San Diego City Hall / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

This post originally appeared in the Jan. 6 Morning Report. Sign up for the daily newsletter here.

Since adopting its first Climate Action Plan in 2015, the city of San Diego has made “transit priority areas” – the neighborhoods around rail and high-frequency bus stations — the focal point of its planning efforts. That’s where the city has tried to direct most new, dense housing, and in hopes those neighborhoods would be less car dependent. 

But for just as long, critics and even some supporters of the city’s planning efforts have criticized the city’s measurement of those areas. It defined them as the area within a half-mile radius of the stations, as the crow flies. That means areas separated from the stations by canyons or freeways were considered close to the stations and therefore ripe for development, even if walking to the stations wasn’t really viable.

What has changed: City planners have rolled out their response to those concerns – specifically to a request from Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert – and they’ll now measure the viable walking distance to the stations instead of the distance as the crow flies, but they’ve extended the area to one-mile away instead. The Union-Tribune covered the change earlier this week, noting that it would in effect increase the amount of new development that could occur in the city.

In October, when the city announced it was pursuing the change, development and transit advocacy group Circulate San Diego raised alarm about the proposed switch, concerned it would result in a broad downzone that would blunt the city’s fair housing requirements. State housing officials approached the city as well, expressing concerns about the proposal.

Since then, the city applied the one-mile area to more transit stops. Both Circulate and state regulators are now convinced that the proposal will increase – not decrease – the amount of homes that developers can build in the city, especially in areas close to economic opportunity. In a Dec. 27 email, the state told the city it was satisfied

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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