By Norma Damashek
Albert Einstein searched for a unified theory that would unite the forces of nature (he had his eye on relativity and electromagnetism).
I, too, have been searching for a unified theory—albeit a more modest one—to unite the forces of nature (human, in this case) that make San Diego the chronically backwater/ amorphous/ uninspired/ tunnel-visioned/ closed-shop/ quasi-corrupt/ rigidly-manipulated/shady city it is.
Come join the search. Just follow the trail of clues, click on a sampling of news links about San Diego, and you’ll discover a unifying theme that even Einstein would find surprising.
Clue #1: City governments are not bush league versions of the ones at the top. The people and forces that drive, define, and control city governments are different from the ones that steer state and federal government.
Clue #2: At the local level, control and power over city affairs is in the hands of a land-based growth coalition – private interests that profit from increased densities and intensification of land use. Another term for intensification of land use is growth.
Clue #3: Who belongs to this influential and politically powerful growth coalition? Corporate investors. Developers. Landlords. Bankers. Newspaper publishers. Land use attorneys. Real estate syndicates. Building trades unions. Realtors. Utility companies. Boosters like the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Economic Development Corporation, Chamber of Commerce, and Taxpayers Association.
Clue #4: The desire for and profit from growth is the glue that bonds and binds these land-based interests, even when individual members of the growth coalition are at odds over a specific political, social, or civic issues.
Clue #5: Plain and simple: the goal of land-based growth coalitions is to make money off land and buildings by promoting specific government actions and decisions that will maximize profits through increases in the value of their private land holdings.
(This contrasts with the goal of corporate interests, which is to maximize profits from the sale of goods and services while trying to circumvent governmental involvement.)
Clue #6: What do mayors and city council people spend most of their time and attention on? Land use and growth: suburban retrofits… new office buildings… low-income housing… town centers… residential developments… land giveaway… construction labor agreements… tax incentives for institutions and corporations… funding schemes for sports arenas and convention centers… hotel and tourism expansion… height and building code variances… zoning changes… urban overhauls… infrastructure to keep up with demands of new growth…
(Note this inconsistency: on the national level, business interests condemn job creation and other government interventions in the private sphere. But at the city level, the pro-growth coalition actively promotes, engages in, and depends upon city government intervention to intensify land use and ensure maximum profits for the private sphere.)
Clue #7: In other words, growth-related land use decisions are the meat and potatoes of city politics. In fact, San Diego is a textbook example of a growth machine whose central mission is to maximize land values and profits for private owners.
We’ve reached the end of the trail of clues. It led us straight to the theory of the Growth Machine. Is it the end of the road for San Diego?
Not if we open our eyes to the way the growth machine works in our city and decide that the way things work is not good enough for our city, our neighborhoods, or our society.
Not if we dethrone the controlling, self-enriching, home-grown growth coalition that’s held our city hostage for decades.
Not if we replace our focus on growth (intensified land use for private benefit) with a focus on development (qualitative improvements for public benefit).
Not if we demand the creation of good and sustainable jobs that maximize public wealth through reinvestment in our streets, social services, sidewalks, sewer pipes, bridges, water stabilization projects, libraries, recreation centers, clean air, public transit, parks… in our arts, music, sciences, and education…
Only then will San Diego lose its civic identity as a backwater/ amorphous/ uninspired/ tunnel-visioned/ closed-shop/ quasi-corrupt/ rigidly-manipulated/ shady city and stand a chance of becoming a city to be proud of.
(You can read a fuller description of San Diego’s growth machine in action in Anatomy of Failure: planning and politics...)
Thanks for information that I, as an adult and disgruntled (although, I can never recall a time when I was “gruntled”) voter should have known. I always considered local politics as sort of the “farm team” for when these power-hungry lawyers and developers decide to run for State and Congressional politics. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
bob dorn says
Add, low-wage growth to the amorphous tea that’s been brewed here for a long time. Respectfully, I have to differ when you say San Diego has been “chronically backwater.” It’s politics, I think, anticipated by decades the piggish rutting pit that rules the nation today.
There was the Navy, that took up the Bay and moved into Balboa Park, and when the Marines wanted Miramar a strong movement to make that huge ground an airport was quickly eliminated. Before there was Manchester there was Copley, whose newspapers were allied with the land and growth behemoths to the same degree CBS and ABC and Toxic Fox, and the phony think tanks are allied to the GOP and Wall Street today; the original U-T ate liberals for breakfast and pitched Chamber of Commerce solutions relentlessly.
