping center in Torrey Highlands, all further isolating the preserve like a native habitat freak show.
This project marks the beginning of more and more land being set upon for use within sight of, and within affecting range of, the Del Mar Mesa Preserve. This isn't what was intended when this area was protected. And if it was, it's not too late to change that dynamic.
Our parks, special places and preserves survive today as islands of conservation, cut off from one another, with only the most tenuous connection perhaps being a dry stream bed or a canyon bottom within the mesas that may have escaped development or being buried in fill. The proposal of this office complex is an affront to our reasonable obligations of stewardship. It is needless. It is an impediment. It is not housing. It solves nothing, while taxpayers lose out and speculators quietly benefit from the very solace the preserve was meant to protect.
The Orwellian-named Preserve at Torrey Highlands does not compliment the site on which it is to be built, or the native plants and species of the publicly-owned and accessible Del Mar Mesa Preserve that lie on three sides of it. It is the worst kind of monument for the city to jam into a space beside a locale that it should otherwise take exceptional pride in, and exceptional care to protect.
It is a terrible shame a majority of this council is unable to see open space beyond what it can be zoned for, or how the value of it can be increased, especially a parcel already within a protected preserve. Neither you nor I, nor the wind along the mesa tops, the dense oak woodland along Deer Creek at the bottom of the canyon, or the wildlife that silently live and pass through this valuable natural corridor will benefit from this development. The only beneficiary is San Diego-style business as usual.
Photos by Renée Owens and Tommy Hough.
By Kathryn Burton and Lisa Ross
On behalf of Protect Our Preserves San Diego, we'd like to ask you, at the Tuesday, Sept. 10, meeting of San Diego City Council, to reconsider the majority decision to approve an amendment to the Torrey Highlands Community Plan that enables construction of a 430,000 square foot office complex surrounded by the publicly-owned and habitat-sensitive Del Mar Mesa Preserve. The Council based their Aug. 5th vote to approve the rezoning on incomplete and erroneous information, listed below:
We thank Council President Gómez (D-9), Council President Pro Tem Bry (D-1), and Councilmember Montgomery (D-4) for their opposition to a project that simply benefits one developer at the cost of what is left of San Diego's habitat heritage. We ask that others reconsider their decision.
We had hoped that Cisterra Development would have allowed more time to pursue a land option appropriate for a swap with the City, and that public officials and staff would have made this win-win idea a priority.
Please note this letter from attorney Cory Briggs addressed to San Diego City Council.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Club members Kathryn Burton and Lisa Ross serve as co-chairs of Protect Our Preserves San Diego.
By Richard Ram
Our third endorsement meeting of the 2020 election cycle is on Sunday, Sept. 29. If you're a member in good standing, or if you just want to see what our club is all about, join us as we determine how our club will weigh in with endorsements in several key races.
We want the endorsement seal of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action to remain the gold standard by which Democratic candidates and incumbents in San Diego and Southern California are considered on issues affecting our climate, health, development and transportation, green jobs, animals, open space, public lands, coastal ecology, and so much more.
Eligible voting members may fill out their ballots, vote, and leave at any time, but we strongly encourage all our members to stay, speak with, and hear from the candidates. We'll have forums for each race with multiple Democratic candidates, and we'll provide ample time for questions and discussion among members as we consider pertinent environmental issues. There is no better opportunity for you to ask questions and consider answers.
Club endorsement requires 60 percent or better among voting members. Carrying our endorsement means candidates may use our club logo and name on their website and related campaign materials.
As a result of bylaws changes voted on at our June club meeting, our endorsement process includes paper ballots formatted for ranked-choice voting, which will maximize member participation and help us arrive more quickly at consensus.
When voting, be sure to check off only one selection in each column. In addition to selecting a candidate, you will also have the option of choosing a No Endorsement option, in which the club may take a formal position of not endorsing any one particular candidate.
Any ballot with multiple markings, unclear voter intent, or "writing in" of other candidates may be counted as invalid.
