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San Diego Plans For Future Housing, Transportation

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Aired 5/5/10

San Diego is the first region in California to tackle what seems to be an impossible task: planning for a major population expansion while at the same time cutting back on greenhouse gases.

SANDAG unveiled future transportation plans for San Diego County on May 4, 2010.
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Above: SANDAG unveiled future transportation plans for San Diego County on May 4, 2010.

San Diego is the first region in California to tackle what seems to be an impossible task: planning for a major population expansion while at the same time cutting back on greenhouse gases.

Terry Roberts drove down from L.A. to attend a planning workshop put on by the San Diego Association of Governments, or SANDAG. Roberts works with California’s Air Resources Board, which she says is about to hand down greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“What those targets will do,” Roberts said, “is to set goals for each region, goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions coming from passenger cars and light trucks, which is what we all use every day to go to work, go to school and go shopping.”

Roberts says SANDAG is the first agency in California to update its transportation plan with these new goals, which affect the daily travel plans of millions of people.

Large, colorful maps on the walls show three options for growing public transportation. One map shows spidery networks connecting scattered hubs of activity.

SANDAG Principal Transportation Planner Dave Schumacher says that as the population grows - and ages - a sustainable future will focus on so-called “smart communities,” hubs where people can live, work and play without having to make long commutes.

Schumacher says transportation alone won’t solve the problem of looming gridlock if development continues to be spread all over the region.

“You cannot do a peanut butter approach to transit,” he said. “Transit doesn’t work everywhere. For transit to work, it’s got to be in an area where the land uses are supportive.”

In other words, growth should be clustered in denser “smart communities,” rather than sprawling single family home developments.

“That’s not to say that the single family neighborhoods go away,” Schumacher said. “There’s always going to be lots of people living there, but we’re going to have to turn ourselves inwards to accommodate that million new residents, and we think the smart growth centers are going to work. We’ve gotten the buy in from the local jurisdictions.”

Schumacher cites developments in downtown San Diego and in Encinitas, where live/ work neighborhoods are being built, rather than big commercial centers separated by miles of roads from sprawling housing developments

Beth Jarosz, a SANDAG senior analyst, says many cities are currently upgrading their planning documents, and she says there’s been an important shift.

“It used to be that in San Diego about 60 percent of new homes were single family and 40 percent were apartment complexes,” Jarosz said. “And we’ve seen that flip, so that now 60 percent of new homes are multi-family town homes or apartments and 40 percent are single family, and we expect that trend to continue in the future."

Jarosz says all 18 cities in San Diego and the unincorporated areas have plans with enough housing to accommodate the growth expected by 2050.

But Carlsbad Councilman Matt Hall, who spoke at the workshop, says his city has set a cap on the number of new residents it can absorb. And, he says, the number of new houses actually built may not be many as the plan calls for.

“Approximately 20,000 more residents in Carlsbad before we hit the maximum of our growth management plan, which is 135,000 people,” Hall said. “I honestly think the way we’re building, it’s going to be a smaller number: probably 125,000 or 128,000.”

Hall says it may take 20 years to reach the cap. He argues there are other cities where people can choose to live if Carlsbad reaches its limit. Carlsbad, like most cities, is not planning ahead 40 years like SANDAG.

Future planning is complicated by the fact that, while SANDAG is responsible for planning transportation, it is the cities that control land use.

Roberts, of the State Air Resources Board, says land use plans and SANDAG’s transportation plans will have to go hand-in-hand in the future to work.

“The population keeps growing,” she said. “Roads can only expand so much. How many of us want to continue to be stuck on congested roadways with no alternative to getting to the places we need to go?”

It will take a shift in attitude to start building clusters of denser communities, rather than sprawling suburbs. SANDAG’s 2050 Plan is working on changing that attitude.

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