Top-down government started at the local levels all over this country. Sinclair Lewis and Stephen Crane knew it 100 years ago.
norma damashek says
The timing couldn’t have been better – today’s story in the SDFP by Frank Gormlie about densification and development in Mission Valley (“How to Destroy Mission Valley”) is a perfect example of the growth coalition at work and the role of the city as a growth machine.
By the way, credit for the Growth Machine theory goes to Harvey Molotch, who was on the faculty of UC Santa Barbara when he wrote the pivotal study “The City as a Growth Machine: Toward a Political Economy of Place.”
Norma, similar to Frank’s article, you don’t provide any solutions on how to address our city’s housing crisis. I’m not a fan of wealthy developers and their cozy relationships with our leaders either, so what are your alternatives to build the 330,000 housing units we need in San Diego by 2050? Those are SANDAGs numbers, not mine. Feel free to shoot the messenger, but younger San Diegans are already leaving in droves due to our city’s unaffordability.
As younger residents leave in droves, who will work the skilled high-tech positions important to our city’s long-term economic health (not the low-paying service jobs of our tourist industry)? Your “good and sustainable jobs” will depart as companies leave due to a lack of skilled younger workers. Surely you see the hourglass economy we’ve developed, and how housing costs are the driving factor.
Some ways to address this would be funding for non-profit developers, more cap and trade funds for low-income communities, the linkage fee, and increasing affordable housing fees. Why not offer these as viable alternatives, instead of penning the easy “it’s a conspiracy” stuff? If you can provide real, concrete answers, I’m willing to listen. Until then, articles like yours and Frank’s that are full of complaints and free of solutions are a disservice to your progressive readers.
Doug Porter says
Norma & Frank you must have ruffled some feathers.
Now we’re all supposed to gather around and sing Kumbaya with the same people who have ignored/screwed over communities, minorities and those of us without country club memberships.
It’s not like either one of them ever engaged or done anything positive, right? (Frank/OB Rag’s latest award and four decades of activism, Norma led League of Women Voters) Or is it that they DID engage and learned just how bad the system is rigged?
It’s fine if you want to disagree with them, but don’t denigrate them. And if your fellow travelers who spit out the word “progressive” like its a pejorative think they’re winning hearts & minds by being nasty, well God Bless Them for trying.
Doug, liberal NIMBYs like Frank and Norma are a huge part of why we’re in this affordable housing crisis. It’s all about “preserving our quality of life”, which to most of your entitled generation means ample free street parking and light traffic. What about the quality of life of their children who can’t afford to live here? At least their parents have all those activism awards on the wall.
Real progressives work to find solutions to our affordable housing problems, not just complain about what victims we are of the “Growth Machine”. Maybe it’s time for embittered folks like yourself, Frank and Norma to move aside on housing and density issues and let a new generation speak for themselves.
Sing kumbaya? What a sad statement. No, demand developer concessions like the $50 million Civita pumped into Mission Valley infrastructure. Are you saying we should ask San Diego taxpayers to foot the bill (rather than Civita) for the new bike lane and sidewalk I use to get into Mission Valley? Because they’ve shown repeatedly they won’t even pay to maintain our existing infrastructure, much less improve it.
Brent Beltran says
Feel free to offer solutions in a submission. You can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be waiting for it.
Thanks Brent, but I already write regularly at sdurban.com. Between that and my “real” job it’s difficult to write more. Please see my posts there for more detail. But in general, let’s build housing near transit, develop mixed-use projects on our commercial streets, and preserve residential streets.
Specific to San Diego, let’s continue spending cap and trade money in pollution-impacted communities. And let’s demand Mission Valley and other developers fund alternative transit improvements, along with paying linkage and Affordable Housing Ordinance fees.
One example of where environmentalists engaged developers is micro-housing in Seattle: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/seattle-micro-housing-boom-111874.html
Brent Beltran says
Even if Frank and Norma proposed solutions do you really think the power players in San Diego would listen? There was a community plan in Barrio Logan that would’ve helped provide more options here but those power players opposed it with lies and money. They’ll do the same thing in other parts of San Diego if they don’t get what they want. Since money rules we can only call them out.
Let’s continue calling them out. But only doing that does absolutely nothing to address the affordable housing crisis in our city.
Brent Beltran says
And what other media outlets are addressing the problem? Or are you just picking on our all volunteer crew of community journos? Do you hold other media to the same standard?
bob dorn says
Paul, what positive steps do you want to see taken on our journey to utopia? The people you’re attacking are regular advocates of solutions for housing problems, health and general well-being.
