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New Park Proposal Looks To Incentivize Affordable Housing Development

 June 30, 2021 at 11:28 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego has a new proposal designed to overhaul. Many of its more dilapidated neighborhood parks, and it's doing so by luring developers toward the city's transit hubs. The proposal is not only designed to revitalize parks in historically underserved neighborhoods. It also aims to incentivize developers into building more affordable housing in the process. Joining me with this story is voice of San Diego reporter McKenzie, Elmer McKenzie. Welcome. Speaker 2: 00:27 Hey, thanks. Thanks for having me. So Speaker 1: 00:29 How has San Diego's method of funding parks overlooked poor neighborhoods of the city? Yeah, Speaker 2: 00:35 Well, let's start with the way that the city raises money for parks right now. Um, the way neighborhoods raised money to fix up their parks and actually libraries and even support fire and police is through this thing called the development impact fee. And for decades, uh, each of San Diego's 50 plus neighborhoods could sort of charge developers, whatever they wanted for each category and parks were typically, or are typically the largest and most expensive charge for those developers of those different categories. So when cities, when the city decided to look at writing a new parks master plan, um, because the last one they wrote was 50 years ago, they took a look at each of the neighborhoods sort of fee savings accounts and noticed there's this huge inequity where a lot of the richer and newer neighborhoods were charging a lot more for parks. And then they were just knocking out these parks projects that were on their wishlist for development in their area. Speaker 2: 01:26 So they were even doing it to the point where they were using fee money for other things like fixing up streets. Um, but then this kind of double whammy existed in older areas of town where, um, there's less space to develop because the neighborhoods are built out. So that means there's not a lot of fee money to come in from these developers and plus the neighborhood plans, which set those goals for like parks projects that they want to do. They haven't been updated in a while. So they're probably undercharging for parks compared to some of the newer areas in town. So that's part of the problem Speaker 1: 01:56 You wrote earlier this year about some of San Diego's saddest parks. Can you describe what you found? Yeah. Speaker 2: 02:03 Um, I sort of milled about areas that I saw had a lot of like parks projects that were just waiting to be done. And I landed in Sherman Heights area. And just notice there was a really only a joint use park there, meaning it's basically a school yard that also the neighborhood can use on occasion. And it was just sort of this sad gate, like very high gated park, um, where kids were sort of running around in a circle without much access to any kind of amenities granted this was during the pandemic. And I'm not sure if kids can use the facilities from the school when the pandemic is over or now, but, uh, it's definitely, uh, quite different from what you might see in some of the nicer areas of town like university city, which has a lot of money from development impact fees. Speaker 1: 02:50 And you write that this new parks master plan is really an affordable housing incentive. So explain how that works. Yeah. Speaker 2: 02:57 So the, um, in this new iteration of the plan decided to kind of work in some discounts for developers who wanted to pursue building more affordable housing. So for instance, um, these parks, like I said earlier, these parks fees are some of the most expensive fees that a developer pays for building any housing unit, the at a single family home or an apartment. And so some of the discounts that they worked in there, uh, would include like a 50% discount on a park fee per unit, um, for any affordable housing reserved for the poorest of San Diego. And so that's like an apartment renting for $1,500. Um, and they also get a 45% discount for building housing reserved for median income residents in the city as well. And they also get discounts, um, for building a park on site as part of their development. And that's a 10% discount, which is apparently something brand new that hasn't been proposed before. Speaker 1: 03:57 Another aspect of this proposal is to prioritize improvements to existing parks over creating new parks altogether. So how would that work? Speaker 2: 04:05 Yeah. So another piece of the Park's master plan, that's actually under hot debate right now with, uh, people who advocate and pay attention to parks, master plans, uh, is the city is also proposing a new structure where it prioritizes and gives sort of a point system towards amenities and things people can use in parks. And, uh, which means parks that don't have a lot of amenities, like maybe Sherman Heights would maybe get a low score and perhaps rise on the priority list for areas that do need attention. Um, but some of the parks advocates are worried that the city is not, uh, prioritizing looking for new land to add new park space to the city. So that's something under contention right now. Speaker 1: 04:51 So this is being proposed by mayor Todd Gloria's his administration, and he has some support from community groups. What do those community groups say about, uh, why they like this plan? Speaker 2: 05:02 All I know that I've talked with one industry association, the building industry association, which is a something that represents developers in town and there for the plan, primarily because they say these parks fees, uh, because they're so high that the most costly fee that they pay, they sexually said that impedes the ability for them to provide more affordable housing. And so they're a fan of these discounts, obviously. Um, and some of the other community groups that are in supportive parts of the plan and not in supportive others are, um, the parks and recreation coalition. Um, I mentioned in my story as Susan Baldwin, she's a member of that advocacy group. That's paying very close attention to the plan they're in favor of the parks plans, uh, effort to prioritize equity. And that one of the other proposals is, uh, for the first five years of the plan, the city wants to 50% of all new park fee money in communities of concern. And that's all defined under something. The city created a while ago called the climate equity index, which identifies neighborhoods that are historically, um, maligned by historical policies, uh, racist and structural issues like Southeastern San Diego is one area. And they want that actually to be more than five years, this parks advocacy group does. Um, and they're also not really in support of the point system that I mentioned earlier, which prioritizes amenities over acquiring new parks. Speaker 1: 06:33 I've been speaking with voice of San Diego reporter McKenzie, Elmer and McKenzie. Thanks for joining us today. Thanks so much.

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A new city parks proposal that hopes to revitalize the city's overlooked parks also will incentivize developers to build more affordable housing in the process.
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