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Some Accuse Mayor's Housing Proposal of Creating Loopholes for Developers

San Diegans showed up at City Hall in mass Tuesday. They accused the mayor’s office of introducing a proposal that would undo height limits on coastal development, under the guise of a plan to incre

San Diegans showed up at City Hall en masse Tuesday.  They accused the mayor’s office of introducing a proposal that would undo height limits on coastal development, under the guise of a plan to increase affordable housing. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more. 

The item on the agenda was called the “affordable housing density bonus.”   It was billed as a way to encourage developers to put up more affordable housing. If they provide units for moderate income earners, they would be allowed to build higher density projects. Higher density usually means higher buildings.

John McNab of the community coalition of the San Diego Coastal Alliance, said that raised red flags. He said the incentive could give developers a loophole around a long standing restriction, passed by voters, that limits new buildings to 30 feet in coastal areas.


McNab: Every developer is always looking to sneak around the 30 foot height limit

McNab says the measure was originally put on the consent agenda, which means it would have passed with no discussion at all. But when questions arose about its true impact, the city attorney agreed to investigate and the council discussed it in open session.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer tried to reassure the crowd in city chambers.

Faulconer: We are not going to do anything that impacts the 30 foot height limit. That is very important, I know, to everyone on this council.

But McNab said the community has had experience of council reassurance that was no match for developer strategies.


McNab: It doesn’t matter what the councilman says because that wouldn’t hold up in a court of law -- it’s what’s actually in the ordinance.

McNab cited the McMillen housing and hotel developments at the former Naval Training Center site, which found ways around the 30 foot height limit.

Mayor Jerry Sanders’ Development Director, Jim Waring, told the council the density bonus is not intended to break the 30 foot height limit – it’s simply to comply with recent changes in state law. Waring said it’s one of the easiest ways to encourage developers to build more affordable housing.  

Waring: It is a state mandated formula to use economic incentives to try and get private interests to produce some affordable housing. If we as a city can’t get ourselves around this, then I’m not sure what we really can do.

Councilmember Donna Frye said she supports affordable housing, but not at the expense of community plans. One of the main movers of the 1972 community Initiative, Proposition D, that  limited height along the coast to 30 feet, is Mignon Scherer.

Scherer:  This was a truly people’s effort -- it was a city wide vote because the message was that the people of san Diego and the world regard the coast line as sacred.

The city council ultimately agreed to postpone a vote on the proposed density bonus. The city attorney will look at how to tighten the language, and another public hearing will be held later next month. Alison St John, KPBS News.