A hotel tax to support the construction of affordable housing is one of the ideas this site’s commenters have argued for. Another might be, well, a working minimum wage improvement. Another might be solar energy policies. How ‘bou transportation improvements that help relieve the burdens of underpaid and overworked people, day-care centers, support for the schools… all these offer increased employment as a side benefit. And they’ve already been offered in many articles at this site.
Where do you stand on, say, the minimum wage? The prohibition of tax-supported stadiums for private ownership? Any other ideas you may have for improving the quality of life for people already here would be welcome.
Hi Bob, I agree with the people I’m attacking here on nearly every issue – except their opposition to increasing density near transit. They’re woefully out of touch on that one, as cities across the country use this approach to address their affordable housing problems.
Thank you for providing specific solutions. I support your hotel tax idea, the minimum wage increase, and solar energy subsidies. I also support using cap and trade funds for pollution-impacted communities to build housing near transit. I’m opposed to corporate welfare for the Spanos family.
I apologize for the harsh tone in my comments, but I thought liberals like ourselves were genuinely concerned about making things better for others, and housing might be our biggest problem in San Diego. Lack of empathy is what I expect from the other side. “No more density!” is just not an acceptable answer to “where do we build 330,000 housing units?”.
Brent E. Beltrán says
I don’t see any posts here at SDFP about not wanting to increase density near mass transit. Frank and Norma’s articles say no such thing. Your criticism was way off base.
As someone who grew up in Bay Park (and whose parents still live there) I was appalled by that community’s opposition to building a trolley station with housing. I live in Barrio Logan and look forward to increasing the amount of affordable housing like my place (Estrella del Mercado), which is two blocks from the trolley station, and all of the others that have been built over the last 10 years. They keep market rate condos and gentrification out of here.
Brent E. Beltrán says
The soon-to-be completed Comm22 in Logan Heights is another example of a project I support. It spruces up a blighted section of the barrio, is near a trolley station, and provides much needed affordable housing.
Frank’s article opposes development along the Mission Valley trolley line. He’s actually advocating to keep the golf course there as “open space” as skilled younger workers leave due to housing unaffordability. The Cushman project adds one or two trolley stations – how is that not near mass transit?
Norma criticized “private interests that profit from increased densities and intensification of land use”. There was no exemption near transit.
Glad we agree on Comm22 (cap & trade funding), Mercado and Bay Park. I’m not sure Frank and Norma would.
Brent E. Beltrán says
Frank’s article opposes overdevelopment in Mission Valley and the moneyed interests that are screwing the public. That area is horribly over crowded and ugly.
Norma opposes private industry running roughshod over the public.
bob dorn says
See yesterday’s Frank Gormlie piece on Mission Valley. No affordable housing there, just the same hi-rise condo jungle like East Pillage, now filled to a major degree by people who are leasing because they can’t get a mortgage.
And as to the 330,000 housing units you say are needed, those are SANDAG’s numbers. A good liberal like yourself ought to know that SANDAG does not represent people, it represents San Diego governments, and we know who owns those units.
Planning for growth does not now happen. In its place we plan to grow. Do you think San Diego has enough infrastructure to handle 330,000 additional dwellings? We don’t need 330,000 additional dwellings when our present infrastructure cannot handle that growth — as is so very evident in today’s Mission Valley.
I knew you’d shoot the messenger, Bob. You don’t have an answer to the problem, so blame SANDAG. When we can’t even agree that the city faces a housing crisis, I’m not sure there’s much more to discuss.
The infrastructure argument is a tired NIMBY one. New, high-density infrastructure is much less resource-intensive than the single family housing that dominates San Diego – where residents demand all new housing be stopped in order to preserve their quality of life.
My approach is to add inventory to put downward pressure on prices – simply supply and demand. Your approach is to prevent new housing, and we’ve seen the result of that – unaffordability.
What’s wrong with renting if you can’t afford a mortgage? There’s a real stigma in this city against renters, and that’s unfortunate.
bob dorn says
Paul, you flatter yourself when below you claim to be a messenger; you’re a troll, St. Paul was a messenger.
Below, you’ll try to set me up by saying my “approach is to prevent new housing” when I believe new affordable housing is needed, and have argued for it in this blog chain. Your argument can proceed only under a fabrication.
You throw the word NIMBY at people, though you don’t know where they live and what they believe about density. You assume I don’t like condos; I live in and own one. You speak of San Diego as a place “where residents demand all new housing be stopped in order to preserve their quality of life.” If that were true how did we wind up with East Pillage and of course you don’t mean “all new residents” believe in construction moratorium. You’re just saying it.
