The media has been increasingly attentive to the very real and growing housing crisis in California and especially right here in our San Diego backyard. Accordingly, politicians, especially at the local level, have taken notice, to which I say, “It’s about time.”
The irony, of course, is that much of what has conspired to create the mess we now find ourselves in can be laid directly at the feet of the very government many people now see as our only hope for salvation. Removing the tourniquets of over-zealous regulation and outrageous impact fee demands arguably made necessary since the passage of Proposition 13 would be a start.
Acknowledging that weak-kneed responses to statistically small but often loud and angry “neighbors” (sometimes financially backed by deep-pocketed entities with their own agenda) do not necessarily make for good public policy for the general population would be another welcome step in the right direction. I’ve attended those meetings. I’ve seen how mayors, city councilmembers, and county supervisors can melt before an angry, organized group of people whose only real, tangible—if unsaid— complaint is that they do not want change to enter their lives.
San Diego County is desperately short of the housing needed for its growing population. Current predictions are that we will need over 120,000 new housing units between now and 2020 to meet demand. To say that that is an impossible figure states the obvious.
More importantly, we need housing that is affordable to the people who live and work here. Home prices are based on the simplest laws of economics—supply and demand. A limited supply in a market that has high demand forces prices higher.
I read an account the other day where a staff member of San Diego Mayor Faulconer explained the mayor’s housing policy was intended to entice builders to build more affordably priced homes and that the reason they were building the very expensive ones was simply because they were “more profitable.” That is categorically false. Builders build anything they can make a profit on.
There is a huge market for homes in the $400,000-600,000 price range. Builders know this. They just have a hard time making a financial case for it. Builders want to build what there is a market for, so long as they can do so profitably. Creating artificial barriers to development stifles supply in the face of high demand.
The common refrain from the “never build here” crowd is that it damages their quality of life. What they clearly have no interest in, is the life quality of the thousands of people who find themselves commuting for hours from their homes in Lake Elsinore, Temecula and other locales where they find housing more affordable, to their jobs in San Diego County. And yet, their complaints over the choking traffic on the I-15 corridor never acknowledge the complicity of artificial housing constraints in its creation.
I have made no secret of my support of the proposed Newland Sierra development that lies adjacent to the cities of Escondido and San Marcos. As a long-time resident of both communities, I have a clear understanding of both the impacts and the benefits its development would provide.
Much has been made by its opponents of the fact that current zoning according to the county General Plan only allows for approximately 100 homes to be built on the site. Opponents complain that it is rural land and represents “leapfrog” development. Hogwash. The property lies just outside the spheres of influence of two municipalities with a combined population of over 250,000 people.
The proposed development would be the first carbon-neutral project of its size in San Diego County. Of the nearly 2,000 acres comprised by the development, only 400 will contain homes and businesses—the rest will remain open space. Traffic impacts will be mitigated in part by improving an already seriously impacted Deer Springs Road—a road that has been targeted by the county circulation element for over two decades as a major arterial roadway, but until now, has lacked the necessary funding to complete.
The primary source of opposition and financial support to the housing deniers they are in league with comes from the Golden Door, a posh playground for the rich and famous that I dare say no one in the demographic Newland Sierra seeks to serve would ever be able to afford to visit. It is both ironic and disingenuous that this elitist enclave should be instrumental in denying housing opportunities for middle class San Diegans.
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Kirk Effinger is an Escondido Realtor and community activist. He has lived in North County for over 30 years. He is a former Union –Tribune columnist.