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Ruling could give new life to San Diego backcountry developments

Posted at 4:59 PM, May 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-17 20:52:20-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A new court ruling could help pave the way for massive backcountry developments that almost always get challenged at the ballot box.

The ruling centered around a project that calls for nearly 600 new homes in Northeast Oceanside.

When the Oceanside City Council approved the North River Farms project in 2019, Kathryn Carbone and her group called Let Oceanside Vote sprung into action. They gathered roughly 12,000 signatures opposing the project, which called for 585 new homes, retail, a fire station, a farmers market, agriculture and open space on 213 acres in northeast Oceanside .

The signatures forced the City of Oceanside to send North River Farms to the November 2020 ballot, where voters rejected the project two to one.

“They understand the fire dangers, they understand the infrastructure problems, they understand the whole thing, the traffic, and it's just a problematic area to put housing,” said Carbone.

But North River Farms got new life this month, when a superior court judge rendered the referendum vote invalid, citing a 2019 state law meant to spur housing development. The law took some housing development powers away from cities and as an extension, referendums.

“For far too long we've had projects that have literally gone years through the development process, examining every issue in pain staking detail, going though the regulatory gauntlet, the public review gauntlet, and getting all the way up to the decision making process, meeting that objective, and then getting wiped out by a referendum,” said Matt Adams, vice president of the Building Industry Association of San Diego.

Ninia Hammond, the project manager for North River Farms, said developer Integral Communities is optimistic about the ruling and looks forward to providing housing in this supply constrained market.

Chris Elmendorf, a professor at the UC Davis School of Law, said the decision could be precedent setting, and noted a recent trend in California courts that rulings are increasingly in favor of development.

That's a really important change and we’ll see how durable the change proves to be,” he said.

Elmendorf said there is a 60-day window to appeal and that he would not be surprised if the ruling is overturned in a higher court.