And you’re just being rhetorical when you tell us, “There’s a real stigma in this city against renters, and that’s unfortunate.” And it’s probably another fabrication. I know I don’t stigmatize renters, not at all. We need affordable housing, and apartments in another of those hi-rise glass and steel towers isn’t going to sell for $200,000 or rent for $1000 per month. Is it?
Tell us what you really believe, not what you intend to be provocation.
Brian Brady says
“A good liberal like yourself ought to know that SANDAG does not represent people, it represents San Diego governments”
See? You learn something new every day. I thought it was only conservatives who thought that SANDAG represented governments rather than the people
Bob, I never said I’m the messenger – SANDAG is. But because their facts don’t fit your NIMBY approach, you accuse them of lying. Sad yet expected.
I said residents of single family housing demand all new housing be stopped – not the entire city, nor all SFH residents. Examples include Bay Park and Allied Gardens, where residents fought a senior home because they wanted their community to remain SFH only.
You may not stigmatize renters, but when the head of the anti-Bay Park development group says, “We don’t want apartments in our community” – do you still think there’s no stigma against renters in San Diego?
Where do we put the 330,000 housing units Bob? Still waiting on an answer.
Anna Daniels says
Paul, I do not understand how you can call Frank and Norma NIMBY’s, or imply that they are unable or unwilling to address the need for affordable housing.
Are you suggesting that the massive development of Mission Valley is the answer to the lack of affordable housing in San Diego? What do you consider affordable housing? As a City Heights resident who lives on a block where the average family income is around $33,000 year, the need for affordable housing is critical and well over 80% of the residents in this community are renters.
Residents here would strongly disagree with you that housing costs are driving the hour glass economy. The redistribution of wealth upward is keenly felt here in the form of the lack of employment opportunity and the lack of livable wages. These alone render much of the rental housing unaffordable.
Over the past 27 years I have seen more and more millenials move into City Heights, particularly since rents have edged up in North Park. And I have also seen many of them leave or tell me that they will leave, with the birth of a first child. You know, schools…bigger houses … Did I mention that City Heights is also a majority minority community? You didn’t throw that into the mix, so I will.
Which brings me back to development in Mission Valley. If I understand your argument correctly, we need this kind of development because it will help address the flight of skilled high tech millenials from San Diego. So you are essentially making the pitch for affordable housing for young people making @ $90,000 year, the average wage for skilled, high tech workers. Affordable housing clearly means different things to different people.
And as you note in another comment, these developers are required to provide public infrastructure. It is misleading to imply that the infrastructure provision means that tax payers are off the hook in subsidizing the resulting amenities. That is hardly the case. Many of these amenities require ongoing operation and maintenance. Libraries, fire stations and rec facilities that were constructed via developer impact fees are larger and require more staff than the majority of those older facilities south of 8. Operation and maintenance costs come out of the general fund. Which means those of us in older, more densely populated communities are paying for those larger facilities and their operation costs. How do you suggest dealing with this equity issue?
You mentioned the SANDAG finding about housing. What you omitted is that SANDAG’s fifty year plan forecasts a county with a majority LIM population. (Their term, not mine.) That stands for low income minority. Which brings me back to Mission Valley development. Again.
Doug Manchester’s proposed residential development has been downsized from his original plan to seven stories on one end decreasing to two on the other. But still, isn’t this kind of high density development precisely what is needed to make affordable housing pencil out for the developer? It appears that at least one member of the Mission Valley planning group has a decidedly different take about her potential neighbors:
“… mostly positive reviews, such as that from planning group member Gina Cord. “In my opinion, the U-T redevelopment plans are outstandingly favorable and will bring additional class to Mission Valley,” Cord e-mailed. “We need the type of people that can afford to rent Class A office buildings and top-of-the-line condos and stores. I say ‘Bravo.’”
It remains to be seen whether the residential growth in Mission Valley will become synonymous with “class” or provide affordable housing–for skilled high tech millenials. Or perhaps they are synonymous.
What it won’t do is provide affordable housing for the workers in retail and restaurants that proliferate in the valley, or to low income seniors or to working poor families–the very people who are struggling to pay the rent in City Heights. And that is baked into the developer bread, into the invisible structural support by local government and served up to citizens who have come to their own conclusions about a LIM future. Bravo, indeed.
Thanks for the detailed information Anna. I support affordable housing in City Heights too. By “affordable”, I also mean “middle class” housing. Do you really think all skilled younger workers make $90K a year? I made less than half that when I started here in IT.
