Monica Montgomery Steppe and Janessa Goldbeck side-by-side images
Monica Montgomery Steppe, left, and Janessa Goldbeck (center of table)

In the race to replace former San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe has been racking up the endorsements – many from unions that notoriously opposed her when she first won election to the San Diego City Council.

But one big endorsement – the Building Industry Association — has gone to Montgomery Steppe’s Democratic rival, Janessa Goldbeck, and it is an indication of what could become one of the biggest distinctions in the race: Where housing should go.

What’s at stake: Most people agree we need more housing. But there remains an intense debate about where and whether to limit it in unincorporated and rural parts of the county. After decades of acrimonious conversations about general plans and urban-limit-lines and ballot initiatives, a new status quo had settled in. Fletcher and his two Democratic colleagues were mostly united against sprawl development outside areas already zoned for housing.

Supervisors last year agreed 4-1 to new regulations for developments. They would have to go through standard approval but, to comply with state law, they would also have to study how many vehicle miles traveled the housing would create. In other words, if the new housing is too far from jobs and amenities (defined as farther than more than 15 percent of county housing), developers would have to pay for more studies and find ways to mitigate the impact of all the commutes they were creating.

The Building Industry Association would like to change this.

“The BIA maintains that the County adopted requirements pose such a significant hardship that areas outside of VMT efficient/infill designations will be rendered economically infeasible for any meaningful development,” the group wrote in a recent letter.

But now Fletcher is gone. And Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, a staunch ally of environmentalists and climate activists, is facing potentially significant opposition from Republicans who think they can take her down. One of them, Richard Bailey, the mayor of Coronado, opposes new housing in Coronado, and, in a recent interview, pointed to the VMT regulations and unincorporated parts of the county as the things he could help change to provide more affordable housing. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer would certainly be more willing to adjust restrictions than Lawson-Remer.

Taking down Lawson-Remer will not be easy. But if she were to fall, we’d see a major shift in the perspective on the Board of Supervisors and the winner of the race to replace Fletcher would have a big say in it.

Build more housing out there: If the winner is Goldbeck, she says she wants to open up development in unincorporated areas significantly.

Goldbeck said there are too many restrictions on development in unincorporated areas.

“Obviously, we can’t build in high-fire-risk zones, but we have shot ourselves in the foot by just focusing on dense housing within cities,” she said.

She said that when people can’t afford housing, many of them are not going to choose central San Diego or other densifying areas.

“They’re moving to Rainbow or Riverside County and they’re spending more time on our roads and causing more congestion and more emissions,” she said.

It’s the same argument climate activists make but with different parameters. They agree people shouldn’t live far from their jobs and needs but we should draw lines around cities where urban living ends and wildlife can begin. The car trips should be replaced by closer living, transit and bicycling.

But Goldbeck is endorsing the wider view that people are going to choose more spread-out living and we should try to keep that closer. It’s music to BIA’s ears.

Why it matters: It seems clear the Deputy Sheriffs Association will oppose Montgomery Steppe. They could combine spending with BIA to promote negative messages about Montgomery Steppe or otherwise assist Goldbeck.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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  1. I’m very disappointed in what has transpired in San Diego county and it’s outlying areas in the last eleven years. As a resident of Valley Center,(unincorporated-so expected to just be whatever the far away city wants or needs at the time, and taken advantage of by agencies,) I have watched many battles about where to place housing, and also watched large developments in places outside the county that have no services and few elected representatives to argue for wiser, more managed growth. I have watched and listened to arguments for ignoring the county general plan, and continued actions ignoring that plan. I have watched as my farmland is threatened by millions of gallons of water being removed from 4 sites at the local aquifers by SDGE ( without a permit). I have watched the voters turn down developments only to have the Supervisors overturn their votes and put the plans back into motion. I hope the state will continue to remind the county that they have a responsibility to manage their growth, and to serve the residents and not ruin their resources or make their lives a living heck of traffic, pollution, congestion and no water resources. Remember that we have to be able to leave quickly when fire threatens. We can’t keep building without a general plan. We also have to remember that we need to feed the people moving here, so we should not build over all of the farmland. We should be focused on building communities and supporting those communities, not sprawling all over and creating lives based on commuting.

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