When we read or hear about the city of San Diego’s financial problems, the discussion usually focuses on pension issues. Rarely do we see much written about the costs associated with growth and development.

When people in the community do raise the issue, their ideas are often pushed aside like yesterday’s papers. They are labeled as NIMBYs and the growth machine just plows over them and the community in which they live.

The conventional wisdom would have us believe that growth is good and the more growth the better as long as it’s “smart” growth. But is that true? Does urban growth pay for itself or does the public end up paying more and getting less than what was promised?

Is there a limit to how much growth the infrastructure will support, before the costs needed to build it, operate it, maintain it, repair it and eventually replace it become too high? Will existing public safety services (such as police, fire and emergency medical) be reduced as staff is shifted to the newer areas? Or will staffing levels keep pace with the growth to ensure that libraries remain open, parks are maintained and potholes are filled?

I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I do offer one simple suggestion to begin the discussion:

Be honest and tell people that growth and development come with a price. The more growth and development, the more money we will need to provide public services and infrastructure to accommodate it. Unless and until we include the real costs to the public — all of them — our older communities will continue to suffer from aging and inadequate infrastructure and reduced public services.

We should require that an Economic Impact Report be part of the General Plan Update. At a minimum this would include:

  • Public costs associated with new development (including any cuts in services to existing communities)
  • A list of deferred maintenance in each community
  • Mitigation that was promised from past development projects, but never delivered

Or will it be as it has been for too long in our city — and as quoted anonymously in the following: “There are two stages to the public process: too early too tell, and too late to do anything about it?”


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