Of course I want the Mission Valley units to include housing that’s affordable to a wider range of people. But whatever price they list at, they will meet some of the overall demand. Overall there will be less inventory (and price) pressure on City Heights as a result. If some MV units are luxury units, that removes luxury renters from driving up prices in other neighborhoods.
Yes, high density development is exactly what’s needed for the projects to pencil out given land costs, and Mission Valley is one of the few remaining places where height limits haven’t killed development. I support the earlier, taller version. Preferably minus Papa Doug’s involvement and that horrible light on top.
norma damashek says
In my experience, SDPF articles and comments are highly valuable when they open up a wider perspective on life around us than we get from either personal observations or other news outlets in this city — valuable because if we don’t open our eyes to the complex web of power that dominates San Diego life, the public will continue to get screwed.
It’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that what proposals for heightened density in downtown, Mission Valley, and don’t forget One Paseo in Carmel Valley are designed to provide are upper-end condos and rentals, grossly inadequate numbers of affordable units, and considerable profits for landowners and builders. It’s not a simple matter of supply and demand… unless you’re dealing with the supply and demand for land-deal killings.
If affordable housing throughout the city is one of the goals some of us are after, maybe we should avoid dutifully swallowing the jargon about smart growth, city of villages, and transit oriented development and confront the way attempts to impose much-needed regulatory fixes like linkage fees, inclusionary housing, and living wages to address housing affordability are fought tooth and nail by the very participants in the city’s growth coalition as the ones described in Frank Gormilie’s story about Mission Valley.
This is a good conversation to clarify our thinking.
I support all of the actions you suggest in your last paragraph. It would have been great to see them in the original article. But it’s disappointing to see smart growth and TOD described as “jargon”. These are approaches that I believe can make San Diego more affordable due to reduced transportation costs (fourth highest in the nation: .
Our liberal governor and state legislature agree with this approach too, which is why cap and trade funds are targeted to TOD in pollution-impacted communities (see Comm22 in Barrio Logan).
Let’s apply pressure to the Mission Valley developers to make these projects better, not just throw up our hands and wish an “open space” golf course for the wealthy could remain – while our housing needs go unmet. That’s the conclusion I drew from Frank’s piece.
Anna Daniels says
Thank you for your clarification Paul. You are focusing on affordable housing needs– for the middle class– and basically agree that the proposed and actual Mission Valley development doesn’t really address the “other” affordable housing needs, as experienced by low income minority residents, who will become a majority in the county.
The frenzied effort to develop every last parcel of open space in San Diego will simply result in more of the same kind of development. And so called affordable housing proponents will provide the justifications that you just provided—-the development in the valley will take some of the housing pressures off communities like City Heights. And of course there will be support for affordable housing in City Heights! (Where else are the low income minorities supposed to live?)
Sounds like NIMBYism to me.
Sorry Anna, but a golf course is not “open space”. And you’re ignoring the affordable housing impact fees the developers will be paying. But I’m curious how you would create affordable housing in Mission Valley. I’m all ears. Let’s come up with specific requirements – would you be willing to drop parking minimums to reduce costs?
bob dorn says
You win, Paul. Now just go home.
James LaMattery says
First of all, I would like to commend you on the work you put into your article. I like the format of ‘clues’ and it has inspired me to post a series of comments taking each clue into thoughtful consideration. So, I would like to begin with my first post this week with Clue #1. Time permitting, I will try to devote the next seven weeks to posting a weekly comment on the remaining clues. I encourage the existing commentators below to join in over the next seven weeks as a new experiment-a ‘think tank’ if you will allow. There are a myriad of issues, and because of that, things can get conflated and true discourse can quickly diminish to name-calling when not handled one by one. Also, one’s ‘position’ on any issue can be greatly distorted by media sound-bytes, misrepresentations, etc. In an effort toward transparency, and in honoring everyone’s perspective, I encourage all who participate to take the time to listen to (read and absorb) each other’s point of view, as I consider you, the author of the article, and all of those that have commented so far, to be intelligent and articulate human beings.
Political offices are by nature, transitory. Politicians can quickly change direction on local or specific issues depending on the forces acting upon them. We witnessed this with the switch of Councilwoman, Lorie Zaph, flipping from being in support of allowing developers to exceed our height limit of 30 feet, and then quickly switching that position when she saw it might cost her the District seat.
