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Housing Crisis Shifts Conversation On Where New Homes Belong

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The San Diego Association of Governments is scheduled to vote on how to distribute more than 171,000 homes throughout the county. Many cities and towns are being asked to plan for far more housing than ever before.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Elected officials from around San Diego County will be making a big decision tomorrow on the future of housing. Cities must plan to build enough housing to accommodate population growth. KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen says the housing crisis has changed the conversation about where that growth should be happening.

Speaker 2: 00:18 Hi Lois. Hi. It's so nice to meet you. Lois son. Richie is 72 retired and a long time resident of Encinitas. Well, this is

Speaker 3: 00:28 studio apartment and I'm a story collector and have a little nonprofit and this is my office and my [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 00:35 home son. Riches walls are lined with books, mostly memoirs and 250 diaries filled with her own writing. These are all of your journals,

Speaker 3: 00:45 these and those up there and then in the closet over there and

Speaker 2: 00:51 Sunridge is lucky. Years ago a patron helped her pay off this 400 square foot condo, but with little saved for retirement. Her living situation still wasn't stable. She looked into selling and moving into a subsidized rental apartment, but in a city where 80% of the land is zoned for single family homes, affordable housing is nearly impossible to find. Much less build.

Speaker 3: 01:14 One of the difficult parts about being in the conversation about housing and Encinitas is that we have created laws that have made it more difficult for us to build housing.

Speaker 2: 01:28 That conversation continues Friday when local leaders will gather to decide how much housing each city in the county will have to plan for over the next decade. Encinitas. Mayor Catherine Blake Spear was one of the elected officials who came up with a methodology to guide that decision. She says in the past, cities including her own could get away with blocking any growth from happening and the State perceives that that is what has created the housing crisis, so we have a lack of supply of homes because so many cities have said, we're not interested in more homes here and we got ours. We're going to close the door after us. Under the new methodology, a city's housing allocation is determined by two factors, how much public transit it has and how many jobs there are. The goal is to allow more people to take transit to work or if they have to drive, at least it's a shorter commute.

Speaker 2: 02:19 Although the methodology and concept make sense, it doesn't take into account the nuances of each individual city. Richard Bailey is mayor of cornetto. If leaders approved the new housing methodology, his city would have to plan for a thousand new homes. That's not much compared to other cities, but it's 20 times what cornetto was asked to plan for it the last time around. Bailey says the methodology should take into account some of his city's jobs are actually overseas in the military, and he says the city of core Nado has authority over only a fraction of its own land. Then the question comes down to, well, who who's responsible for stepping up and throughout the bay region, many

Speaker 4: 03:00 cities have already stepped up, including Cornado and so I think it's important that we take a a look at what cities have already done historically and make sure that all the cities throughout the region are stepping up to do their fair share.

Speaker 2: 03:12 I mean, I'm not sure that that's really a legitimate position. Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blake Spear says the methodology for allocating housing throughout the county has to be fair and explainable to the public. I think that every city has their particular reason that they think their numbers should be different and lower. I, of course, really like my colleagues on the San Di Board and the cornetto mayor, but I don't know if he has a different methodology that would apply to everybody or he's just asking for our carve out. I have been extremely fortunate back at her studio and Encinitas low, as Sunridge says, she's now getting by thanks to the charity of friends and colleagues, but she knows others aren't so lucky. She says, the way things are going, only the rich will be able to live in the communities where they work are going to be segregated. We're not going to all come together and live together and, and I, I'm, I'm really not wanting to have that kind of city is my hometown. Elected officials are scheduled to vote Friday on a draft methodology that will guide its housing plan, whatever they settle on it. We'll also need approval from the state.

Speaker 1: 04:18 Joining me now is KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Welcome. Thank you. So Coronado's mayor says adding 20 times more units than previously required while harm the character of his town. And we'll get to that in a minute. But what are some other cities in the region going to be required to add?

Speaker 2: 04:36 The city of San Diego has the greatest share of housing and that's probably what you would expect being the largest city. Um, it's about 108,000 and that's also up from the previous cycle that this happens. Lemon Grove has about four times its previous allocation around 1400 imperial beach close to the same number. That's more than five times its previous allocation. Uh, a couple of cities or jurisdictions are getting fewer numbers. So San and the unincorporated county, um, are getting just a fraction of what they previously had. And that's just a reflection of the fact that they have very little transit and little and few jobs. Um, but these overall, these, these are, we're talking overall numbers here and built into these overall numbers are targets for very low, low income and moderate income housing and factored into the calculation is what's called an equity adjustment. So if you're a a low income community, you don't have to build as much low income housing as higher income communities.

