San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

City Council President Georgette Gómez is changing up her proposal to reform the city’s affordable housing mandate following the collapse of her initial policy pitch.

Gómez failed to pull together the City Council votes needed to override Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s veto of her update of the city’s so-called inclusionary housing policy, but kept the policymaking effort alive by following up with changes to the proposal.

The year-long effort has been the City Council president’s chief policy priority, and progressives have rallied behind it in hopes an update can deliver more affordable housing.

Yet a member of the new Democratic supermajority those progressives thought would help Gómez deliver the new policy held firm against it on Tuesday – even after Gómez made a key tweak designed to appease her.

Gómez clearly hoped to secure City Councilwoman Vivian Moreno’s support when she proposed a new version expanding who would have access to affordable units and requiring developers to pay a larger fee to avoid incorporating low-income units in their projects.

Moreno didn’t bite, leaving open the possibility of yet another showdown over the contentious policy.

Gómez hopes to schedule a City Council vote on her amended proposal next month.

“The bottom line is we have to have an update to the inclusionary policy that was adopted in 2003,” Gómez said Tuesday, noting that the existing policy is ill-suited to today’s housing crisis.

Labor leaders also spoke in favor of the policy update Tuesday, urging the City Council to allow it to move forward.

“Taking no action today on the housing policy is unacceptable,” said Keith Maddox of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council. “We need affordable housing to be built right now.”

There’s wide agreement that the policy update is needed but previous 5-4 City Council votes on the proposal left the policy vulnerable to a mayoral veto.

Faulconer did just that last month, arguing that the policy would stymie – not encourage – affordable housing development.

To avoid another veto scenario, Gómez will need to persuade one more City Council member to back her updated proposal.

Moreno has for months said she’d like the inclusionary policy to encourage developments to serve low-income families making an average of 60 percent of the median income, the equivalent of $64,200 annually for a family of four.

On Tuesday, Gómez swapped out her initial plan to target low-income families making an average of 50 percent of the area median income – or about $53,500 annually for a family of four – to Moreno’s preferred number.

Then Gómez threw in another tweak: She’d like to increase the fee developers can pay to avoid building low-income units from her original plan to phase in a $22 per square foot fee over three years to a $25 per square foot fee to be phased in over four years. Developers who opt against build affordable housing units on site now pay $12 a square foot.

Despite the proposed changes, Moreno joined City Councilmen Chris Cate, Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman to vote against directing staff to work on the new proposal and publish a consultant’s review of its feasibility.

Moreno didn’t speak before the second vote. She simply restated her concerns with Gómez’s initial proposal before voting against overriding the mayor’s veto.

“I’ve said previously and still strongly believe the current proposal will end up decreasing the amount of affordable housing built,” Moreno said.

Moreno’s office did not immediately respond for requests for comment about her decision to vote against the continued review of the policy.

Gómez’s decision to propose an amended policy marks a change in her strategy. This summer, Gómez said she wouldn’t bow to the building industry’s demands, arguing that she had already made significant compromises. She had hoped Faulconer would let the policy move forward. He didn’t.

But now that policy proposal is history, and at least one opponent of the version vetoed by the mayor said Tuesday he wasn’t sure what to make of the new version yet.

Building Industry Association CEO Borre Winckel, whose organization has for months railed against Gómez’s proposed update, said builders concerned with the last version of the policy will have to do more analysis on the impacts of the new proposal before deciding on next steps.

Winckel said changing the average incomes served by affordable units incorporated in projects and increasing the fee and phasing in the change over four rather than three years may change the economics of the proposal – and thus its impact on housing production.

“That’s not something we can just do on the back of an envelope,” Winckel said. “We need to understand if this is a true compromise or it’s the same.”

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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