This is why Raise The Balloon has not openly endorsed any District candidate in our quest to grapple with the development that will come to our community by way of sb375, and the 2008 General and Regional Comprehensive Plans. Our message from the beginning (when the final draft of the Morena Blvd Station Area Planning Study was released in Feb 2014) was one of public participation. In essence, the City’s attempt at public involvement was a complete disaster as witnessed at the Bay Park Elementary School ‘uproar.’ City Planning did not have its ‘ear to the ground’ in regards to potential resident reaction to proposed changes to our local Community Plan. Sadly, they had no clue as to how to ‘sell’ their proposition to those it would most directly and immediately affect. In another transition, our City Planning Director, William Fulton, resigned his position after stating how much he loved San Diego and had no plans to move. He has taken a position at Rice University in Texas, and to date, the City hasn’t filled his vacated office. Again, the nature of the job dictates residents must become self-reliant to succeed in the planning process.
At that time, we, the stakeholders, decided that we could no longer rely upon our elected and appointed officials to represent us and we set out to represent ourselves. This is the real reason we raised a 10 ft diameter helium balloon to 60 ft and marched it along Morena Blvd. In a form of shock and awe, we needed to first raise the awareness of our residents to the City’s proposals. We took no position, but rather, created a website (www.understandtheplan.info) so that residents could read and thoughtfully absorb proposed changes, and then come to their own conclusions.
Relying upon ourselves, and listening to our neighbors that will have to live with any Plan changes, we found that most (if not all) residents could gather under one issue- the attempt by the City to repeal or remove our existing 30 foot building height limit in the Clairemont Community Plan Area. The decision was made to include “NO 60Ft” to be printed on the balloon. The City had provided poor, if understated, visualizations of the 60 ft build-out they wanted. This provided us an opportunity to do so. I’m an active residential real estate broker, and to this day I have been unable to sell a home ‘sight unseen’ to a true homeowner that intends to occupy it. On the other hand, I’ve been able to sell many properties to investors who could care less about the ‘looks’ of the home and more about the rental income it could produce.
Our existing 30 ft height limit was initiated by a group of brave residents in 1971 due to the fact that Bay Park is not protected under the California Coastal Commission Act. We have looked to their success and are not waiting for the City to finalize their proposed amendments to our Community Plan. Instead, we have become pro-active and are initiating two of our own. The most important of them is the proposal of a GAR (Green Area Ratio) that is similar to Washington D.C.’s newly enacted GAR. This may come as a surprise for some, but it would mandate some of the changes that the Mayor has proposed in his Climate Action Plan.
My takeaway from Clue#1 is that politicians will do what is politically expedient for them to do. A true democracy must bear the ‘peoples voice.’ The days of electing politicians and expecting them to carry out the will of majority is over. Some might argue it never was. But if the people refuse to raise their voices, they are left subject to the transitory nature of their politicians. Our organization is a resident-based one which intends to fill in the gap of public involvement guaranteed in the community planning process by helping stakeholders become aware of the issues that face them and provide a platform to express their views.
Hi James, Raise the Balloon is opposed to any transit-oriented development near the new trolley stations, as far as I understand, because it hasn’t provided an alternative plan to the city’s. Given this, where do you recommend new growth go – in Murrieta and other distant places where it’s currently being built? Personally, I think continuing sprawl because we don’t allow infill is bad for the environment and our roads.
When you said, “We don’t want any new apartments or condominiums on Morena” on the local news, was this because you oppose lower-income residents living in your community? I heard similar comments from Bay Park residents when we met with them at Coronado Brewing. Today’s article in Voice of San Diego addresses this exact position:
I think it would be helpful if Raise the Balloon provided specifics on what, if any, development they would allow. Then we can debate the merits of each side, rather than just attacking the city’s plan.
James LaMattery says
The answer you are seeking regarding TOD is better addressed in Clue #6. I consider your opinions valuable and I was hoping to see your input/comments on Clue #1. Should we rely upon politicians or ourselves? My first post is ripe with ideas that we can center on for now, and the answer to where we stand on TOD begins with Clue#1. Once I come round to Clue #6, I can develop the TOD conversation more fully, but in the light of Clue#1, some things can be said now.
First of all, we want a voice in TOD that was literally taken away from us as early as 1995, according to Leslie Blanda, Project Development Manager for SANDAG, when the locations of the trolleys were decided upon and SANDAG considered it’s duty of due diligence to our residents was complete. Nevertheless, issues (such as station locations) don’t become truly relevant on the local level until the point of impact. In this case, the point of impact was the Morena Blvd Study with its proposals of actual TOD build-out. Our resident stakeholders need time to first understand TOD, give it thoughtful reflection, and then see what the city is proposing for us on the local level. TOD is a regional concept and was left by the mandate of sb375 to be implemented through the current planning process- one of public involvement through our Community Planning Groups- all the way up to level five of City Council vote. Getting our residents familiar with this process takes time.