If, after counting ballots in sequence of members' ranked choices, no selection receives 60 percent or greater of member support, the default of No Position will prevail, meaning the club will not take a position, but reserves the right to revisit the race later in the year.
Frequently Asked Questions
May I Bring a Guest Who is Not a Club Member?
Yes. Guests are welcome to attend, but must sign in with us at the meeting. Guests and new members who have just joined are not permitted to participate in the discussion, candidate questions, or in casting ballots.
Who May Cast Endorsement Votes?
Members in good standing may cast votes and participate in candidate questions or discussion. A "member in good standing" is defined by our club bylaws as having paid dues 34 days prior to the endorsement meeting, or have attended at least one previously scheduled club meeting. New members who joined at and attended our July 17th club meeting are eligible to vote at our Aug. 18 endorsement meeting.
Any member whose membership has lapsed within the last 45 days will be eligible to vote upon payment of their dues in advance of the Aug. 18 endorsement meeting, or at the start of the meeting. If you are unsure about your membership renewal status, please e-mail us immediately at email@example.com.
I Can't Attend the Endorsement Meeting. Can I Still Vote, or Have Someone Vote for Me?
No. This is referred to as proxy voting. Proxy voting and absentee voting are not permitted by our club. Ballots are only handed to members who have checked in at our endorsement meeting.
How Can I Find Out More About Candidates' Positions on Environmental Issues?
All participating candidates must complete a candidate questionnaire, which offer specific answers to environmental questions. Questionnaires are available for browsing at our check-in table. Candidate questionnaires are forbidden from leaving the room, and you may not photograph them.
Can I Record Any Part of the Meeting?
No. Video or audio taping of our endorsement proceedings, discussion, or candidate forums is forbidden. Any person found to be recording during the meeting will be asked to show that the recording has been deleted or erased, and may be asked to leave. Still photos are permitted of the meeting, but you may not photograph candidate questionnaires. Any person caught doing so will be asked to show that the photos in question have been deleted, and may be asked to leave.
Will There Be Refreshments?
Yes. The club will provide coffee, water, juice, bagels, fruit, and other related snacks. Please help keep the union hall clean, and re-use plates and utensils as you are able. You may also bring in outside food. No alcoholic beverages are permitted.
What Can We Expect On Ballots?
Paper ballots for races in which we have multiple Democratic candidates will be printed in a Ranked Choice Voting format. You may select your first, second, and third choices in order of preference. At any stage of your ranked choices you may select "No Endorsement" if you do not feel that any candidate or remaining candidates should earn the club's endorsement as the environmental choice in that race. Ballots will be distributed to each eligible club member, and may be completed and dropped into our ballot boxes at any time.
How Will Ballots Be Counted?
After the closure of voting in any given contest, ballot boxes will be taken for counting with club-designated vote counters. We allow one observer from each campaign to view the vote counting process. A candidate (or "No Endorsement" position) must receive 60 percent or more of first choice votes on ballots to win the endorsement of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action outright. Keep in mind that as a Democratic club our bylaws require a threshold of 60 percent of member votes for endorsement, as opposed to 50 percent plus one (+1) in a general election.
Any ballots that are illegible, marked in an invalid manner, or where voter intent on given ballot choices cannot be determined will be designated as "soiled," and will still count toward the overall number of ballots cast for meeting thresholds.
What About Members' Second and Third Ranked Choices?
If no one candidate wins 60 percent or more on the count of first choice votes, but at least one candidate receives a threshold of at least 50 percent in a two-candidate race or 40 percent in a race of three or more candidates, ballots cast with first choice for the candidate receiving the fewest votes will be re-tabulated for those members' second choice.
If this does not result in a candidate (or "No Endorsement" selection) earning 60 percent or more of members' consensus for endorsement, this process may repeat with ballots cast for the next-lowest vote recipient being re-tabulated for their second choice. If, after tabulating all ballots in order of ranked choices, no candidate (or "No Endorsement" selection) has reached a threshold of 60 percent or more of member votes, the default result will be of the club having "No Position." Members may elect to notice the same race for consideration at a later date in the campaign cycle.
