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Not All Housing Development Is Bad In A Drought

Water runs down a sidewalk on Adrian Street in Point Loma after the grass was watered by automatic sprinklers, April 10, 2015.
Katie Schoolov
Water runs down a sidewalk on Adrian Street in Point Loma after the grass was watered by automatic sprinklers, April 10, 2015.

A report by Circulate San Diego says denser new home developments can be water-wise

Not All Housing Development Is Bad In A Drought
Not All Housing Development Is Bad In A Drought GUESTS:Colin Parent, co-author of report and policy counsel, Circulate San Diego Coleen Clementson, principal planner, SANDAG

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Monday, June 1. Here are some of the San Diego stories we're following in the KPBS user. San Diego ends are only allowed to water their lawns twice a week beginning today. The new rules voted on by the San Diego County water Authority last month will help the county comply with statewide restrictions that also going to affect today. The San Diego City Council will be to consider a five-year contract extension with rural, Metro ambulance. The current contract expires this month. The deal would buy time to work do. Snags preventing ambulance contracts from being opened for competitive bidding. And it winded advisory has been issued for the desert areas of San Diego County, the National Weather Service is the advisory will be in effect from 2:00 this afternoon through 3:00 AM on Tuesday. Listen for the latest news through the day right here on KPBS. Our top story on Midday Edition, if you walk down San Diego city streets or glance around any urban neighborhood you are bound to see an empty building, vacant lots, a dilapidated house. But instead of identifying those places as signs of urban blight, new report sees them as a great opportunity. The report by circulate San Diego is touting the benefits of developing underused sections within urban areas. A concept known as infill development. The report finds that a big plus to infill development comes in water conservation. Something that San Diego planners are already exploring. Joining me is Colin Parent, policy counsel with circulate San Diego, that's a San Diego nonprofit dedicated to creating walkable Fibrin a Berlitz in common -- Colin, welcome to the program. Think for having me. What made you look into this for water supply? A big reason as is particularly San Diego because we are committed to smart growth development into locating places where people want to live and work near transit. We are in support of the kinds of development that can accommodate that. But we have been hearing a lot of pushback from anecdotally from existing neighbors and community groups opposing new developments because they expected it is going to have some sort of impact on the water supply in the region. So we really were the more we were hearing about this the more we were thinking we'd better take a look at this and see if there's a relation and the relation is there but actually the relation is infill development in these existing poor neighborhoods is actually really good for water supply. It is an efficient way to accommodate new residents without taking a lot of water. Colin, take us through some of the key findings of this report. Yes, so one of the biggest key findings is that infill development tends to use conservative -- less water than alternative forms of about like sprawl development. Some of these first -- some of this is intuitive which is infill development tends to be in smaller lots, they don't have the same kind of landscaping and yards so that the landscaping and other outdoor purposes I can to be between 50 and 70% of homes water usage. When you get rid of that or you have a much smaller your because as infill property, you are actually using much less water. There's also an issue about pipes, pipes and leakage. Tell us about that. This was the biggest surprise for me. We have researcher named Joe Cosgrove to put together the bulk of the report and one of the things he found in the review of the literature was that would've the biggest components of water usage is actually leakage between where the water is being generated in purified in getting to the ultimate end-user so leakage happens in those pipes. That can account for six between six and 25% of the water that flows through those pipes. The longer those pipes are the farther away that those pipes are trying to serve development the more likely that you are going to have leakage. So having development occur more on the urban interior allows for water to be pushed with less pressure and at less distance and that results in less water leakage. It was a picture of what infill development looks like. I mentioned it in the beginning, but what really constitutes infill development in an urban area? Yes, I actually like liked your description. The technical definition for -- infill development is something about development that's either on a parcel that's already developed or on a parcel where it is surrounded by existing development. The idea is infill development is the kind of development that is happening in the poor neighborhoods, happening in places and a bridge you all agree our aware of imaginative their developments that are on what are green, called Greenfield, undeveloped raw land. Is a different -- is this different from smart growth because it sounds an awful lot like the high-density smart growth we've we have heard a lot of recently? Yes, it will develop and in smart growth, very interrelated concepts. Infill developer and usually refers to the particular parcel, and infill Vollman parcel where smart growth tends to be the start -- the cities are sometimes used interchangeably but smart growth is more of a concept of planning and about deciding where you are going to allow development so it is a little more broad Some of the findings of your report similar to a bit counterintuitive. For instance, if you have that say you have an empty lot in an urban environment or you have maybe a car lot and urban development and there's -- it is developed let's say into a 20 unit on flex. How does that conserve water? Obviously, the car lot would be using less water than the people were going to be living in this development. Right. So I think the important part to think about for this report in this concept is that the alternative to infill development is not no development. It is not that people are not going to be living, more people are not going to be leaving in the region so if you don't allow someone to redevelop that car lot into an apartment complex or townhomes then they are going to go ahead and live farther out from where they want to live. The effect of that is there going to build more more sprawled of elements, you going to increase the amount of traffic people are going to generate by trying to get where they want to live and by the way, you going to be preteen housing opportunities for them that are going to be water inefficient. They are going to require way more water to water their lawns and to maintain their budget a lot. Some people to say the alternative is no development and shutting down development in the sense that if we don't have the water supply to sustain higher population or haps we should not continue to build anywhere. So the water Authority in San Diego has already said very