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While the presidential election took center stage as voters hit the polls early this week, those in San Diego’s downtown and urban neighborhoods were also animated by concerns about housing and the future of development elsewhere in the city.
The city’s urban core has long been hit hardest by the city’s homelessness crisis, and as a recent Voice of San Diego-backed poll revealed, residents countywide consider housing costs and homelessness to be among the region’s foremost challenges.
While votes elsewhere in the region are divided on the best solutions to those challenges, most central and mid-city voters who spoke to VOSD this week said they would support a property tax increase to help fund 7,500 government-backed affordable housing units.
Some concluded that the economic crisis that has come along with the coronavirus pandemic has made Measure A, the $900 million housing bond, even more necessary while others were concerned about the economic hit for homeowners who may be struggling too – a debate that has also played out during the campaign.
I caught up with 28-year-old nursing assistant Taylor Lucas on Monday afternoon at the Convention Center, which has served as both a homeless shelter and a polling place this year.
Lucas said her own experience renting a $1,700-a-month studio apartment in East Village motivated her to support Measure A.
“I work really hard to afford rent alone,” Lucas said.
Jen Lopez, 23, who has worked in the Gaslamp district for years, said her first-hand experience with downtown’s homelessness problem convinced her to support Measure A.
“I voted for it because we needed it,” said Lopez, who voted at Washington Elementary School in Little Italy on Monday.
Tony Mendez, 46, of Mission Hills – who said he will end up paying the tax if it is approved – said he believes those who are able should step up to help others with fewer resources access housing.
“I had so many opportunities,” Mendez said. “I think we should share that with everybody. Everybody should get that opportunity.”
But City Heights resident Sheronna Dangerfield, 40, who voted at the Mid-City Gym on Tuesday, said that while she agrees the city needs to work on making housing more affordable, she isn’t convinced a property tax increase that could hit some struggling homeowners hard during the pandemic is the right antidote.
“I don’t want to put people out,” Dangerfield said. “We need to figure out how make an equilibrium.”
City Heights resident Jerry Garcia, 52, whose work hours have decreased during the pandemic, said he also doesn’t think a tax hike is the best approach.
“I’m still working part time and I don’t see the end of the tunnel,” Garcia said.
While central and mid-city voters live miles away from Sports Arena, some also had strong views on another housing-related measure on the ballot: Measure E, which would remove the coastal height limit in the Midway neighborhood and allow both denser commercial and housing development.
Other than the presidential election, 47-year-old Harry Bruner of Mission Hills said Measure E captured his interest most.
Bruner, who dropped off his ballot at Grant Elementary School early Tuesday, was skeptical that lifting the 30-foot height was necessary in the area despite supporters’ arguments that removing the height limit won’t impact coastal views.
Bruner said nearby Liberty Station, home to many shops and restaurants, is proof that successful developments are possible within height limit restrictions.
“I believe you can do what you need to do within 30 feet,” Bruner said.
City Heights resident Francisco Gonzalez, 51, was suspicious of the Measure E campaign’s motives.
“I saw it a potential to throw another high rise in the area,” Gonzalez said.
Others – including Garcia and 36-year-old North Park resident Chris Moles – were more optimistic about what nixing the height limit could mean for the neighborhood.
Moles questioned why there had ever been ever been a height limit in the neighborhood in the first place while Garcia said he had been encouraged by what he had learned about the community’s plans for the area.
The new Midway community plan the city approved a couple years ago would allow builders to add thousands of new homes and pave the way for a redevelopment of the Sports Arena.
“I think they’ve got something good planned for that area,” Garcia said.