If the "No Endorsement" selection attains 60 percent of the member vote at any point in the tabulation, the club will take an official stance of not endorsing any candidate in the race.
What Does It Mean to Rate Candidates As "Qualified?"
If, after counting ranked choice ballots, we have not arrived at any consensus for a formal endorsement or a position that demonstrates the will of 60 percent or more of our voting members, we may, at the motion of the membership, proceed to rate one or more candidates in a contested race as "qualified."
Qualified ratings are not endorsements. Qualified candidates are, however, recognized as being fully supportive of principles laid forth in the environmental planks of the California Democratic Party platform (as measured by responding affirmatively and unequivocally to all related questions on the club’s candidate questionnaire), and enjoying a significant measure of support from our club's membership.
Candidates rated as qualified may not use our club logo or name to imply endorsement or preference over other candidates that are similarly rated. Club members must be present to participate in discussion and voting to rate candidates as qualified.
For an illustration of how Ranked Choice Voting works in a general election, have a look at this short YouTube clip from FairVote.
Richard Ram serves as communications chair on the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action executive board.
By Richard Ram
San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action had our biggest, most successful turnout of club members at our Aug. 4 endorsement meeting – the first of the 2020 election cycle. Thanks to all who came out and participated. We had a record 144 voting members in attendance, and we may even exceed that number when we meet for our next next endorsement meeting on Sunday, Aug. 18. In addition, we've received positive feedback on our club's move to ranked-choice voting on our paper ballots.
We've also heard, in no uncertain terms, our members express their concerns about whether our club's political endorsements are properly reflecting the urgency of the environmental situation before us. There's a lot of pain and sense of loss felt throughout the conservation community, especially these past few years, as we've seen decades of hard-fought progress reversed by a tyrannically anti-environment, anti-science administration that was able to take office without earning the popular vote, and with mass voter disenfranchisement in swing states.
Time is short and the political will appears to be lacking. If we are going to take meaningful action to address the climate crisis and avoid a mass extinction of species that is already underway, we must act now. Failure and hand-wringing are not options.
We need real leadership on these issues, not just lip service on climate change. We cannot wait for some share of elected Republicans to "evolve" in order to establish some kind of across-the-aisle celebration of bipartisan support on bills that simply do too little, too late. We need leadership that is willing to stand up to powerful interests and their lobbying money. We need leadership that is willing make tough decisions that may cost them political support in some corners. We need leadership that seeks to do the right thing now because we don't have time on the clock to reverse bad decisions or weak compromises affecting our ecology and the viability of life on this planet.
The active participation of environmentalists in our club is critical to ensure we get it right. We've built a strong brand based upon standing up for a variety of environmental issues and engaging our membership on them. That the endorsement of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action is sought after – and fought over – is a credit to our membership, which have shaped our club into a powerhouse of issue-based advocacy within our local Democratic Party.
So as we move forward, let's be mindful of the responsibility we have to our mission, and to voters who may be less engaged but still care a great deal about the environment. In five years' time we've built one of the largest and most influential Democratic clubs in Southern California. Our brand matters when it comes to conveying who we trust as good stewards and bold champions for the green future we envision.
Richard Ram serves as communications chair on the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action executive board.
By Frank Landis
Remarks on the Preserve at Torrey Highlands to San Diego City Council on Aug. 5, 2019.
President Gómez, President Pro Tem Bry, Members of the Council,
Thank you for taking my testimony. I speak for the California Native Plant Society and for myself on this matter. In addition to being a former union member and a PhD botanist, I am also a resident of Rancho Peñasquitos, and I've been a park volunteer caring for the Del Mar Mesa Preserve since 2010, driving three miles a day to clean up trash and weeds. In all these roles, I urge you to vote no on this project.
First, the project will cause significant and unmitigated impacts to greenhouse gas emissions. We all know the city of San Diego is failing to meet its Climate Action Plan goals. This project will only make it worse. On that basis alone, please reject Cisterra, and send a message that you are serious about dealing with climate change.
