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I’ve been a little taken aback by the blistering outrage that followed Andrew Keatts’ examination of the legacy of the coastal height limit on its 40th anniversary.

One commenter wonders whether his “jihad” against the holy height limit has finally come to an end.

Let’s be clear about something: Nobody’s attacking the height limit. Hosting some criticisms of the height limit’s impact on our economy is hardly a “jihad.” We’re not in the pocket of some developer.

As a resident and homeowner on the coast, I’m hardly interested in massive high rises casting a shadow over blocks of Ocean Beach or Mission Beach.

What we do hope to do, however, is keep pushing people to think about what their restrictions on development mean for housing costs in San Diego. I personally believe that the height limit constrains too broad a swath of land.

It makes no sense to me, for instance, that were we ever to redevelop the Sports Arena/Midway area, we could only build to 30 feet high. Why? I’m fully supportive of the Point Lomans and La Jollans who measure their neighbors’ homes and hound the city to explain why this or that building has risen to the height it has.

Developers and architects, frankly, need to stop fudging the limit. It only fuels and justifies hostility toward them.

That said, behind education, there’s nothing I’m more worried about in San Diego than housing costs. As a parent of two young children, if I can help create a culture that provides them opportunity to advance and a chance to live in an affordable home, I’m going to do whatever I can.

Supposed progressives who care about housing costs, in particular, need to think about what constraints on density and development mean for providing safe, affordable places to live.

We have height limits on development across the county — not just on the coast. Don’t pretend as though this doesn’t have an effect on home prices.

It does.

Voice of San Diego member Pat Seaborg posted a comment recently that represents much of the sentiment about our examination of the height limit. I love Pat and her volunteer efforts in San Diego. I highlight her comment because it’s a point that’s come up quite often:

I’ve given some thought to Matt Yglesias and his idea that the height limit has resulted in a reduction of affordable housing due to limitation of “supply” on the supply/demand equation. After thinking about this, I have concluded that he got that wrong, for the reason that when coastal [high rises] have been built in San Diego, the resulting housing has been mostly high-end cost units, not affordable housing. Just because [high rises] create higher density, that does not mean that the housing will be [cheaper].

This has been said repeatedly. “Even if there were high rises all over the coast, they’d be expensive units!”

Correct! Absolutely correct. Were high rises somehow allowed on Mission Beach, they’d be very expensive. The views would be outrageous. It would not be affordable housing.

They would, however, be slightly cheaper than the homes currently on the boardwalk. And, more importantly, the new units would be new housing supply.

Housing is like any asset. Its cost is determined by supply and demand.

If you build more homes on the coast, yes, those homes would be desirable and more expensive than other homes in other neighborhoods. But they would be full of people — people who are currently living in other homes. If they moved out, those homes would be filled with new people.

On and on.

We live in a housing market. It may not seem like La Jolla has much to do with North Park, but it does. Both neighborhoods are basically equidistant from jobs in Sorrento Mesa. If you have a job in Sorrento Mesa, you’re going to choose to live in the best neighborhood possible.

If someone who lives in North Park gets a promotion and can move to La Jolla, their place in North Park will be vacant, adding to housing supply there. If someone from southeastern San Diego moves to North Park because supply has made the price approachable, their home in southeastern San Diego will open up.

Now understand something else: Our population is going up — mostly from people being born here. These people have to live somewhere. If we do not increase the supply of housing while the demand goes up, prices will go up. And property prices are the single most important factor involved in any housing cost, whether rental or owner-occupied.

Progressives who care about this often turn to what’s natural — the government — to fix it. But the government’s investments in housing have only added a drop in the bucket to the market. Getting a government-subsidized apartment in San Diego is like winning the lottery. The wait-list is several years long.

There’s no indication that government investments in housing will have market-wide consequences.

On the other hand, supposed free-market conservatives, like many who run for City Council, instinctively choose to support major government restrictions on density and growth and building of any kind in their suburban-style neighborhoods.

They understand that we don’t want to live next to more people, with their cars, kids, dogs and noise. We especially don’t want more people in our neighborhoods when our infrastructure, our schools, our parks, our libraries are already in such disrepair. This is at the heart of almost every single debate around the region.

But our community needs homes.

Now, if we don’t let them build in certain areas, that’s OK. That’s a choice.

But it’s a choice with consequences. Exploring and investigating those consequences is not a “jihad,” it’s a genuine attempt to understand how San Diego’s going to handle its future.

I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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