recently that they have enough water for the amount of plan development that's going to occur in San Diego. San Diego has data on population section and they are all using together to examine how much growth the committee can accommodate and it is just also just not realistic that people are going to not want to come into San Diego and by the way and this is another great data point that SANDAG has provided is that most of the growth that San Diego is it from people moving into city go. It is from natural reproduction. We are not going to stop that just because we are not allowing a particular new infill development to occur. Speaking of SANDAG we have a guess on the phone right now, Coleen Clementson. She's a principal planner at SANDAG and will come to the program. Thank you, Maureen. Is this concept of infill development part of the overall regional plan for the County? It is. The SANDAG Board of Directors put in place a regional vision almost 10 years ago calling for smart growth development which really is about focusing our future growth in urbanized areas of the region. Part of that goal is to be able to preserve almost half the region as open space but also to make more efficient use of all of our infrastructure investment. Thinking about water, energy, access to transit and the kind of transportation investments we are making to get the most out of all of those. How -- can you give us an example of how different cities in accounting or incorporating this kind of development? That's an excellent point and one of the things that are Board of Directors and our plans stresses that infill development, smart growth of elements is not a one-size-fits-all. A lot of times we think about the great success of downtown San Diego where just in the last two decades there's been a tremendous amount of housing growth at fairly high densities. But we're seeing that happen not not only in downtown San Diego, but the first ring suburbs and we are seeing that in other cities as well in the city of La Mesa and the city of lemon Grove. There's a lot of work going on in Western Chula Vista and national city end up in North County along the sprinter line from Oceanside through Vista and said Marcos and it to Escondido. There's a smart growth concept map that the local jurisdictions all 18 cities in the County of San Diego work together with SANDAG on identifying that -- 200 areas for this kind of development to occur so that's really the framework or our urban infill development to support the smart growth vision. Coleen, one of the reasons we've seen developments pop up in outline undeveloped regions of the County is that urban areas have become too expensive. So is there a way to incorporate infill development in smart growth with affordable housing? Definitely, we're seeing a lot more affordable housing built near transit. This new project in lemon Grove in the downtown lemon Grove area with affordable units. This a proposal in southeastern San Diego and in Kanto where a developer is working with the transit agency to build structured parking and put affordable housing and mixed-use on that lot in collaboration with the transit agency. SoI think we are seeing much more of that happening with affordable housing. Coleen Clementson with SANDAG. Thanks so much for speaking with you. That. Sure thing. Thank you, Maureen. Colin Parent is with us and we are talking about a new report generated by circulate San Diego about infill development. That may pose that question in a forum to you as well, Colin. You are having a launch event in the development report a new apartment development near Balboa Park. It is a model of urban infill. But do rents range from $2000 to $79 a month so how is infill development especially in the city of San Diego ever going to be affordable? It is a great question so I think it is really important to understand that this more than one kind of housing affordability. You have some kinds that was the kinds 10 was mentioning our subsidize affordable housing so it is a subsidize based on government entity and they build in the make it available for people of modest or low income then there's also market rate affordability. Making the stuff that most people registered on the open market. You actually in order to build subsidized affordable helping you actually have to go through the same exercise and entitlement entitlement process that market rate developer does. If a lot of times those affordable developers are getting the same sort of pushback from folks who just don't understand the water benefits of infill and they say we would love to have these affordable housing in our community but we don't have the water to accommodate it. But we are hoping this report helps that affordable developer built -- able to have that conversation and say we have -- if we don't do this the alternative is we can build a go before will housing father filled in this going to use even more water. So from what you are saying infill development is getting a significant amount of pushback comes in communities. What comes to mind is it is not completely the same but it was the smart growth development One Paseo in Carmel Valley, a big push from the community was to become is going to cause too much traffic so now there's been a compromise to scale down the size of that. But that whole controversy went on for years, is that the kind of thing that you are talking about? That's deadly an example of an infill developer project and as we've seen there's been a substantial conversation between the proponents of that development in the community it seems like they may be reached an agreement there will be able to move forward with something but we are hoping that are report is going to be able to inform that conversation so the developer will be able to explain to the community members the water benefits of that kind of development and community members will be able to take a look at it and say to themselves does this make sense? Does this alleviate some of my concerns about the water needs in San Diego? The single family housing bit into the infill development concept? Yes. Absolutely.'S times you have someone who's building a single family home in an existing developed area. We've seen a lot of development recently not and the traditional superfamily that maybe really with but rather the townhomes or the row home models so that's actually a big part of the development types coming online especially in some of the North Park Southpark area. What it does come to affordable housing are you seeing the infill development concept being used in anywhere in the city of San Diego when I speak about affordable housing? I'm talking about subsidized and I'm talking about market rate affordability that is actually taking place and people are moving in and its working? Yes. Absolutely. You can see one of the ways preferable housing is financed in California and nationwide is a tax credit program and in California you really cannot get access to those tax credits unless you are near transit and the less you are -- if a requirement is you are near transit or other amenities like grocery stores or schools the likelihood is that were building that development in an infill sites. Okay, I've been speaking with Colin Parent, policy counsel with Circulate San Diego. If you would like to see Circulate San Diego Drupal you can see on our website at Colin, thank you. Thank you.