Second, this project is a fire risk. To my knowledge, Otay Ranch Village 14, Newland Sierra, Valiano and Harmony Grove Village South in the county are all projects that being sued, in part, because they put a few thousand people in danger from fire. We are getting tired of developers putting people in harms' way, and quite honestly, so are the insurance companies.
The Cisterra project puts over 2,000 people in the way of wildfires, on a little peninsula sticking into the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, without an evacuation plan, without a brush management zone, without all the fire-safe features of an up-to-code house, without even properly analyzing the fire threat in the EIR (environmental impact report). The leapfrog sprawl developments I just mentioned at least had a fire hazard analysis in their EIRs. This one does not. On this basis alone, please reject Cisterra, and tell them that you don't want them to put lives and property at risk in their projects.
Third, there is the damage to Del Mar Mesa. As you've heard before, these are old-growth scrub oaks, one of the rarest oak species in California, forming chaparral so tall it's a miniature oak forest that you can walk under. It's the biggest remaining patch of its kind in California, and it's downstream from this project.
And what does Cisterra propose to do? They propose to dump their landscaping effluent into Del Mar Mesa.
They're going to use reclaimed water, which is too salty to drink, put pesticides and fertilizers on their landscaping to drive away the pollinators, then collect the runoff and eventually dump it into a gully, where it will erode an existing trail and flow into Deer Creek. What do you think is going to happen to the oaks around the runoff and those downstream? Del Mar Mesa belongs to the entire city, and the city requires properties surrounding such precious areas to take care of their runoff. Cisterra does not, and on that basis alone, you should reject their proposal.
Fourth, they want to plant large trees that are not native to the mesa next to a vernal pool, in a sad attempt to put green lipstick on a pig of a parking structure. There are two outcomes. Either the trees will die, because the mesa soil has a big layer of hardpan, or the tree roots will rip up the hardpan and destroy the vernal pool 70 feet away from the parking structure on the National Wildlife Refuge. That's a stupid design choice, and you should reject it too.
Fifth, I expected Jim Whalen to point out that the project's chaparral is only chamise, which is a low value chaparral. I agree — if we're talking about the top. If we're talking about the north side of the parcel, it's scrub oak chaparral. If we're talking about the south side, it borders on the National Wildlife Refuge and a vernal pool. If someone tells you this place is low value, ask them to give you a detailed opinion about the entire parcel and its surroundings, not cherry pick one detail.
You have heard from union members saying they support Cisterra because of construction jobs. We support unions too. And their families and children. People worked for months to try to negotiate a land swap so Cisterra could build somewhere else and this problematic parcel could become parkland. Cisterra walked away from this solution.
The Del Mar Mesa Preserve is a public park, open to everybody, including union members and their families. It's the only remaining place in the city where you can walk in the shade and see what the coast looked like when the first European explorers arrived.
I'll ask the room, by applause: How many of you would be happy to join a union member, or their families, on a hike on Del Mar Mesa? How many of you would be happy to take the city councilmembers or their staffers on the same hike? I personally would be thrilled. We want you to build, but we don't want your buildings to destroy their neighbors, and we don't want your buildings to put their occupants at risk from fire. Please join us in rejecting this project.
This project is not infill development. Everyone in Carmel Valley has a job, either in their spare bedroom like me, or commuting from somewhere else. This project won't magically cause mid-career professionals to change their jobs just to fill an empty office building. All it's going to do is force employees to commute from somewhere else. This will generate more traffic on Highway 56, which is not scheduled to be widened anytime soon, and will increase demand for public transit in an area that has none. Councilmember Bry has waxed eloquent on this problem many times, and I agree with her. It's unsustainable. On this basis alone, reject it.
Finally, there's the business case. There's over a million square feet of unbuilt office space already sitting in the immediate vicinity. It's been permitted, and it's sat unbuilt since before 2004. If there was a need for offices or industrial parks in that area, it would be trivial for a company to get a complex built to suit, with fewer environmental problems and less hassle. But there's no demand.
On this basis, and on all these bases, please reject the Preserve at Torrey Highlands and support Del Mar Mesa. Thank you for taking my comments.
