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Wednesday, April 12, 2006 | Editorial

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, voiceofsandiego.org will be running editorials expressing the view of its editorial board on local issues. We will not endorse or oppose candidates for elected office or ballot initiatives.

In these days of high scandal, criminal charges and intrigue that surround San Diego’s local government, perhaps we have become numb to the service politicians deliver to their friends at the cost of ordinary citizens.

Perhaps that is why there was not a bigger outcry last week when the City Council voted to drastically weaken the fees imposed on developers who do not include affordable housing in their projects.

The Building Industry Association sued the city, saying that it wasn’t interpreting its own affordable housing ordinance properly. Under the BIA’s interpretation of the ordinance, developers should be able to pay the affordable housing in-lieu fee at the start of a project, rather than toward the end.

Such an interpretation significantly reduces the costs incurred by developers who now have three months to file papers before the fee is slated to triple come July 1.

The agreement approved by the City Council, which was negotiated by the office of new Mayor Jerry Sanders, essentially agreed to adopt the BIA’s interpretation.

This action was taken despite stern cautions offered by the council’s new independent budget analyst and the city attorney’s belief that the lawsuit was defendable in court. The Housing Commission originally supported the city’s interpretation, but the Sanders administration pulled the item from the docket, called a meeting between housing officials, the mayor’s staff and building-industry officials. The mayor’s influence worked and the recommendation from the commission to the City Council quickly changed.

The City Council for years has regularly declared an “affordable housing crisis” during its public hearings. Yet, when faced with an important affordable housing decision last week, it allowed some developers to cut their affordable housing bills by as much as one-third. It is a decision that one official in the city’s Housing Commission estimates will cost its affordable housing fund – already more than $100 million below budget – between $9 million and $43 million.

While we wonder whether government can truly and favorably affect the housing market, if city leaders are going to act concerned about the affordable housing crisis, they should back up that concern rather than simply react to the offers of some of the town’s biggest political muscle.

Little stinky deals are what got San Diego into its problems to begin with. With so much focus put on pensions and unions, let us not forget all the other dark corners where self-interested dealings take place. And let us not become numb to the impacts such deals have on all of us.

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