POSITIONS AND ASSUMPTIONS
An assumption that Raise The Balloon is opposed to any TOD is premature. But I’m hoping that if readers and commentators will follow the process of what I’m attempting to do by taking issues one by one, all will come to a clearer understanding.
Please note that we are in a dynamic process of learning what our residents truly want, and that is taking time. Raising a balloon was only a first step toward this. People are now visiting http://www.understandtheplan.info to become familiar with the General and Comprehensive Regional Plans, and such concepts as TOD. Hence, you’ve been unable to find specifics about our position on TOD, as this was purposeful so that as we organized, we didn’t dictate to anyone what their position on the issues should be, especially one as complex as TOD. If residents could have pigeonholed our attempt to raise awareness to the issues as being one-sided, it would have defeated our purpose of public involvement and awareness. We are now just gathering their input, and as we do, when we identify positions that come from the true discourse, we clarify them, such as NO 60 ft. Whether one likes it or not, identifying what people don’t want is always easier than what they do want.
WHAT DEVELOPMENT WOULD WE ALLOW?
As to the development plan that we would allow, this too is undergoing a dynamic evolution as we consider more closely what the city wants and what we as stakeholders who are ‘familiar with the streets’ feel would work. As you know, the Morena Blvd Station Area Planning Study is just that, a study. We are soon to enter into Phase II of the planning process whereby public involvement will be solicited by city planners to the Study and their proposed changes to our Community Plan. We are still in the process of getting our residents to discuss the issues, which they are doing and neighborhood websites are popping up that carry such conversations. There is plenty of pro and con, but most hopeful of all, our residents are now taking the time to discuss the issues!
ARE WE NO-GROWTHERS?
We are absolutely not against growth. We haven’t spoken to anyone in our community that is completely against development. To the contrary, we have been punished in a way, living in a limbo of no new development along Morena Blvd for nearly nine years. When interested parties understood that the trolley was being located at all four access points along Morena, a bit of land-speculation ensued and key parcels were purchased. When those parties found out that the city would encourage TOD around those stations, and that they might be able to build to 60 ft, it made sense for them to stop construction of any kind until land use changes were pushed through the planning process and building heights were increased. This is why you see vacant lots or terribly under-utilized lots along Morena. Why would a developer build to 30 ft when he/she could quadruple their profit by building to 60ft? We doubt that any new development, as much as we want to beautify and upgrade the Morena strip, will occur until the battle of 60 feet is resolved. You can’t really blame developers for waiting as they have shareholders to answer to.
What we found while passing flyers out for the Balloon event was that 60% of our neighbors had no idea that SANDAG was locating trolley stops at all four points of access to our community. Here is where SANDAG and the City missed the boat. Public involvement is a dynamic process that unless understood and utilized, a gross under-representation of community desire ensues.
ARE WE OPPOSED TO LOWER INCOME RESIDENTS IN OUR COMMUNITY?
No. What we want is diversity in our neighborhoods, and we want housing of all types. What we have been given, to date, is a bad example of what affordable housing (per TOD) is. In particular, the trolley station build-out at Morena Vista (Linda Vista Rd and Friars). The developer was given density bonuses by the city to build an 185 unit apartment complex, wherein only 18 units were allocated to those who really need them-lower income families with children. I took an afternoon to apply for one of the Inclusionary Housing Program units and was told that there is a three-year wait. My next option, according to the representative on site, was a one-bedroom “Segovia” unit, 678 square feet at $1,650 per month. I had the option of upgrading to a 801 square foot one-bedroom unit at $1,750 per month. One of the density bonuses given to the developer was parking space for the residents that was originally to be $300,000 per year in monies (taxpayer) to MTS, but because of providing the 18 units to lower-income residents, that cost was cut to $150,000 per year. It was the developer of the project that benefited most. Income requirements for renting the available units is three times the monthly rent-that’s $5000 for a one-bedroom 678 square foot unit. By whose standards shall we identify what affordable housing is? We can get more into that question by Clue #6.
TOD IS OUR OPPORTUNITY
As TOD is discussed by city planners in our area, this will be an opportunity to require any affordable housing to be built, to be truly affordable. To date, we have seen none. But we are in the process of developing our CIAs (Community Initiated Amendments) to require any new construction that is allowed a density bonus to be just that-truly affordable housing. Should affordable rents be the same in Bay Park as Spring Valley? Our answer is yes. A family’s income is static and not necessarily affected by geographical location as much as it is by a decent minimum living wage in San Diego County.
