REGION — At the July 26 San Diego Association of Governments board of directors meeting, city and county officials voted to advance the proposed draft methodology that it must send to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for approval. If approved, it could mean tens of thousands of additional housing units built in North County in the next decade.
Called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), SANDAG’s version of it calls for the building for 171,685 new housing units during the 2021-2028 time period. Yet, not only do some board members see the number as high, some said they viewed the city-by-city allocation of housing requirements as flawed. Despite expressing those concerns, the board voted to advance the methodology due to pending state deadlines, offering the public a four-week period to review and comment, before the board convenes again on Aug. 23.
The draft methodology calls for a 65% to 35% balance between the existence of mass transit and jobs in an area in formulating how many housing units each city in the county should build during the next RHNA cycle. Debate arose over that balance among leaders of the different cities present about how that could impact their jurisdictions.
San Diego County Water Authority Director and National City Councilman Ron Morrison conveyed worries about good intentions leading to bad outcomes, going so far to say the plan could lead to increasing “economic segregation” in the county because its wealthiest cities —Poway, Del Mar and Coronado — have mandates to build far fewer homes than working class cities like National City, Escondido and Chula Vista.
“If I was a city and I didn’t have very much transit, I would look at this and say, ‘Guess what? I don’t want any transit in my town,’” said Morrison. “Because that’s going to cause us to have to take on more housing … And the other thing it’s doing if you take a look at how this spreads out, those areas that are low-income that have a lot of transit, who have taken on the burden of housing already, are the ones that are being asked to take on the larger percentage of it.”
Along those same lines, San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery chided some of the wealthier city’s representatives for using descriptions of their cities’ “community character” as a “pretext to exclude” low-income individuals.
“I know we don’t naturally think of it that way, but that’s essentially what it amounts to,” said Montgomery, then pointing to the landmark 1926 U.S. Supreme Court case Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. “But we have to be careful about how we use those words because our history tells us, even if we go back 100 years to Supreme Court cases where our Supreme Court Justices called our apartments ‘parasites,’ that is where that language is coming from.”
Georgette Gomez, the chairwoman of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and the president of the San Diego City Council, critiqued the methodology from a different perspective. She said she preferred a 50-50 split in housing and job centers due to her concerns about climate change.
“Obviously I’m a huge proponent of doing densification along transit and that’s something that is needed,” Gomez said. “But also, I do believe that we need to push the envelope on developing near where people are commuting to because there’s a benefit of greenhouse gas reduction, so I can see the 50-50 being beneficial for that.”
In some of the last remarks of the meeting, Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara said the city had some concerns about the RHNA as it stands because it could alter zoning plans and planned housing development that the city already has in motion under its General Plan. He said the city would soon share its own compliance plan, which would meet state housing equity standards, in the coming weeks.
Looking at the big picture, San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones said she disagrees with the entire concept of RHNA mandates, which see sees as flying in the face of housing market realities. Jones pointed to San Marcos, where three affordable housing projects have received city approval, but have yet to get off the ground due to lack of private capital.
Jones slammed the state’s shutter of its redevelopment financing agency by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011, a move she said has made developing housing even more difficult.
“They’ve tied our hands behind our backs and kicked us off a bridge in being able to achieve it,” she said. “I think people do not really understand because cities do not actually build the housing. It’s development, and they want to, although it’s very difficult to achieve that.”
In an interview after the meeting, Jones said she worries that the state could use housing mandates to bring civil lawsuits against cities, even those aiming to attract real estate developers to build housing in their borders. She pointed to the lawsuit brought by the state earlier this year against Huntington Beach as a case in point.
“They’ve always had that authority, but they’ve never really had a dollar amount associated with it,” Jones said. “For me, having a situation where that can happen is very problematic to me because I have to look at the financial future of the city. I like to be living within my means and when there’s an unknown that can possibility happen to me, I have a problem with that.”
Image courtesy San Diego Association of Governments