Frank Landis serves as the conservation chair and council delegate with the California Native Plant Society, San Diego Chapter. He lives in Rancho Peñasquitos.
Photos by Renée Owens (top) and Tommy Hough (bottom).
"Your feet, taking one step at a time at a studiously slow pace, know the land better than the heads of any elected officials. Insert into those heads what your feet know." – Harvey Manning
By Tommy Hough
If you've been to the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, if you've felt the breeze on your face and seen the expansive views from the mesas, you can understand why someone would want to build something there. Even an office park. That desirability is, in part, why the city wisely made the area off limits to development, and instead made it part of its natural preserve system.
That preservation is something the city of San Diego should be proud of. That someone had the humility to say no. That someone had the humility to say the wildflowers bloom and the winds blow and the birds sing here. Any time humanity is capable of putting the brakes on development, of pouring less concrete, less asphalt, from adding more rebar in this world, the nervous systems of all living things win.
So while I'm dismayed at the volume of development that continues along the south side of State Route 56, I'm particularly unhappy with the council's vote to approve the construction of a 420,000 square foot office park on an inward facing "notch" surrounded on three sides by city and state land of the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, much further to the south than any of the other development that has regrettably occurred along the south side of the 56.
Cisterra Development bought this 11-acre parcel on the east side of the preserve from the Catholic church. It was never intended or envisioned to be an employment center. A visit to the site will impress upon anyone why this development is in the entirely wrong place. With a little bit of leadership and foresight, this area could have been incorporated into the city's mitigation matrix in its current state.
In between wild, rudderless claims from opponents that made it sound as though our coalition was made up of gated community fanatics opposing an affordable housing proposal, proponents of the project noted that it is not being built on the preserve itself. But only a fool would deny that the construction alongside the preserve, and the daily volume of thousands of cars going in and out of the area, will not have a detrimental effect. It certainly does not compliment the site.
This project will result in a loss of habitat that will directly affect the preserve and its role as a wildlife corridor, enable an increase in invasive species, and further "bite" into the vanishing wildlands in our city. The construction and daily use of multi-story structures, including a five-story parking garage, is no match for a few trees serving as "natural barriers" between it and the preserve. The very proposal of this office park is an affront to reasonable obligations of stewardship. It is needless.
Yes, the view from the office park will be tremendous – a view of preserved, public land. The location and proximity to preserved public land, in fact, is what will give this office park its "added value." But consider the view from within the preserve, or to wildlife having more obstacles to navigate to access what is becoming an even more isolated island of conservation.
And allow me to add an additional consideration for those who may feel the only thing affected by the project's approval is the "notch" surrounded by conservation lands, instead of the preserve itself: The preserve is already being impacted by surrounding development, and like all islands of conservation, is experiencing death by many thousands of cuts.
If you go to into the canyon of the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, you can look right up to the mesa where this office park will be built. Within the canyon itself, you're in some of the oldest surviving coastal woodlands remaining in our city. The tangle is thick and remarkable. It feels primeval. Humans are only visitors here.
At the base of the canyon is a creekbed. If you go there, even today, it is likely flowing. And while flowing water in a place as notoriously dry as San Diego is typically welcome, the water flowing there today isn't natural drainage from a spring or snowmelt in higher elevations, but runoff from the watering of yards. Runoff from other office developments. It is, in fact, an artificial creek of treated water running through one of the wildest remaining areas in the city, carrying with it chemicals, toxins, detergents, bug and rodent repellants, fertilizers, poisons and plenty of toxic materials, all through a largely pristine site. That's a shame. And that has an effect.
And this office park won't be the punctuation mark at the end of the sentence. It's the beginning of more bites into these wildlands, like the Meridian office project, and Merge 56, which at least has the passable benefit of being "mixed use."
Everyone agrees we have a housing crisis in this city. I spoke about this crisis non-stop on my campaign for District 6 last year. If there are ways to add to our housing stock in sensible places so people who work for a living can afford a home, in which developers work at the public's discretion, and which won't be lost to short term vacation rentals (STVRs) in the process, environmentalists like me will applaud it. We'll support it. We'll help get the project labor agreements to build it.
