Measure A would require certain development projects seeking an amendment to the county general plan, like the Newland Sierra property pictured here, to get countywide voter approval. / Photo by Megan Wood

The San Diego County Democratic Party’s endorsement can be make-or-break for a ballot measure. And so, when the party’s leadership considered Measure A at its December meeting, it was standing-room only. The party heard from both sides at a memorable meeting that included tense exchanges, emotional pleas and thoughtful commentary. In the end, the party voted by a supermajority to oppose Measure A.

While we know the outcome, the dialogue at that meeting is worth discussing because it illuminates misconceptions about Measure A. That night, we first heard from a retired planner and an environmental activist for Yes on A. They told us Measure A would stop sprawl (it won’t) and that it would lead to more affordable housing (it won’t).

Then, a chorus of voices rose to oppose Measure A. We heard from an affordable housing leader, a poverty attorney who represents the NAACP, a firefighter and others. They told us Measure A would make our housing crisis worse (it would), that it is riddled with loopholes and exemptions (it is), that it would segregate our communities (it would), promote sprawl (it would), and reduce the production of affordable housing (it would). They also told us the measure was drafted and paid for by wealthy out-of-towners (it was) to keep affordable homes from encroaching on their $10,000-a-week Golden Door Spa in North County (also true).

There were some questions, comments and sharp exchanges and then we voted to oppose A, joining a broad and diverse coalition of business leaders, labor groups, social justice leaders and others who all agree Measure A is bad for San Diego.

One of the most compelling arguments against Measure A is rooted in the ugly history of land-use planning as a segregation tool. Simply put, measures like this one have been used for the better part of a century to keep low-income people and people of color out of white communities. Many of our Democratic colleagues said that was enough reason to oppose Measure A.

There is a direct correlation between the amount of local land-use regulations and segregation of residents by earned income, or the continuation of institutionalized racism. In “Redlining of Our Era: Land-Use Voter Initiatives,” local NAACP and poverty attorney Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi writes: “Since the 1920s, the federal government and local governments have promoted, legitimized, and subsidized racial segregation through zoning and land-use policies leading to deep and lasting racial segregation through the United States. Zoning measures have disproportionately harmed people of color, and localities that enact these measures see a smaller increase in residents of color. Just as white families used now-unlawful exclusionary zoning to prevent integration of suburbs, homeowners now employ land-use voter initiatives to achieve the same ends.”

Ijadi-Maghsoodi also noted that in 2016, the Obama administrated identified San Diego as one of the most segregated cities in the country.

Because of our region’s history of discrimination, it is our duty to practice extraordinary efforts to eradicate the continuation of institutionalized racism. If we continue to ignore statistics that prove the disparate impact ordinances like Measure A have had on communities of color, then we have failed our communities of color. Measure A is institutionalized racism.

“In San Diego, a countywide zoning and land-use initiative will be presented to voters as open-space and environmental-protection efforts that really will exacerbate racial segregation and income inequality,” Ijadi-Maghsoodi wrote. “These housing exemptions closely reflect the federal model of zoning that created segregated, single-family districts during the era of redlining and racial covenants. The county initiative, and many similar ones across the country, will exacerbate racial segregation and increase income inequality, resulting in significantly worse outcomes for low-income families and communities of color. They are this era’s form of redlining.”

Some Democratic supporters of Measure A say it’s needed because they don’t trust the Board of Supervisors. Here’s the problem with that logic: the county General Plan was drafted and approved by a Republican-only Board of Supervisors eight years ago. Is it no wonder this plan does not include any state-mandated affordable housing? There is no inclusionary housing ordinance requiring that any percentage of new units in the county are affordable. Measure A would lock in this discriminatory General Plan for 20 years.

The only way affordable housing can be required by the county is through the General Plan Amendment process, but Measure A would essentially eliminate the county’s ability to approve these amendments. Amendments to the General Plan provide supervisors with a “lever” to ensure affordable housing units are built in exchange for increasing density, modifying zoning, etc.

Proponents of Measure A say they care about curbing sprawl, but they also claim we should build what the General Plan allows – much of which is zoned for luxury homes on lots ranging in size from a half-acre to 80 acres. So, what they really want is for wealthy people to build single-family homes on large parcels – but they refuse to allow smaller and more affordable units to be built in those same areas without forcing 1.6 million voters to weigh in at the ballot box.

Measure A would fuel sprawl and increase greenhouse gas emissions, and it would block the development of new affordable homes and apartments where they should be located – here in San Diego County, close to job centers, freeways and transit, along the I-15 growth and transit corridor (where the Golden Door Spa happens to be located) and near places like Bonita. Working families who support our economy, but cannot afford current housing prices, would be hit the hardest.

We need to defeat Measure A because it would advance inequality and racism, and then we need to come together and create a path to affordability. In the interim, we cannot remove the only lever the Board of Supervisors has to require affordable housing from developers. We do not want San Diego County to become a place where workers drive in to serve the wealthy and drive out at the end of the day to go home. Everyone should be able to work and live here – not just the wealthy and the privileged.

Melinda Vasquez is a real estate attorney in North County and a member of the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee. Bernadette Butkiewicz is an organizer with the United Association Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union 230 and Secretary of Metro West for the San Diego County Democratic Party.

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