Not All Housing Development Is Bad In A Drought
In the midst of California's drought, concern is growing that adding more housing for a growing population will use even more water. But a new report from the advocacy group Circulate San Diego says not all development will suck up water resources.

In the midst of California's drought, concern is growing that adding more housing for a growing population will use even more water. But a new report from the advocacy group Circulate San Diego argues not all development will suck up water resources.

Infill Development Report
A report from Circulate San Diego on infill development's impact on water use.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

The report advocates for infill development — building where existing homes are or in places that are surrounded by other homes. The idea is to fill in vacant spaces instead of building outward, which creates sprawl, said Colin Parent, one of the report's authors.

"Infill development, instead of being a threat to the region’s water supply, is instead a useful tool that local governments need to embrace in order to ensure that we have enough water for our future," Parent said. "The alternative to infill development is not no development but sprawl development, and sprawl development is the most water inefficient kind of development. We really need to be embracing infill development for the future of our water."

New homes that are part of infill development are usually built on smaller lots, which use less water for landscaping, according to the report. Shorter lengths of pipes to deliver water also are used, which decreases water leakage.

"All pipes leak, but some pipes leak more than others depending on their age, size, and the pressure required," the report says.

The report also lists other benefits of infill development, including improving water quality by reducing the amount of paved spaces that allow water to run off into drainage systems.

While both the city of San Diego and San Diego County have plans to create infill development, Parent said there needs to be political leadership to get projects approved.

"We've seen a lot of conversation recently of community pushback for new development," he said. "It makes it very difficult for local governments and local decision makers to approve those projects if there is that kind of community opposition. The problem with that is if we really want to take seriously our existing and probably future water crisis, we really have to be allowing for development to occur, especially the kind of development that is going to be efficient, and that's infill development."

Not All Housing Development Is Bad In A Drought

KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to the Midday and Evening Edition segments.