Originally published January 17, 2013 at 11:08 a.m., updated January 17, 2013 at 2:34 p.m.
Ann Tarte, Executive Director, Equinox Center
The non-partisan Equinox Center released its fourth annual “Dashboard” report that highlights important trends affecting our quality of life in the San Diego region.
San Diego has wonderful beaches and plenty of sunshine, but is the quality of life here sustainable? The Equinox Center is collecting data on all sorts of trends that help answer that question. Its fourth annual "Dashboard" report shows some of those trends pose real challenges for planners, and for the average person living in the region.
For example, San Diegans pride themselves on having a better quality of life than people living in Los Angeles. But it turns out that San Diegans actually drive more miles per day than Los Angeles residents. In fact, the number of highway vehicle miles traveled every day in San Diego is higher than just about anywhere else in the state.
One reason people are driving further is because they can’t afford to live near where they work. Only 45 percent of San Diegans can afford to purchase a median priced home.
Lori Pfeiler, board member of the Equinox Center and Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity, said the cost of housing is becoming a crisis.
“The policy makers are behind the eight ball,” she said. “They don’t realize this crisis is coming.“
Pfeiler, who is the former mayor of Escondido and chaired the regional planning board, SANDAG, for some years, should know. She said the region will need to build more than 200,000 new homes to accommodate the growth that’s coming.
“The growth is going to come from our children and grandchildren, not from other areas,” she said, “and we would like our children to stay here. The more families that end up having to double-up because their college graduates can’t find a home that’s affordable, the more they’ll realize policies need to change so we can have affordability.”
And it’s not just policies that need to change, Pfeiler said: over time people will realize their attitudes need to change too.
“When you show up at a city council meeting and say, 'I don’t want that housing development,’ you’re directly impacting your children and grandchildren.“
Pfeiler said the generation of 20 and 30 year olds are making choices to live closer to where they work even if it means living in an apartment or a condo, rather than making long commutes
Livia Borak is part of this new generation of San Diegans. She lives in an apartment in Encinitas.
“It’s about a mile from the office, “ she said, “so I can walk, I can ride my bike, and I don’t have to worry about sitting in traffic and commuting.”
Borak doesn’t have a garden but she grows herbs and greens in pots outside her front door. She works for the Coast Law Group in Encinitas, which is heavily involved in lawsuits over how to develop the region more sustainably. Borak believes the regional planning agency SANDAG, which controls transit, has to take more of a leadership role over the cities, which control housing.
“SANDAG has to say we’re going to put transit where it makes sense,” she said, “and the land use has to follow suit.“
SANDAG is made up of representatives from the region’s 18 cities. Recent political feuds in both the city of San Diego and Oceanside over who should be appointed to sit on the SANDAG board are indicative of the growing importance of the regional planning agency.
Borak said the current battles over which city gets more money from SANDAG is not going to result in good regional planning for a sustainable future.
Housing and traffic are just two of many factors measured in the Equinox report that affect our quality of life. Water is another vital element.
Ann Tartre, executive eirector of the Equinox Center, said water use is on the rise again this year, after two years of serious conservation.
“There’s a few factors that resulted in water consumption going up in the region,“ she said, “because so much of our water usage is focused on landscaping, people tend to use more water when there’s dry weather.”
The improving economy is another reason water use is creeping up again. Plus, Borak points out, the County Water Authority has halved its budget for promoting water conservation. The water agencies know conservation is the cheapest way to make supplies meet demand. But they also need the money from water rates to build infrastructure, so the incentive is not to promote conservation.
Tartre said she is working with San Diego companies to sign on to the goal of creating a more sustainable future. Ann Hunter-Welborn of Hunter Industries in San Marcos is working on a corporate social responsibility report.
”When we identified the fact that we wanted to reduce our environmental footprint,” Hunter-Welborn said, “we made a commitment and so we started looking at what we could do in taking baby steps.”
Hunter manufactures sprinkler systems, which are made of plastic.
“We make out products out of oil,” Hunter-Welborn said, “so we are definitely using a lot of the earth resources. My conscience just says that we have to address that head on and say, ‘ this is what we do in our manufacturing processes and this is what we’re doing to mitigate that.’”
The company is monitoring energy use, it has a target to cut waste to zero and it is turning some of the grassy areas outside their building back to natural habitat to save water.
“Once we have a report, “ Hunter-Welborn said, “hopefully we can influence other people to do the same things with their own companies: influence our own customers to look at their operations.”
Ann Tartre of Equinox said some trends are improving; for example, air quality is better in San Diego than in many other California urban areas.
“It’s looking this year that there’s cause for hope,” she said, “but it’s not cause for celebration yet. We think the region has a long way to go in terms of becoming a model for sustainable development.”
Tartre said the results of the Dashboard report are not showing that the region is doing as well as it could, but she believes the region has potential to become a model.
“We have so much innovation here,” she said, “amazing universities, protected lands, so much going on.”
The report is fuel for an ongoing conversation about how to accommodate another million people living in the region over the next two decades.