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South Morro Hills
The proposed North River Farms development site is near Wilshire and North River roads in Oceanside's South Morro Hills. File photo
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Measure L raises broader issue of affordable housing in Oceanside

OCEANSIDE — Housing development in Oceanside is a hot-button issue this year due to Measure L, which will determine whether or not the controversial North River Farms project will come to fruition.

Those for the project argue that the 585-home development will help the city’s economy, and without the project, the state may soon crack down on the city to mandate more housing. Those against the project argue that there is plenty of in-fill development opportunities that will help the city meet the state’s housing requirements and that the project overall is detrimental to the city.

Regardless of the outcome, cities around the state, including those in San Diego County, are mandated to show how they can accommodate a certain amount of new homes regardless of residents’ income through a process called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation or RHNA.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) determines the number of new homes each local jurisdiction needs to build and how affordable those homes should be to adequately meet the housing needs of everyone.

HCD determined that San Diego County needs 171,685 housing units built between April 15, 2021, and April 15, 2029. This eight-year period of time is considered the sixth housing element cycle.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) approved its RHNA Plan on July 10. According to the plan, Oceanside needs a total of 5,443 housing units built during the 6th cycle.

Specifically, the city needs 1,268 units to accommodate households with very low incomes, 718 units for low-income households, 883 for moderate-income households, and 2,574 units for above moderate-income households.

According to Oceanside Principal Planner Russ Cunningham, the methodology behind the allocation process looks at the relative population of cities and what growth potential exists based on each city. It also takes into consideration equity.

“It comes down to ensuring all cities are accepting their fair share of lower-income housing,” Cunningham said.

The state’s housing-element law mandates that housing must be included as part of each jurisdiction’s general plan. Local governments must adopt these plans and regulatory systems that provide opportunities for housing development without excessive processes that hold up such development.

“We need to demonstrate like every other jurisdiction that we have the land resources under the appropriate zoning to accommodate that number of houses,” Cunningham said.

Part of this process for the city includes parcel-level housing inventory assessments in spaces that are either vacant or considered underutilized.

“We see the recycling of properties developed with single-family homes after residents reach 50 or 60 years of age,” Cunningham said. “Those properties present opportunity for additional housing.”

Commercial districts also allow for residential properties typically within mixed-use buildings, such as a downstairs storefront property with apartments above.

The city has also reduced some regulatory barriers, including a streamlined environmental review process.

Earlier this year, the city began its process of completing its General Plan Update, which included creating a Smart and Sustainable Corridors Plan and developing a community plan for South Morro Hills, where the North River Farms project would be built.

The city has started gathering input from residents regarding its General Plan Update through online surveys. The first online survey asks residents about the city’s 17 neighborhood planning areas, which includes areas like South Morro Hills.

Ultimately, the state is concerned about the undersupply of housing and housing costs, which is contributing to “any number of problems from homelessness to overcrowding,” Cunningham said.

Many communities have resisted further housing development by making the regulation processes more difficult.

Over the last few years, the state has passed a number of laws to essentially allow the state to intervene and control how the land can be used and developed in local jurisdictions.

“That authority is granted to cities but the state can preempt that authority when it finds there are matters of statewide concern, so in recent years the state has preempted local zoning in cities,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham believes that if cities don’t start looking at ways to accommodate growth in a “reasonable and sustainable way,” the state will continue to preempt and pass more legislation that takes control away from cities regarding housing.

“We’re trying to be responsive and very mindful of where the state seems to be heading, and we’re trying to do what we can so as not to thwart the state’s goal of providing more housing,” Cunningham said.

The city has considered the rezoning of certain commercial districts as well as the rezoning of agricultural land for more housing.

City Council narrowly approved rezoning 176.6 acres of agricultural land in South Morro Hills to make way for the 585-home development. Measure L is a citizen-led referendum that places the fate of the project in the hands of city voters.

