By Gary Christensen, Melissa Stern & Tyler Sandstrom, The San Diego Union-Tribune
For those of us lucky enough to call this place home, we are well aware that San Diego is pretty near to being paradise. The last time you had visitors from out of town, how proudly did you parade them around boasting about our weather, lifestyle, history and recreational offerings? We’re guilty. Frankly, it’s hard not to.
The question is, who deserves to enjoy our little corner of heaven, and will a blow to our economic future make this place less than paradise?
That question is more appropriate today than ever because our housing stock is, and has been, essentially frozen. That’s a serious problem for those of us who live here now and love it. And a bigger problem for employers and our economy.
San Diego County needs housing, new housing, in a range of different types and price points. That will be good not just for the next generation of San Diegans — our kids and grandkids who want to raise their own families in the county — but for those of us who plan to grow old here.
A countywide initiative aimed at the November ballot intends to make this problem worse. In fact, it’s a solution in search of a problem that does not exist.
The so-called Safeguard Our Countryside Initiative hopes to curb home building, while completely failing to recognize that new housing is being added at a glacial pace. Over the last decade, a mere 500 new homes have been built in the unincorporated area of the county on an annual average. To say that need outpaces supply is more than an understatement.
Then there’s traffic. The initiative makes what is already a bad situation even worse.
Traffic is not coming from the 500 new homes every year, it’s coming from the forced commute. By failing to provide homes closer to where we work, we’ve pushed people out, up north to Riverside or out east, extending their commutes and adding 50,000 commuters over the past decade. With this initiative, we can look forward to tens of thousands more commuters every morning and night. Now that’s a problem we need to fix.
These commuters are the local workers who drive our economy. Displacing more of them is not just a traffic issue, it’s an economic issue.
A refusal to build more homes will exacerbate each of these problems, not solve them.
In addition, insufficient housing for our region’s employees dims the prospects of enticing businesses to locate here, remain here or invest here. The exodus of California employers to Texas and other more affordable states is no myth.
The ballooning cost of housing is also part of why San Diego County has been passed over, most recently by Amazon’s HQ2. Our paradise didn’t even make the short list.
Our county is a hotbed of innovation in high-tech, biotech and engineering, so opportunities such as this should be a perfect fit. Yet it’s clear that we can’t rely on our track record of success and talent alone. Infrastructure and housing must be part of the equation as well.
And when the economy suffers, we will all feel it. Stagnant or dropping revenues due to out-migration of residents and businesses means fewer resources available to fix our roads and freeways, or to d emergency services like firefighting.
And the most outlandish thing is that this initiative sets its sights on unincorporated areas of the county. Yet the facts are in stark contrast to the proponents’ claims about out-of-control growth. A full 95 percent of unincorporated county land is set aside, protected and preserved from development in perpetuity. Now we want to close off the remaining 5 percent?
The county Board of Supervisors has not been friendly to developers. On average, it takes longer than 10 years for a project to be approved due to the rigorous study and planning required under county law and the California Environmental Quality Act. Claims about building proposals being rubber-stamped simply aren’t true.
For these reasons, folks like ourselves have asked the Building Industry Association of San Diego for help in fighting this measure, and we certainly intend on giving it all we’ve got.
The initiative would do nothing but make the problems we’re already facing bigger and nastier. It does not deserve our votes, let alone our petition signatures. Please join us and our neighbors across San Diego in defeating this attack on our region’s future.
Christensen, Stern and Tyler are members of the Building Industry Association of San Diego and of the San Diego YIMBY (Yes-In-My-Backyard) Movement.