Speaker 1: 05:34 And how is this process different this time around than in past decades?

Speaker 2: 05:39 So what I, what Mayor Blake Spirit told me was that in previous, uh, cycles when this, when the SANDAG would go through this process, typically what happened was the, a local jurisdiction, the city or the county would come up with their own general plan. They would zone for housing, different parts of their town and the SANDAG generally defer to those local decisions. Uh, and you know, maybe make some adjustments here and there. Many cities just chose not to add any new housing in their local plans. And so no housing actually ended up getting built. And this is where the state came in and basically said, no, you have to, um, make these goals a little bit. You have to give them a little bit more teeth. And also you have to base them. They have to be furthering the goals that we have as a state to reduce vehicle travel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaker 2: 06:26 So that's why SANDAG came up with this formula that says, the more jobs you have and the more trains that you have, the more homes you have to plan for. Right. And it seems odd for some cities to balk adding a more housing after all. Doesn't that add up to more tax revenue, revenue boost in the local economy? Yeah, well sometimes is the short answer. Um, let's also remember prop 13 basically freezes the taxable value of a property in place and only adjusts it really just for inflation. Um, and only when that property is sold is it reassessed and then the city can get more tax revenue from that, uh, that property, retail and commercial properties, however, bring in additional revenue for this city, like sales tax. Um, so a lot of the experts in the state say that this is part of why we have this big imbalance of jobs and housing in many of our communities because cities are incentivized to add those jobs.

Speaker 2: 07:19 Um, but they're not as incentivized to add the housing that that would allow those people who work the jobs to live near those jobs. Um, and another thing is that new development gets people angry. So when the neighbors show up to city council meetings, worried about, you know, the apartment building that's going up across their street, they're talking about traffic, they're talking about infrastructure. They're not necessarily thinking about the city's bottom line. So nimbyism at work there, no answer. Anita said resisted having a housing plan is mandated by the state. A judge in December ordered won't be adopted. What's the status of that though? Yeah, well a little bit of backgrounds of voters in Encinitas passed a local law that requires at public vote every time the city wants to increase density on a piece of land. Um, the, the city failed to have a, uh, housing element that was compliant with state law, um, but was trying to get a new one approved and, and it put that a plan to the voters twice.

Speaker 2: 08:15 And both times voters rejected that plan that would have brought the city into compliance with state law. Uh, last December, a judge basically, um, you know, as you mentioned, suspended this local law requiring a public vote. And so now as of, I believe it was march, the city has a legally compliant housing element or in the state calls for adding 171,000 housing units throughout the county. And preliminary estimates have corn auto getting about a thousand. Cornell. Those mayor says that means drastically changing is Shitty, destroying its charm, requiring major overhaul of zoning rules. Then there's the suggestion of cornetto getting other cities to take on more units instead. How might that work?

Speaker 1: 08:56 A corner have something to trade? You're going to see a big negotiation here of Brexit system [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 09:02 well, this, this kind of speaks to how things were done in the past and how SANDAG is really trying to change the conversation here because they can't just keep deferring all of these decisions to local leaders. So, um, mayor Richard Bailey told me that he wants a weighted factor to apply for each city's number that would calculate, uh, or take into account the city's existing density. Um, and so that, you know, cities that have done more to build dense housing in the past should be given credit for their, um, their work. In other cities that haven't, um, should be asked to do more. Uh, he says that core Nados density is actually quite high when you factor out, um, all of the land on the, on the island that belongs to the state or the federal government or the port of San Diego. Um, but those, that is also somewhat true to an extent for a lot of other cities in the county.

Speaker 2: 09:50 Not every city has complete control over every piece of land in its jurisdiction or within its boundaries. So, uh, you know, if, if the SANDAG board takes, um, the mayor as suggestion, um, the end result could end up being that cities in the back country or the unincorporated county could end up getting more, um, housing allocations and that kind of conflicts with the state goals that the requirements that, that this, that there be more infill development and more development around public transit. Um, so I think we can expect some policy debate about this formula on Friday. Um, and ultimately the board will, the SANDAG board will have to find something that the majority agrees with and that the state will be able to accept.

Speaker 1: 10:35 Well, a lot of people waiting and wondering today about how these 171,000 housing units are going to be parsed out. I've been speaking with KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowlin. Thanks, Andrew. My pleasure, mark.

Speaker 5: 10:49 Uh.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.