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San Diego County Fast-Tracks Waivers To General Plan For New Housing

July 24, 2018 1:38 p.m.

San Diego County Weighs Fast-Tracking Waivers To General Plan For New Housing


Alison St John, North County reporter, KPBS News

Related Story: San Diego County Fast-Tracks Waivers To General Plan For New Housing


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.

Tomorrow San Diego County supervisors will take the first of several votes that could ultimately allow developers to build 10000 new homes. K PBS North County Reporter Alison St. John says years of community planning could be abandoned in an effort to address San Diego's housing shortage.

Looking down from a hillside in North County's unincorporated area you can see new houses springing up on lots in Harmony Grove and the valley below. Local resident J.P. Tabor says the community agreed to the 700 homes under construction but developers are now proposing 700 more on land that was supposed to be protected from development. And he says none of the homes will be affordable even to middle class families earning San Diego's median income.

Some of these projects should have at least 20 percent of their stock affordable to the median income. At the moment none of them are affordable to the median income.

The homes being built in Harmony Grove Village are selling for between six hundred nine hundred thousand dollars. San Diego County has only approved just over 1000 new housing permits in the past year but it's poised to open the door to 10000 more in the next three months. Labor says the supervisors are under so much pressure to encourage new development that they've found a way to circumvent a legal limit on how many changes they can make to their general plan for growth.

State law does limit the amendments to the general plan to four per year. So what they've done is they've come up with a tactic where they are going to hear multiple plans at once and that they're going to treat that as one amendment.

Ironically there's an incentive for developers to choose this rural land to build on. It's cheaper precisely because it is zoned for little development. That's one reason years of community planning is now being abandoned as supervisors make ground amendments that allow large masterplan communities on land like this. Gary London is a consultant to the developers applying for permission to build here.

There's no question that there is an efficiency in building large ranchero projects. The problem is today that most developments are smaller because we've run out of land. In fact the only land that's available whether it's zoned correctly or not is in the unincorporated areas that's why there's so much pressure to try to make some of that land available for development London says developers can't get residents to approve even land that is zoned for development.

And he says young families don't want to live in urban apartments. They want single family homes.

The greatest need that we have right now are for families that are facing this crisis can I continue to live here and raise a family or should I move out of town.

At a recent county planning commission meeting Debra Rosen was one of those pleading for more housing.

I have to tell you I lost my daughter at 25 years old and I lost her to Idaho said. I can't afford a mortgage and it's because there's not enough homes for sale here.

London dismisses concerns that the new houses are not affordable and instead calls them attainable. He says North counties where new jobs are being created and it's time the county let go of their general plan because it was a bad place. For anyone to suggest that the general plan is a bad plan is denying 10 years.

Of diligence and thoughtful consideration that went into designing and developing a plan.

Nicole Cafritz head San Diego's climate action campaign she says sustainable planning includes infill development in urbanized areas not giving wholesale approval to developments in far flung parts of the county generating longer commute. Not only is it troubling that the county is considering major sprawl projects at housing. Where it's not supposed to go but it's even more troubling that the county is abusing its power. And just. Accelerating the adoption. Of these. Projects Faber says. It's the supervisors really want to address the shortage of affordable housing. They should require some affordable housing in return for granting the waivers.

If you're going to give away sound planning and kind of throw the whole process away because that's what this is 10000 houses is basically saying we don't care about the general plan anymore let's just randomly build as much as we can everywhere. Then you need to at least get secure something from the developers on that.

The Harmony Grove project to just the first of seven major amendments the supervisors are poised to approve this summer. So far they have not required that any of these new homes be affordable not even for middle class Deegan's Allison St John Cape PBS news.

And joining me now is Kay PBS reporter Alison St. John. Welcome ALLISON. Good to be here Maureen. How is affordable housing for the middle class determine how much would these units have to cost to be affordable to the middle class.

