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MTS Parking Lots Could Be Key To San Diego Housing Crisis

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April 25, 2018 1:43 p.m.

MTS Parking Lots Could Be Key To San Diego Housing Crisis


Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News

Related Story: MTS Parking Lots Could Be Key To San Diego Housing Crisis


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

>>> There's a growing consensus in San Diego that a lot more housing has to be built to emerge from the housing crisis.
>> They want to allow it to be built near public transit -- public transit. The county's main transit operator MTS owns acres of vacant land they could play a key role in solving the housing crisis.
>> We are at the Grantville trolley station. This is a nine acre parcel of land that MTS owns. Most of that land is taken up with about 250 parking spaces.
>>Reporter: Coline Parent is a partner of circulate San Diego without -- with -- which advocates for smart growth. It is just west of SDSU. Two thirds of the parking spots are empty. It is similar to other parking lots and pieces of land owned by the MTS.
>> It is not doing anything . This is public land. Taxpayers bought this. We should be using it for public purposes. Maybe it is a public purpose for the parking that it is being used for, but for these empty lots, they're not doing anything for anyone.
>>Reporter: Circulate San Diego released a report on how MTS can do a better job on encouraging more smart development on its land. It recommends MTS more actively seek out proposals through a competitive process. Second, it recommends lowering unnecessary parking mandates. Third, it recommends requiring developers to include low income affordable housing in their projects.
>> It is an affordability crisis. We need to make sure working people are able to continue to live in San Diego. There is an environmental issue. People who are low-income are much more likely to not own a car into right transit. It is better for the agency's bottom line and better for greenhouse gas emissions to make sure we have some low-income opportunities adjacent to transit.
>>Reporter: MTS has been successful in getting some land developed for housing. At this Encanto trolley stop, 67 apartments reserved for low income renters are currently under construction. MTS Rob Schupp says they approved the project in 2014.
>> We like to keep some of our assets for people to park. We were together with developers to preserve some parking for our transit riders. The developers -- it is incumbent upon them to get financing and sometimes that is what takes so long. Everyone has great ideas but you have to get a bank behind you to give you the money to build.
>>Reporter: MTS has a real estate department. They are looking for development partners.
>> We are open to all development suggestions, we are open to developers and brokers coming to us. Our property is all on our website. Our properties are big, they are very appearance, people know about them, and we welcome all comers to get the highest and best use.
>>Reporter: MTS has not made a habit of issuing West for proposals or RFPs . That would allow them to lay out their ideal scenario for development to get a broader range of responses from developers. If progress on developing MTS land has been slow, Coline Parent does not blame the staff. It is up to the board of directors, made up of local elected officials to demand better.
>> It is challenging to do development and how these conversations with neighbors and people will be impacted. It is easier not to take any action. But, that is not an option anymore. We are in a housing crisis and if we are going to take any of this seriously, we have to get the resources that we have and do something.
>>Reporter: The MTS board is due to discuss the recommendations in a future meeting. Andrew Mellon, KPBS news.

>>> Joining me, Andrew Bowen.
>> What is most of the MTS land used for X
>> A lot of the land is used for parking lots. Some is completely undeveloped and is not even paved over. Other parcels of land may have some degree of development but MTS recognizes it is not really the best use of that property. An example could be the Greyhound bus terminal right next to MTS headquarters near Penfield Park downtown. It is a low-slung building in an area where the land-use calls for much greater intensity of development. The potential or things like low-income housing or housing that is next to a trolley station, it could be better than just a Greyhound station.
>> What was the original intent of dividing the MTS with additional land adjacent to its stations?
>> Parking is one intense. Certainly with an eye towards the future, maybe turning it into something else. MTS is taking a fairly conservative approach towards preserving some of that parking looking towards the future. They say these lots may be empty now, what about the future? We will have a growing population. We want to preserve some of this parking for decades in the future when more people be driving to these trolley and bus stops. I think the point of the circulate San Diego report is that these decisions, things like the formulas to use, those should be made by the elected officials on the MTS board with input from the public.
>> Do most MTS passengers park their cars before they get on the trolley? Two no, quite the opposite. The majority of MTS passengers get to the bus or trolley by walking or biking. They may use rideshare or taxi, and many writers don't own cars. It is heavily transit dependent population. MTS recently asked people what was the greatest barrier to them accessing transit? You hear things like the convenience, the frequency of the buses or trolleys, length of distance they have to travel, the availability of parking at the stations was dead last. Two he began he reports that the rent field -- Grantville station. Without MTS issuing a request for proposals, they got a couple of puzzles for that stations land.
>> Yes. MTS has a list of inventory of real estate on his website and have real estate department that goes out and looks for things ad hoc. Two developers approached MTS with ideas for this land. One proposed a mixed income development, so that 42% of the units on site would be affordable for low income renters, the rest would be market rate. The other developer put forward a couple different scenarios, both of them apparently have -- so no affordable housing. Neither of these proposals would actually build the land up to its highest allowable density. If the goal is to provide the maximum number of housing units or homes for San Diego's, which is what the policy makers tell us is going to be necessary to get us out of this housing crisis, this is perhaps an instance where MTS might have benefited from issuing a request for proposals telling developers, we want as many homes as possible, we want some of those homes to be of audible, so please don't come with us -- come to us with anything other than that.
>> What is the challenge like for developers to work with MTS?
>> I think MTS is one hurdle the developers have to go through. The board of MTS is probably fairly open to developing on this land. They recognize the benefits of it. MTS gets not just greater potential for ridership, so if you have more people living next to the station, more people arrived, they also get lease payments. They typically do not sell off the land, they allow a developer to build on it and the developer pays them a lease. They retain ownership of it. Developers have to go through a lot of different hoops and work with the city itself where the property is. The city has the authority over zoning, building permits, and those processes with the city approval can often get politicized. Neighbors may be opposed to a large-scale development next year. -- Next door. Unions may want concessions paid to workers. And financing can be difficult -- public subsidy and financer who is going to believe you when you say this project will be profitable.
>> MTS spokesman Rob Schupp told you MTS properties are big.
>> The total lands mentioned in the circulate San Diego report is 57 acres. They say could support more than 8000 homes and more than 3000 of those would be reserved for low-income renters. That is a fairly crude analysis of the land. It assumes cities would increase the allowable density in a lot of these parcels. It assumes the developers which used to build up to that density. They would have to also take advantage of a state law that allows a density bonus, if you reserve more homes for low income folks. The point overall is that MTS has this land that it will not sell on its own. Because this real estate is so valuable because it is right next to transit and we have these goals of getting people to write more transit, it has a big potential for smart growth and this is exactly where the city of San Diego and many other cities in the state of California say all of our new housing should be built.
>> Andrew Bowen, thank you.