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Lots of people work in Carlsbad. But many of them don’t — and probably can’t afford to — live there.

The median home value in Carlsbad is $860,700, according to Zillow, the real estate website. Rents are around $3,200 a month, which is far higher than the rest of the region.

So people commute, and that isn’t easy either.

Carlsbad’s economic development staff says businesses have had trouble recruiting and retaining talented workers because the commute is so difficult. Buses and trains come and go on set schedules that aren’t always convenient.

Every day, about 36,000 workers make the trek to the various business parks around the McClellan-Palomar Airport, Carlsbad’s largest jobs cluster, and the overwhelming majority of them are coming from outside the city, according the San Diego Association of Governments.

In fact, only 17 percent of people who work near the airport actually live in Carlsbad. More than a third of those folks live in either San Diego or Oceanside. Others come from East County and beyond.

My colleague Adriana Heldiz made a map to drive home the point.

Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

A similar situation exists on the western side of Carlsbad — closer to the state beach — where retail and entertainment are among the dominant trades. More than 80 percent of those folks are traveling alone in their cars. Only two percent take transit. The rest walk, bike or carpool.

To alleviate the pressure on roads and convince more people to ditch their cars, Carlsbad is now trying something new.

Together with SANDAG and the North County Transit District, city officials have launched a shuttle service that’ll take commuters to and from the Poinsettia train station and various business parks near the airport in the morning and evening. It’s intended to help close what’s known in public planning parlance as “the first and last mile” of the commute.

The shuttle, which is reserved through a special ride-sharing app, is also available during lunchtime to connect workers with local restaurants. The entire service is free for commuters who have a regional or monthly Coaster train pass, and costs between $1.25 and $2.50 for those who don’t.

Carlsbad invested $250,000 in the program while SANDAG and NCTD contributed $200,000 each. Officials will survey riders and re-evaluate the program when the contract ends in June 2020. It remains a pilot program and an experiment in moving people around the region more effectively.

Christie Marcella, Carlsbad’s economic development manager, said the city wants to see 100 users on an average day and hopes to generate new riders on the Coaster line.

“The daytime lunch service was established in order to remove as many barriers as possible to making a transit choice,” she said in an email.

Carlsbad Mayor Pro Tem Priya Bhat-Patel told me that she hopes the shuttle will get more people out of their cars while helping to meet the city’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. She also hopes it’ll boost the local economy.

“Hopefully this is another incentive to come to work in Carlsbad,” she said.

The shuttle service has its critics. As the Union-Tribune noted in its coverage of the launch, Vista City Councilman John Franklin, who sits on the NCTD board of directors, has argued against the program due to its costs. He’s presented back-of-the-envelope numbers to suggest that government officials could save money if they simply reimbursed people for Uber or Lyft rides.

But there’s a visual component to the program. The shuttles themselves are advertisements on wheels, encouraging other commuters to pool together and “skip the traffic.”

I asked Bruce Appleyard, an associate professor of city planning and public administration at SDSU, for his thoughts on Carlsbad’s new program, and he said the shuttle service could help get more people out of their cars so long as it’s dependable. But it should be seen as a Band-Aid on a much larger wound.

The shuttle might not be necessary if the region were better at building homes and transit stations closer to major centers of employment, he said. Programs like the one in Carlsbad provide officials throughout the county with the opportunity to rethink land use on a regional scale, as a tool for bringing down the number of vehicle miles traveled, a major cause of climate change.

It’s not just an environmental issue, though. It’s an equity issue.

Pushing people and their homes further and further away from their places of employment limits their options for getting to work. That in turn puts more cars on the road and worsens congestion. Historically, officials have advocated for freeway expansions in an attempt to build our way out of the problem, but SANDAG is now considering greater investments in transit and is talking openly about greater housing density near job centers.

“Because we don’t have a jobs-housing balance,” Appleyard said, “we’re always chasing our tail.”

To help visualize the problem and show the relation between housing affordability, jobs and vehicle miles traveled, Appleyard created his own map. He calls it a “smart growth calculator.”

Oceanside Is Going on a ‘Road Diet’

Oceanside is the latest city to make more room for more bikes and pedestrians by proposing the removal of two car lanes on Coast Highway between Harbor Drive to Oceanside Boulevard. Six intersections will be converted into roundabouts, and there will also be improvements to lighting and landscaping as Oceanside looks to build more housing around public transit stations.

Everyone loves the idea, and the moment it was approved last week a parade of cheering orphans burst into the City Council chambers to hoist officials on their shoulders, shouting “more, more, more!”

Just kidding. But the proposal didn’t receive the same level of vitriol it might have in other communities.

The plan was approved 4-1, with the city’s lone Democrat, Esther Sanchez, voting no. She argued that the city isn’t ready for the change and should instead focus its resources on building more parking and helping the homeless. Several residents echoed her opposition and said the city’s new “road diet” would only make traffic worse in other neighborhoods.

At the same time, supporters of the plan argued that it was necessary to make roads safer by forcing cars to slow down. The lane reductions are intended to “dramatically alter life on the historic roadway,” the Union-Tribune reports, “in an effort to get people to stop and shop or stay and play along Coast Highway.”

Councilman Chris Rodriguez said it would help turn Oceanside into a tourist destination rather than a “pass-through city.”

Elsewhere in Oceanside: The developer of a “farm-themed” residential community in South Morro Hills has unveiled yet another proposal, the U-T reports. Previous drafts drew opposition from the city planning commission. The latest proposal includes fewer homes and more open space, and could go before the City Council as soon as this fall.

Dems Want to Stay Neutral in D3 Primary

Democratic leaders in North County met last weekend to consider an early endorsement in the District 3 Board of Supervisors’ race — and concluded that both Olga Diaz and Terra Lawson-Remer are qualified candidates.

Diaz received a majority of the vote in multiple rounds, but fell several votes shy of the 60 percent threshold needed to secure an early endorsement. The party’s central committee will take up the issue next month. Party members tell me it’s possible but unlikely the central committee will overrule its own activist groups in North County and elevate one above the other.

The seat is currently held by Republican Kristin Gaspar, and it’s among the most important local contests in 2020. Conservatives outnumber liberals 4-1 on the board, but the South Bay seat is likely to go blue. So if Democrats can also flip District 3 in North County, they’ll suddenly be in control of the county government.

Lawson-Remer, an academic and former White House official under Obama, has the most cash on hand at the moment. The Coast News also analyzed the latest fundraising numbers and found that much of the money came from outside the district and outside the state. Real estate developers were among the most prevalent donors.

Stuff We’re Working On

School districts and unions tend to point the finger at one another when teachers behave inappropriately but hold on to their jobs. Kayla Jimenez highlights one such case out of Poway Unified School District, where two coaches sent inappropriate texts to students.

Until recently, federal and state elections in North County were considered safe for Republicans. With state Sen. Pat Bates termed out in 2022, Andrew Keatts writes, Democrats are hoping to expand their control over the area.

I went to a San Diego Hate Crimes Coalition forum in San Marcos and heard District Attorney Summer Stephan drop a few interesting stats. There were fewer reports of hate crimes across California in 2018, she said, but the number of suspected crimes committed against Latinos had gone up.

In Other News

Correction: Carlsbad’s economic development staff concluded that recruiting and retaining workers was difficult because of the commute, not the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce as originally reported.

Jesse Marx is a former Voice of San Diego associate editor.

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