Well there are different estimates and when you go to these meetings you see people fighting over their estimates because some people say that they're affordable and other people say absolutely not and it all depends what numbers you use but if you take the average median. And then you calculate how much they can afford while not paying more than 30 percent of that income. It's amazing how little middle class people in San Diego can afford. And one calculation I saw said that someone earning the median income could afford only two hundred ninety five thousand which of course you can't even find a house for that in San Diego. So I think most middle class families are paying much more than 30 percent of their income.

If these are not affordable quote unquote houses for the middle class then that 25 year old daughter we heard about in the clip would probably not be able to move into one of these new houses anyway. So who would these new units be built for.

I think that's not a not a bad assumption. Maureen. And that the there is a possibility that some of these units will be being moved into by families from out of town people who have more resources because there is some claim that there are a lot of new jobs along the 78. And I think that's true. But those jobs don't necessarily pay above the average median income that would be enough to buy one of these homes.

Did you ask Gary London what he meant by these new homes being attainable.

This is a word that developers are using now it's kind of a buzzword they've dropped the idea of affordability and they're talking about attainable it means that you know if if you really throw all your resources at it you can just about to take one of these homes. So it's it's a new kind of buzzword that is used to describe the kind of houses that are on the market which are stretching everybody's resources even if you are middle class.

Now these opening up the these areas for development is supposed to be helping San Diego's housing crisis. But San Diego's housing crisis is mainly an affordable housing crisis for the middle class and even people who are under the middle class. Isn't that correct right.

Absolutely. The number of homes that have been built in this region about 150 percent of the homes that were promised for people over the median income have been built so that market is fairly generously provided for the number of homes being built for people in the middle middle income ranges only about different estimates but about 14 percent of what is required. And then the lower income slightly more interestingly because there are these subsidized housing projects affordable housing projects for the very low income about 20 20 25 percent of the ones that we need have been built which means of course that there is a dire shortage an increasing shortage of homes for the middle and lower income those upper income have quite a bit of choice right now among the new houses being built.

Is that the risk of wildfire by building out into the back country.

One reason that the county's general plan didn't want to see the kinds of development that's being proposed that and water was one of the reasons that a lot of the housing was sort of brought back in closer trying to get closer to existing infrastructure and fire. I think it's definitely of serious concern to people who live out there. I've heard people at meetings say that this is a you know life and death situation and the harmony Grove project which is one of the ones that will be considered tomorrow. Some people are saying there is an exemption from the need to have two ways in and out. There's really only one way in and out. So this is definitely an issue there's a lot of people living in little narrow roads and the roads will be widened. So you know some people say this is going to improve in grass and grass. But when you increase the number of people in the number of cars if there were a fire that came within a couple of hours to threaten a community there is a question as to whether people could get out in time.

Are there alternative housing proposals that would not do away with the county's general plan and would also add to the housing stock in North County.

I think this is one of the questions that some of the supervisors are asking themselves Was they approved this general plan and it did include the possibility zoning for enough homes according to what regional planners said we need. So why are those homes not being built. And I think that is one of the questions that really haven't been answered that there are smaller lots perhaps lots with steep slopes. The developers are less interested in those lots because they're less profitable they're smaller. They're not going to yield the profits of these big master planned communities. There are about 64000 homes in the general plan that have not been built. That could be built that would be you know zoned correctly. So that is one of the mysteries in this whole process is how come the general plan has not unfolded as people had hoped it would. Where people would build where the plan called for them to build.

Is it your sense that all the members of the Board of Supervisors are largely supportive of the big new developments that are under consideration.

Well we shall see. I mean the Planning Commission has definitely been supportive of most of them and I know that there is a huge pressure right now to build more houses. So it remains to be seen if the County Board of Supervisors decides that yes the need for more housing outweighs all the other considerations that they have used to make decisions in the past and go ahead and approve these. But the fact that they've decided to fast track it to pass you know seven different projects up to 10000 new homes in just three meetings which gives their local communities involve very little time to actually give their input suggests that they feel there's an urgency and that they are open to saying yes.

I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Alison St. John. Alison thank you. Thank you Maureen.