But this isn't even about housing. It's office space. As others testified on Monday, we have an abundance of brand new, vacant office space along the 56 corridor, and even more vacant, but perhaps less sexy office space in Kearny Mesa and Miramar. At those locales, the concrete has already been poured within our current development footprint. The roads, water, sewer lines and electricity are all there.
As I said before council in my testimony, voting against this should not have been a difficult decision. The area along the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, where the "Preserve at Torrey Highlands" will be built, was not only never intended as an employment center, but was considered so critical for mitigation that even the 56 freeway was routed around it in the early 2000s. No one was going to be put out if a project of this size along a city-owned preserve wasn't approved. In fact, it turns out the Sierra Club had been communicating with the developer about another potential area for the site at the Rose Canyon Operations Yard on Morena Blvd.
But apparently, that option would've been just too hard for the developer, though they admitted they were "intrigued." It would've taken too much time. It wasn't worth the cost of doing business to do the painful work with the city, or anyone else, to get it right. Instead of building an office park in an area that would've been a clear asset by being near the new Balboa Ave. station for the San Diego Trolley, along an established business corridor, and out of a wildfire zone, Cisterra opted to make no one happy by ignoring the opposition of neighbors and the more than justified environmental concerns.
Some developers may balk at the idea of being dictated to over the concerns I've listed. They may balk, and they may then know how the rest of us feel when being dictated to by them. I said throughout my campaign we need the expertise and capability of developers. They need a seat at the table. But we, the citizenry, must wrest control of our of future, and our city, from the hands of developers who have run the table on this town for decades, and who will shape shift into whatever form they need in order to work with whatever the prevailing civic trends are.
I applaud Council President Gómez, Council President Pro Tem Bry, and Councilmember Montgomery for having the courage to vote against this project. They should be praised for doing so, and they should be abundantly thanked. Please take a moment to extend your thanks to them as well.
So now the developer's "preserve" will be built at the people's preserve, with the size and scope of a small airport – an obscene affront in the face of one of the city's most revered conservation areas.
Where humility once reigned and someone once had the foresight to say no, when there was an opportunity to consider building the project somewhere else, the Orwellian "Preserve at Torrey Highlands" will be a legacy of this council. Looming over the Del Mar Mesa Preserve, it will stand as a monument to business as usual, bad planning, bad decision-making, bad faith, smashed coalitions, a dismissal of the obligation of stewardship, and a willingness to desecrate what those before us worked so hard to preserve.
It will be another San Diego environmental cautionary tale, all the more bitter in the face of the 6-3 Democratic majority on city council that approved it. It will be something we look at, 10 or 20 years from now, and shake our heads at in disgust.
Tommy Hough is the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He and his wife live in Mira Mesa.
By Darshana Patel
As a resident of Park Village, I care deeply about my community, the safety of my neighbors, and the future of our children and the environment – and I am truly disappointed at the 6-3 San Diego City Council decision on Monday to approve the proposed Cisterra Development office park next to the Del Mar Mesa Preserve.
As I made clear in my testimony before San Diego City Council, this is the wrong project for this parcel of land. I serve as the vice chair of the Rancho Peñasquitos planning board, and the developer has made presentation after presentation to our board seeking approval since 2015. Never once have they offered genuine community benefit in exchange for the radical rezoning they have proposed, from agriculture to industrial zoning, by way of a community plan amendment.
The board continually requested that the developer reduce the scale of the project in order to make it somewhat more appropriate for this parcel of land, but time and time again they have refused to work with us. In fact, this is the first project that was unanimously denied by our planning board, as it failed to meet even the simple guidelines set forth to approve a community plan amendment. After all, it is not the responsibility of a planning board or the city to help a developer make their investment profitable, but rather to ensure the project aligns with city goals and the community plan.