Integral Communities, the North River Farms developer, recently sued proponents of the referendum under Senate Bill 330, a new state law that intends to address the state’s housing shortage and affordability crisis by boosting supply and expediting housing production.

A January 2019 staff report from Development Services and the Planning Division noted that the city had adequate capacity outside of the North River Farms project area to accommodate its regional fair share of housing growth during the current housing element cycle.

It also states that the staff believes the city will be able to demonstrate adequate capacity without the project during the sixth element cycle.

Those opposed to North River Farms argue that the development does not meet “smart growth” standards.

Cunningham explained that most of the city’s smart growth opportunity areas are along corridors served by mass transit, like near Sprinter stops and Coast Highway.

“If you look at smart growth in those terms, then it would be hard to define development in South Morro Hills as smart growth because as of right now it is not served by transit,” Cunningham said.

At the same time, the preservation of agricultural land plus the need to provide more opportunities for agritourism and bringing more business to farmers in South Morro Hills sometimes challenges smart growth goals. Cunningham explained that city staff needs to find the best balance of all its goals for the city.

State officials have indicated to Cunningham that they recognize building more housing is one state priority among many, including the preservation of agricultural land and habitat, and growing smartly and sustainably so that development doesn’t add to congestion.

“It’s good to hear from state officials that they recognize that housing is one of many priorities of the state and that it requires balance,” Cunningham said. “They generally see Oceanside as working in good faith in finding that balance between finding housing, preserving habitat, reducing vehicle miles traveled and reducing air pollution.”

According to resident Dennis Martinek, allowing the project is “really poor planning,” especially before the city finalizes its neighborhood vision for South Morro Hills. Martinek previously served on the Planning Commission for over 16 years and is a retired professor of business, economics and urban planning.

“Planning staff was strongly opposed to it and recommended it for denial, and the Planning Commission denied it,” Martinek said. “City Council was somehow swayed, but people in the area don’t want it.”

Martinek believes there is enough space for “in-fill development” throughout the city that will help Oceanside meet its RHNA requirements rather than contributing to urban sprawl.

Given the uncertainty of the project at this point, Cunningham said city staff will try to demonstrate its ability to meet its RHNA obligations without relying on the potential housing that North River Farms would provide.

Oceanside and the other cities in San Diego County have until April 15, 2021, to demonstrate that they can meet their new housing allocations.

10 comments

Maria September 27, 2020 at 4:53 pm

Where can I get a VOTE NO on L sign for my yard?

Mitch Melrose September 23, 2020 at 7:52 am

NO on L

Build up not out! Low income housing needs 6 story apartment buildings.

Kristen Johnson September 6, 2020 at 10:50 am

It would be nice if the article explained what the “above moderate income” is. We need the most houses in that range.

Patte Hughes September 4, 2020 at 9:41 am

Cunningham said it best “Cunningham explained that most of the city’s smart growth opportunity areas are along corridors served by mass transit, like near Sprinter stops and Coast Highway”. Futhermore River Road’s two little lanes are used daily as a short cut to Camp Pendleton from the 76 to Vandergrift and would become even more of a detriment to escape the next fire as the community experienced during the 2017 Lilac fire evacuations. It’s a big NO on L!

Kevin Leahy September 4, 2020 at 5:51 am

I think we undervalue virgin land across the county. It’s a remarkable resource that we ought cherish.

RE: multi-family developments, particularly apartments. Seem most of those in Oceanside and Vista that I see underestimate the number of vehicles the residents will use – and park. Resulting in bleed over parking in nearby-residential areas.

And finally, our arterial roads are getting choked beyond usefulness. Put differently – where are all of these cars going to drive? In the planning documents, a project always seems to satisfy the ‘traffic impact’ by widening the approach aprons onto and off of the artery. But that doesn’t mitigate the main road itself.

I’ll vote NO on L.

