Over the last few weeks, there have been some significant policy developments in North County.
We’ve recently learned about a possible new safe parking lot, potential water rate increases, a big announcement from two major health care systems and more.
Here’s a round-up of the latest happenings in North County that I’m keeping an eye on.
Oceanside Making Moves
A safe parking lot is (likely) on the horizon: A proposal for an overnight parking program for homeless people received unanimous support from the Oceanside City Council a couple weeks ago.
The program would provide a safe parking lot for people to sleep in their cars overnight, along with other services like restrooms, showers and maybe laundry machines.
Councilmembers Eric Joyce and Rick Robinson proposed the idea, saying it could prevent more people from losing their vehicles and falling into homelessness.
Oceanside has the second-highest unsheltered homeless population in North County, according to this year’s point-in-time count, with 290 unsheltered homeless people. This number includes people living in their vehicles.
The proposal is expected to come back to the council for an official vote in January.
This would be the third safe parking lot in North County – the other two are in Encinitas and Vista. Both of those lots are operated by nonprofit Jewish Family Service.
Related: Oceanside also just opened its first ever year-round homeless shelter. The 50-bed low-barrier navigation center officially opened in August and is operated by the San Diego Rescue Mission.
The Price of Water
In a couple of weeks, Oceanside’s City Council will take on a dreaded water rate hike.
Under a proposal first introduced to the council in September, Oceanside’s water rates could increase by 6 percent in 2024 and another 6 percent in 2025. Councilmembers are expected to make the final decision on Nov. 15.
Water customers who use the least amount of water would see an increase of about $6 on their monthly bill, Water Utilities Director Lindsay Leahy said during the September meeting. Customers who use the most water would see about $20 more, and those who fall somewhere in the middle would see an increase of about $10.
The increases are the result of rate hikes by the Metropolitan Water District, Southern California’s biggest water wholesaler, and the San Diego County Water Authority, which buys water from Metropolitan and sells it to local agencies.
In Oceanside, though, the decision will come down to the city’s residents. Water customers have until Nov. 15 to submit their protests of the rate increase in writing. If a majority of customers oppose the increase, then it won’t happen.
But that means the city would have to dip into its reserve funds or cut back on capital improvement projects in order to comply with the rate hikes, Leahy said.
There’s also a proposal on the table for sewer rate increases, which would mean a 4 percent increase in 2024 and a 2.5 percent increase in 2025.
Downtown Density Cap Gets Greenlight
Residential density in downtown Oceanside will now be capped at 86 units per acre following a decision by the City Council last month.
For context, the average density of mixed-use development projects that are currently being proposed by developers in downtown Oceanside right now is about 175 units per acre, according to a July staff report.
Something to keep in mind: According to the state density bonus law, if a developer includes affordable units, they are still entitled to increase the size of their development, whether Oceanside has a density cap or not.
In fact, Oceanside requires all new residential developments to include at least 10 percent affordable housing, so all new residential developments will be entitled to a density bonus. If developers don’t want to include affordable housing, they can pay an in-lieu fee.
The difference here is that Oceanside wants developers to start with no more than 86 units per acre, so that any additional units granted to developers under the density bonus law will result in a total of up to 150 units per acre.
The idea is to avoid anything in excess of around 150 units per acre, even with density bonuses.
Supporters of the cap say residential developments downtown have become far too dense, resulting in increased traffic and air pollution. Critics, like the Building Industry Association, a countywide advocacy group for developers, said the cap is the opposite of what Oceanside and the region needs amid a severe housing shortage.
Housing advocates also say there’s a chance it could be in violation of state law.
City staff originally wanted to include density bonus enhancements in the proposal by allowing developers to build even more units than is outlined in the state’s density bonus law if they include more affordable units, but the City Council removed that clause.
A New Health Care Partnership Is Underway
Tri-City Medical Center is now partnering with UC San Diego Health, which promised to continue operating Tri-City as a medical center and bring back its labor and delivery services.
The medical center has been struggling with financial losses and staffing shortages over the past few years, culminating in a decision to suspend its labor and delivery services starting Oct. 1.
The hospital operated at a $25 million loss in fiscal 2023 and a $10 million loss is projected for 2024.
At a board meeting last week, Tri-City heard proposals from Sharp HealthCare and UCSD Health for partnerships. The board unanimously voted in favor of UCSD’s pitch, which b
Board member Marvin Mizell called ambitious.
One of the most notable commitments from UCSD was its promise to not only reopen Tri-City’s labor and delivery unit, but expand it.
What’s next? The deal has to go through a few more steps for final approval, but officials for both hospitals said it’s likely go through..
Tri-City and UCSD Health will then form a joint powers authority run by a nine-member board of directors. Tri-City’s property and outstanding debt would be transferred to UCSD Health.
The goal is to start operations by March 31, UCSD Health chief executive Patricia Maysent told the Union-Tribune.
In Other News
- An agreement has been reached between developers and the North County Transit District’s (NCTD) to redevelop the Escondido Transit Center. The plan is to develop apartments, retail stores, offices and other commercial spaces on the underutilized land at the transit center. (Union-Tribune) Related: NCTD is eventually hoping to redevelop up to 12 of its properties into mixed-use projects with market-rate housing, affordable housing and commercial spaces. These will be at transit centers and SPRINTER station parking lots throughout North County. (Voice of San Diego)
- After reports of layoffs at the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, including the firing of CEO James Rowten, Rowten spoke to the U-T about the allegations. He told the U-T he never received a layoff notice, but he has not returned to the office. (Union-Tribune)
- The Escondido Union School district has removed two queer-themed books from its campus libraries after complaints from parents. (Coast News)