Development regulations are an integral instrument to maintain the quality of life that we enjoy in San Diego.

Whenever the housing market softens, developers blame it on regulation. Warren Buffet’s blunt assessment of the building industry is that “Any developer will build anything he can borrow against.” Thus the humpty dumpty housing market is not going to be put together again by any amount of regulatory rollbacks. In fact, the Development Services Department has already been streamlined to the umpteenth time by the building industry, and they even have the place wired with a Technical Advisory Committee watching every regulatory function of that department.

Profits drive developers, and community input adds a layer of uncertainty that eats into their profits. Providing certainty in process to developers for large developments often comes at the expense of uncertainty in outcomes for the community.

So what is really going on?

The first is a rollback of community input in new development. Katheryn Rhodes and Conrad Hartsell, M.D. describe the scheme in their comments:

By law, the ministerial permit process is not subject to CEQA, no mitigation is required, community plans do not need to be followed, and no public hearing are required. The city taxpayers have to pick up the tab for impacts from ministerial development in which they have no say or can appeal.

The second is the failure to account the true costs and benefits of development. It is not mere oversight that the downtown redevelopment agency failed to produce alternate plans for downtown, or to do a transportation mitigation plan for the new development. The lack of fiscal or economic impact analysis is standard procedure, and Donna Frye in a previous blog has called for an Economic Impact Analysis. Mel Shapiro offers the following insight:

Downtown generates $100 million a year in property tax,of which less than 1% gets to our city’s general fund. That’s redevelopment law. But downtown uses a lot more than 1% of the general fund.

The third is the redistribution of the costs of mitigation from the developer to the community. The whole purpose of a Master EIR for 80,000 units in downtown at taxpayer expense was to put the burden on the public to provide environmental and infrastructure mitigation for private development entitlements. Pat Flannery, whose blog on development issues is quite informative, writes this comment to my earlier post:

…more importantly it avoids CEQA and therefore mitigation. A “ministerial” project can connect its sewer to an already overcapacity sewer line and the City, not the developer must pay for a sewer upgrade.

Communities are not easily fooled by the mantra of streamlining and efficiency.


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