I live in Temecula, but my work is mostly in San Diego. The technical border of San Diego County is just a few miles south from my doorstep, but the practical border is many miles from where I sleep every night. There are almost 500,000 people in this little area of southwest Riverside County, and quite a few of them work in San Diego County most days, like I do.
I live in Temecula because this was where I could afford. Lots of other people live here for the same reason. More keep moving here every day.
When I hear people get upset about sprawl in San Diego County, it’s like I hear them say the world is flat. It’s like they don’t know that carbon emissions are freely flowing along Interstate 15. It’s like they think if they keep people from building between Deer Springs Road and Rainbow Canyon, they won’t be impacted by traffic or global warming or environmental degradation or whatever else worries them.
Where do you think San Diego should draw the line? Should we barricade Interstate 15 and make it a tollway to force workers to try to pay steep prices to live in San Diego County instead of beyond?
The only real solution to sprawl and the environmental problems it creates is changing state, city and county policies to aggressively combat California’s affordable housing crisis so more people can afford to live where they work. While there is some progress from a few of our elected officials, we need a lot more.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer is making a solid effort. The city’s new plan for a comprehensive approach to solving San Diego’s affordable housing crisis is a good start. Allowing developments that follow a region’s community and general plan to move forward without a lot of additional hurdles is good. It seems ridiculous that we have active community planning groups and outdated community plans that require developers to go in one by one for community input and approval on every single development. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t bothered to develop in the city of San Diego for the 10 years that I’ve had my own development company. It’s excruciating to be held responsible and accountable for a community’s grievances with existing urban conditions that a developer didn’t contribute to in any way. It causes community planning groups to look toward developers to solve long-term urban planning problems that have been years in the making.
The mayor’s housing plan also has a solid focus and connection to the city’s Climate Action Plan, which sets out to drastically reduce carbon emissions in coming years. But while cars are one source of greenhouse gas emissions, buildings are the biggest contributor because of the energy required to make them function. I hope the city’s plan eventually includes incentives for smaller, efficient housing.
Every unit of housing (pretty much anywhere in California) is treated equally when it comes to fees and density. For example, an 8,000-square-foot mansion and a 300-square-foot environmentally efficient apartment can be treated exactly the same when it comes to the fees developers must pay for impacting the community. The mayor’s plan acknowledges that flat rates cause smaller and more affordable units to pay disproportionately more in fees than larger homes, and the plan will look at more sensible ways of taxing new development.
The most disappointing aspect of the city’s new housing plan, though, is parking. For all of the talk about wanting to reduce greenhouse gases via reducing vehicle emissions, the city seems to be dragging its feet on parking. The plan promotes building denser housing, but without taking a hard look at getting rid of parking requirements altogether. While that might sound scary, possibly even absurd to an older generation that has become so car-dependent, not having a parking spot is something that will encourage a younger generation to forgo cars.
People will not get out of their damn cars until driving is far less convenient than ride-sharing or taking transit. I don’t rent a car when I’m in San Francisco or Washington D.C. because transit and ride-sharing are abundant there. If I lived in San Diego, I’m sure I could get away with not owning a car.
At the state level, Sen. Toni Atkins has been working tirelessly for years to get a permanent source of affordable housing funds in California. She’s California’s biggest housing advocate, but we need more elected officials to follow her lead.
California legislators and our governor have the ability to reform the building permit process to create more housing much faster. They have the ability to fund the gap to help the neediest people. No one is asking them to defy the physical laws of nature to do this. All that is being asked is that they pass Atkins’ SB 2 and come up with more forward-thinking legislation that streamlines the permitting process, especially for developers building affordable housing. All that is being asked is that they do their jobs while they have the power to do it.
Ginger Hitzke is a first-generation real estate developer and president of Hitzke Development Corporation. Hitzke’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.