David Palmatier September 3, 2020 at 10:21 pm

Vote NO on L in November. South Morro Hills should remain agricultural. It is prime farm land and should not start the slippery slope of development in the Northeastern corner of Oceanside which may lead to all of the agricultural land being developed into housing tracts. Since this has always been an agricultural area, it is served by North River Road which is inadequate to serve as a corridor for 585 houses. If a fire could occur in this area, as has happened in the past, a disaster could happen. California is known for allowing housing developments to encroach into areas that have resulted in great destruction by fires. This area would be one of those areas. Oceanside Principal Planner Russ Cunningham points out that the development in South Morro Hills would not meet the test of smart growth because it is not served by transit. Please note from your article that “A January 2019 staff report from Development Services and the Planning Division noted that the city had adequate capacity outside of the North River Farms project area to accommodate its regional fair share of housing growth during the current housing element cycle.” The Oceanside Planning department and the Planning Commission both recommended a denial of this project. Indescribably, the city council, after hearing many, many residents of Oceanside speak against this project, went against their own planning department and planning commission, and approved this development by a slim 3/2 vote. Of the 3 that voted for the project, one was the appointed mayor and another was in his first year in office. Now the citizens of Oceanside have rallied to put this project on the November 2020 ballot. I encourage all to vote NO on L to deny the project from going forward. North River Farms is a misnomer, in my opinion, but instead is a 585 housing development and should not be built on prime agricultural land.

Kevin Brown September 3, 2020 at 1:57 pm

Oceanside needs affordable housing. This does not mean 3000 sq foot houses, and it does not mean 400sq foot euro-style studio apartments. We need to find a balance where people can buy, not rent the American Dream.
This land is used for flowers, roses, and daisy’s. This land could be used to help supply a local market with much needed veggies, but then again, they’re just boxed up and shipped to market, there is no local farm to table pipeline in our community.
there is nobody in my great state of California willing to build affordable homes, they are only willing to approve land for apartments.

Carolyn Krammer September 3, 2020 at 12:36 pm

This proposed project is nothing but a glorified housing project that contributes to Sprawl development. The goal for our city should be affordable homes that our residents can afford. Attainable is not affordable. Transportation corridors is where our housing needs to go, not on Agricultural Land. Let’s finish the South Morro Hills plan first. The people of Oceanside will vote in November. The ballot measure letter is ‘L’. I will be voting NO.

Nadine Scott September 3, 2020 at 11:16 am

Oceanside has had an approved Housing Plan for many, many, many years. IN NONE OF THEM IS S MORRO HILLS MENTIONED AS A PLACE FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING. Further Integral is quite disingenuous, perhaps even lying, when they fail to mention the section of the law that the state does NOT want sprawl on Agricultural Land. How about that? A developer who lies!
(c) The Legislature also recognizes that premature and unnecessary development of agricultural lands for urban uses continues to have adverse effects on the availability of those lands for food and fiber production and on the economy of the state. Furthermore, it is the policy of the state that development should be guided away from prime agricultural lands; therefore, in implementing this section, local jurisdictions should encourage, to the maximum extent practicable, in filling existing urban areas.

Derric Anglin September 3, 2020 at 9:33 pm

⁸I Agree!There are Homeless Veterans struggling to have Shelter over their heads.I reside on North River Rd.Oceanside near the Farms,traffic is hectic!.Housing is hard enough to find!As a Single Father and Parent being Disabled will Never See THAT DREAM HOUSE,INDTEAD CALIFORNIA IS SET FOR RENTING TO THE LOW INCOME FAMILIES.This Creates HARDSHIP,HOMELESSNESS,AND SUICIDE,TGERE ARE MANY HARD WORKING PEOPLE THAT AFFORD A HOUSE IF GIVEN THE CHANCE,IF THEY CAN AFFIRD TO PAY MONTHLY RENT (EXCEPTIONALLY HIGH)I FEEL WE CAN OAY THAT MORTGAGE ON TIME IF GRANTED THAT CHANCE AND OPPORTUNITY.

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