County’s New General Plan Wins Two Awards

May 7, 2012 | 3:11pm

San Diego County’s General Plan Update — the first sweeping upgrade of the county’s growth and development plans in 30 years — has been honored as the outstanding planning document and outstanding environmental analysis of 2012 by the California Association of Environmental Professionals (AEP).

The General Plan Update officially became San Diego County’s new general plan in August when the Board of Supervisors approved it by a 4-1 vote.

On Monday afternoon, it was honored with the two awards at the AEP’s annual conference in Sacramento.

General plans guide community development. Generally, they set the philosophy and policies that determine what gets built where, and how communities will accommodate growth while preserving unique community character and protecting community values.

The new County general plan won as a planning document for how it sensibly tackled complicated land-use issues: the fact that unincorporated lands have limited infrastructure such as roads, that 60 percent of its land exists on limited groundwater supplies, that much of it has physical constraints such as steep slopes that can make it harder to develop, and that more than two-thirds of it lie in high fire-hazard areas.

One of the key components of the new plan was to significantly shift potential future growth closer to already-existing infrastructure such as roads, fire protection and sewer services. In all, the general plan shifted roughly 20 percent of the growth that is anticipated to occur in the future to western unincorporated communities with established infrastructure.

Other benefits of the plan include:

  • Accommodating a roughly 41 percent increase in population in unincorporated communities while still cutting the projected growth that the old general plan allowed by 15 percent.
  • Cutting potential greenhouse gas emissions by 550,000 metric tons a day by reducing new road construction by 780 lane miles and eliminating, potentially, up to three million vehicle trips a day.
  • Reducing wildfire threats by locating more growth closer to existing fire stations.
  • Reducing potential direct effects of development on biological habitat.
  • Reducing potential permit-processing times by streamlining regulations, making land-use policies and procedures easier to understand and comply with (750 fewer pages than the previous plan).

The new general plan was developed with broad public input from developers, business owners, environmentalists, farmers, homeowners, landowners and renters over the course of nearly 700 public meetings, workshops, subcommittee meetings and open houses.

The Association of Environmental Professionals is a nonprofit organization that includes more than 1,700 members including planners, environmental scientists, biologists, lawyers, noise specialists, transportation planners, paralegals, archeologists, geologists, engineers and other professionals.