A year ago, I spoke before San Diego City Council in support of the Merge 56 development in order to complete the Camino del Sur road connection – our second emergency egress promised since the neighborhood was built. Cisterra's project directly endangers that community benefit with about 1,800 cars at one critical intersection where the 7,000 residents of both the Park Village and Torrey Meadows neighborhoods will go to evacuate in a civil emergency, the most likely being wildfire.
The City of San Diego general plan calls for density to be centered around mass transit. But bus service is not economically feasible, and there are no plans to add any type of mass transit to our area. Cal Trans has no plans for an expansion of State Route 56 prior to the opportunity for expanded funding beginning in 2035.
And thanks to readily available mobile apps like Wayze, additional traffic from this office park project will divert directly in front of Park Village Elementary School to cut through to Black Mountain Road and I-15, or empty at the busiest intersection, creating unnecessary risks to students whether they are walking, riding a bicycle or riding in a car as they go to and from their neighborhood schools on a daily basis. The FEIR (Final Environmental Impact Report) concludes that there will be significant and unavoidable impacts to traffic and traffic circulation – a clear criteria for denial.
To be clear, there is no doubt we have an affordable housing crisis in San Diego. But we do not have an industrial park or office complex crisis.
The Meridian, located along Torrey Mesa Rd. south of State Route 56, has over 600,000 square feet of empty office space, waiting for tenants. One exit away, at Carmel Valley Rd. in Pacific Highlands Ranch, the 630,000 square foot Aperture Del Mar complex, intended as a biotech campus, similarly awaits a tenant.
There was neither economic need established, nor analysis presented by the applicant, to justify the radical rezoning they proposed for the "Preserve at Torrey Highlands." In fact, this project is not even part of the 56 corridor, as it jumps the Deer Canyon buffer and goes past the nearby mitigation bank.
The parcel in Torrey Highlands was certified by San Diego City Council and designated as "commercial limited" by voters in 1996. Commercial limited is explained in the Torrey Highlands Community Plan as inclusive of religious facilities, veterinary clinics or garden centers, and specifically intended to ensure compatibility with the adjacent Deer Canyon Preserve.
As I indicated in my testimony, I am not opposed to construction as this site, but it is clear that today's city council – with the courageous exception of Council President Gómez, Council President pro tem Bry, and Councilmember Montgomery – have lost their environmental bearings. In doing so, they have betrayed the mandate of voters by enabling another mammoth office park project, with zero benefit to the community.
Darshana Patel is a community leader, elected member and vice chair of the Rancho Peñasquitos Planning Board with service on the land use committee, and an elected trustee and president of the Poway Unified Board of Education.
By Tommy Hough
Around the nation, and even here at home, our environment is under attack.
From the rollback of long-standing environmental and conservation laws by the Trump administration, to the ongoing desecration of reputable and effective regulatory agencies, to attempts by members of our own party to undo the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and enable runaway development, now is the bleakest period for the environment in our nation in over 60 years.
That's why we need your help at San Diego City Council this Monday, Aug. 5, to stand with us and our allies to stop an exceptionally bad environmental precedent and development proposal pointed like a dagger at the sanctity of our preserved, yet rapidly vanishing, urban wildlands.
This spring, San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action members unanimously voted to oppose an office park proposal at Del Mar Mesa Preserve that's being marketed by Cisterra Development under the Orwellian name of the "Preserve at Torrey Highlands," near the communities of Rancho Peñasquitos and Del Sur south of State Route 56.
The proposal is anything but a "preserve." Even though the area itself was initially set aside for mitigation from previous projects, the multi-story, 450,000 square foot office complex is surrounded on three sides by the protected Del Mar Mesa Preserve, and will aggravate the dilemma of preserves marooned as "islands of conservation" with a further loss of habitat that will directly affect the preserve and its role as a wildlife corridor, enable an increase in invasive species, and further "bite" into our vanishing native wildlands.
In fact, development on "the notch" site atop the mesa may even be illegal, and will require a change to the Torrey Highlands Community and City of San Diego general plans simply to facilitate construction.
