Some would argue that future housing development in our region can be whittled down to a choice between urban infill and urban sprawl.
But the reality isn’t that simple.
Each housing type serves a different type of housing demand. Infill serves those who value density and living near existing infrastructure and services – generally the young and the old. And suburban development serves the largest segment – mostly middle-class families who want more room and less of the hassle that come with living in an urban environment.
San Diego doesn’t have enough of either type of housing. And we need to build both.
Voter should approve Measure B, the Lilac Hills Ranch development. This region desperately needs middle-class housing, and particularly needs it within reasonable proximity to employment centers and the freeways that get people to those jobs.
Without new master-planned communities like Lilac Hills, which incidentally is a similar housing project to those most of you live in today (albeit a substantially more modern, greener version), all kinds of negative things will happen in our region, including rising housing costs, longer commutes and economic stress.
As a project, Lilac Hills Ranch is first-rate. It is mixed-use, sustainable and provides funding for roads, schools and other services. It should have long ago been passed by the County Board of Supervisors.
Despite the fact that the development doesn’t meet the criteria of the county’s general plan and far exceeds the number of houses currently allowed on the land, Lilac Hills has considerable merits. It provides a wide array of housing and incorporates affordability with environmental sensitivity by offering a variety of housing types, all of which are vitally needed in North County.
Many of these homes will be occupied by families whose heads of households will work in North County, where most of our job growth is focused. Without it and projects like it that are also working their way to entitlement, these same households would inevitably have to be accommodated in either South Bay or even as far as Riverside County.
This is not a small point. My firm recently conducted two studies that demonstrate the depth of our region’s housing problems. The studies’ findings tie our failure to provide both sufficient and the right kind of housing to the very sustenance of our economy. Our region’s cities and the county are not doing enough to solve the housing crisis, which means we are being set up for perpetual housing shortages.
Lilac Hills has been substantially vetted in the public realm. This project has been made better as it worked its way through the traditional permitting process, failing only to get a vote at the county supervisorial level. This translates into a decade of neighborhood meetings, staff reviews and public hearings.
Here is the rub: People are resistant to change. It is embedded in our DNA. Taking rural ranch land especially doesn’t sit well with most folks. I know, I experienced this same pushback in my participation in virtually every “Rancho-style” project built in the region.
This resistance is exemplified in the county’s long-range general plan, which mostly prevents development of any real density except in the unincorporated villages
In fact, the county’s plan seems designed mostly to protect the tranquility of rural San Diego. I could support that if it were not for the fact that the region will grow mostly through natural increase (more births than deaths), and there is almost nowhere else to accommodate the 15,000 or more units this region annually requires – certainly not in the form of single-family homes.
The region is faced with a clear alternative: Be proactive in approving much more housing, or risk losing young adults, jobs and employers to other regions who are willing and able to accommodate them.
Land-use decisions are complex. They shouldn’t be contested at the ballot box. The oppositional content being presented to voters could easily have been the composition of a fiction novel. This project is great master planning, in the right place with access to jobs. Its residents will have a shorter commute to work, certainly emitting less carbon.
Yet, here we are. I hope that win or lose, Measure B serves as a call for action to the Board of Supervisors that the county’s general plan needs to be revised to provide a path for more large-scale development, and the flexibility to allow the county’s unincorporated areas to participate in the future delivery of housing.
The passage of Measure B will likely accomplish more than the approval of one worthy housing development. It will also send a wakeup call to all policymakers and their staffs throughout our region: Work proactively to permit the right kind of housing, and more of it.
Gary H. London is president of The London Group Realty Advisors. London’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.