Friday, March 18, 2005 | Jobs versus housing. As less and less land is available for development in San Diego, the competition for what’s left heats up. As does the rhetoric.

Witness Sorrento View, a proposed mixed-use development project that would combine a 1,300-unit apartment complex with 400,000 square feet of Class A office space for the technology community in Sorrento Mesa. The 24-acre site is currently occupied by a distribution center and commercial businesses, providing about 250 jobs.

The Sickels Group proposes to build affordably priced rental units, providing workforce housing for those employed at the high-tech and biotech companies proliferating in the area. Residents could walk to work, reducing the morning and afternoon traffic congestion on Mira Mesa Boulevard, and the commercial element of the project would create roughly 900 additional jobs, the developer said.

The city’s buzzword for this is collocation. But businesses in the area and some trade groups have expressed opposition to the collocation, arguing that there are health and safety issues at stake. What’s more, if industrial land is rezoned for residential, it reduces the amount of land available for the creation of moderate to high-income jobs, potentially stifling economic growth, they say.

E-mail to Donald Cohen

“CPI supporting this project could really irritate people who seem to have been nice and silent on the living wage debate,” wrote Erik Bruvold, the EDC’s vice president for public policy, transportation and housing.

While CPI has not taken an official position on the Sorrento View project, Cohen believes it has some merit. “We are evaluating it very carefully,” he said.

Sorrento View specifies 40 percent of the units to be studios or one-bedroom apartments, with the remaining 60 percent to be two-bedroom units. The rents would start at $950 a month. And because of the density of the industrial workspace and the use of underground parking, there would be no net loss of industrial workspace, according to The Sickels Group.

Cohen, the former political director of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, said he understands the health and safety concerns of collocating housing adjacent to industrial-type businesses as well as the need to protect employment land. However, “the issue that is not being addressed in the [city’s] proposed collocation policy is the jobs/housing balance,” he said. “Sorrento View is the first project that’s come forward that is seriously trying to look at the jobs/housing balance, and from that vantage point, it is worthy of looking at.”

Opponents say the Sickels Group project will hurt jobs

“Many feel that development of apartments IN THAT LOCATION would have a detrimental impact on a number of higher-wage manufacturers/R&D companies in the immediate vicinity. Can’t be a good outcome for a pro jobs/pro higher wages group like CPI,” Bruvold wrote in his March 3 e-mail to Cohen.

“My board will formally either oppose, support, or stay out of the rezone on April 12, but I thought I would give you a heads up and ‘we should talk’ prior to anything precipitous,” Bruvold continued. “We have been in such a good place recently with being either unified (pro marine terminal) or at least not going head to head. Would be a shame to get back into a bad place.”

Cohen declined to comment on the e-mail. Bruvold said his comments were not intended as a threat, that he merely wanted to discuss the matter with Cohen before CPI “got out in front of us” on that matter. “I sent him another e-mail clarifying my intent,” Bruvold said.

Part 2 of Jobs vs. Housing coming Monday.

Larry M. Edwards has been covering San Diego business since 1984.

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