We'd like you to join our club and other coalition members at Civic Center Plaza this Monday, Aug. 5, beginning at 12:30 p.m. as we voice our opposition with a press event and rally at Civic Center Plaza at City Hall (202 West C St.), followed by testimony during the afternoon session of San Diego City Council beginning at 2 pm.
Our ask is for you to wear your club shirt and attend the press event and council meeting with us. Be seen. Bring a sign. Even if you don't want to speak at the council meeting, you can cede your time to those from our coalition who would like to speak or have prepared remarks.
If you joined us for our hike at Del Mar Mesa Preserve with the California Native Plant Society in May, you know what a special place the preserve is, and how it contains some of the last vestiges of oak woodland and native coastal canyon habitat in our region.
Development has been inching south from State Route 56 and toward the preserve for years. But even this development marks an extraordinary leap into heretofore undisturbed habitat. The best solution is for this project to go somewhere else. Even construction of State Route 56 in the early 2000s was routed around the proposed site of the office complex because of its critical conservation qualities.
RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know if you can make it on Monday, or click on our club Facebook event page. Wear your club shirts and join us this Monday, Aug. 5, beginning at 12:30 p.m. at Civic Center Plaza at San Diego City Hall, 202 West C St., San Diego, CA 92101. If you're going to join us for the council meeting, be prepared to stay throughout the afternoon, and make appropriate transportation or parking arrangements.
Thank you as always for your support. This is a moment our local environment needs it.
If you missed it, have a look at club president Cody Petterson's testimony and choice words on the proposed office park at Del Mar Mesa Preserve to the city planning commission in April.
Photo slideshow by Tommy Hough. To see club member Renée Owens' photos from our Del Mar Mesa Preserve hike this past May, including the two photos below, please click here.
By Cody Petterson and Tommy Hough
Five years ago this week, long before the endorsements, meetings, press conferences, forums, and canvassing that followed, San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action held its first organizational meeting at the San Diego County Democratic Party office in Kearny Mesa.
The idea was to establish the county's first Democratic club specifically dedicated to the promotion and preservation of our environment. Little did we know, at the time, we were only the second county Democratic party in the state to do so, after the Green Democrats of Sacramento County.
We initially met to elect our founding club officers, adopt our first bylaws, and develop a consensus about the character of the club. Those present shared their environmental priorities and hopes for the club. All agreed the time was long overdue for an affinity club in the county Democratic party to debate and advance environmental policy within the party, to endorse and help elect environmentally committed candidates, and to hold our elected officials accountable.
The vision of the club was informed by the time founding president Tommy Hough spent managing communications for the wilderness advocacy organization Oregon Wild. Again and again, Tommy saw how Democratic policymakers in Oregon made poor, tone-deaf decisions on old-growth logging, reckless clearcuts, and wildlife management that failed their constituents, and failed the earth. Upon his return to San Diego, Tommy resolved to ensure there was a place where environmental policy could be debated, developed, and utilized to win elections, and where constituents, activists, policymakers, and staff could go for answers.
Over the last five years, San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action have taken stands on matters ranging from fracking, ocean desalination, environmental justice, public lands, land use, renewable energy, transit, housing, and climate action, which have often been at odds with where the party itself was being driven by corporate donors and Wall Street. Those fights continue today.
As a club, we also resolved early on to facilitate opportunities to hike and visit threatened areas, like the El Monte Valley, Chollas Creek, or the Del Mar Mesa Preserve. These intimate experiences with San Diego's threatened natural heritage have given added passion and impetus to our efforts to preserve our county's unrivaled biodiversity.
As we head into our club's third full election cycle, we strive to maintain the most rigorous, fair, and transparent endorsement process of any Democratic club in the county, because we know how valuable our seal of approval is for San Diego voters, for whom the environment is a perennial priority. Any candidate who has been through our endorsement process knows our forums are well-moderated and well-attended, and that our club's decision is the product of a lengthy, demanding process of inquiry and deliberation.
We look forward to the next five years, which promise to be just as much of an adventure as the first. To those who've been a part of our journey, thank you for sharing the burden. And the joy.
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.