I am disappointed that you didn’t comment on the GAR (Green Area Ratio) that truly is a Clue#1 item- i.e. not leaving all of this hard work to the transitory politicians and getting busy developing our own resident-based initiatives. It is one thing to debate public policy, it is another to influence it and guide it. The GAR is more than a local issue and think of the wonderful possibilities that could come from our community being the first to introduce such a community plan amendment for the whole of San Diego County to follow! We need to get fast to drought-resistant landscaping and covering our concrete with oxygen-producing species that are native to our geographical location. Residents will be much less opposed to 30 foot high condominium projects that are ‘greened,’ with everything from green roofs to ‘living walls’ that improve our quality of life and speaks to the sustainability of wild-life and ourselves, and beautifies our neighborhood, not take from it.
Thanks James, for your detailed post and explanations. I did look at the GAR link and I like it… we’re in the midst of replacing our lawn with drought-tolerant landscaping too.
You make a good point about developers waiting out the 60′ decision on Morena. Hopefully this will be resolved soon.
I’m glad to hear you are concerned about affordable housing near transit. Thus far some of the loudest voices from Bay Park haven’t been, and the conversation immediately reverts to traffic and parking. I look forward to your future Clue posts here.
James LaMattery says
At the local level, control and power over city affairs is in the hands of a land-based growth coalition—private interests that profit from increased densities and intensification of land use. Another term for intensification of land use is growth.
Too Busy Paying the Mortgage
Control and power over city affairs has been in the hands of those who aren’t so busy paying their mortgages that they have time to be participants in the planning process or by those whose income is fueled by it. Private interests will always be at the forefront of pushing growth because a city is built by private interests. I don’t bemoan this fact as much as I do the fact that residents of each community must participate in order to achieve goals that are good for all. The process of getting all interested parties to participate takes time. This process is underway in our Community Plan Area, so those that have watched closely have been unable to sideline our intents as “NIMBYISM,” “Racism,” or “No-Growthers.”
The “Local Level” is Changing
The City of San Diego’s Planning Process Manual makes much about public participation and input. The job of getting the public to participate has been, and always will be, the job of that very same “public.” This is what is underway in the Morena District—even though we have been labeled by media and others who either haven’t listened to us or had an interest is portraying us as one-sided. With the advent of social media and technologies that can gather input from residents, the landscape of who has had control in the planning process is changing from the powerful few to a closer ‘majority.’ When I created Raise The Balloon, this was the primary function—to raise the local residents’ awareness of the City’s proposals—to engage more participants. What has come out of that effort is a large body of residents now involved with creating our own Community Initiated Amendments.
The Current “Players”
The planning process has been controlled by powerful private land-based growth interests because they are the ones that make application for development projects. It has been controlled by powerful political agendas to increase density in the name of diversifying our neighborhoods, reducing carbon emissions, and providing affordable housing. Both have made for strange bedfellows—in fact, I can’t think of an issue (density) where more Republicans and Democrats have slept so well together. But note, our residents, made up of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents have also been easily banded together to look closely at what the City is proposing for our neighborhoods and taking proactive steps to insure that when density is applied, it has all of the other elements (besides buildings) come along with it, for example, a Green Area Ratio that will implement the other goals proffered by the Mayor’s Climate Action Plan, and the 2008 General and Regional Comprehensive Plans. Density (building more buildings) is the only portion of those visions and goals from the above that are being pushed by, well you guessed it, builders! Can you blame them? They are profit-making entities that answer to shareholders.
No More of the Same Old Thing
What we are discovering from the input coming from our residents is that they are more opposed to the ‘same old thing’ mentality of builders than they are to density itself. Maybe an illustration might help:
Recently, Ryan Green of Ryland Homes, and Dan Rehm of Hunsaker Associates (both big state and countrywide developers) presented a preliminary proposal to our local Community Planning Group meeting for 54 new single family homes to be built on the previous Stevenson Elementary School site.
What was presented was the ‘same old thing.’ Large 2200-3200 square foot homes will be built on an average of 5000 square foot lots. The builders are trying to ‘figure out’ a way to include 3-car garages. When asked about walkability, the answer was, “well we are installing sidewalks.”
Nothing except density (buildings) was taken from the goals and visions of the General and Regional Plans or the Mayor’s Climate Action Plan. Nothing about bioretention, green roofs, permeable paving, enhanced tree growth systems, harvested stormwater, vegetated walls, or sustainable native plants were discussed. Like all of the other builders in town, no provision for including low voltage and low water usage landscaping systems will be provided. This is because San Diego has no Green Area Ratio—even though much is spoken about the above in the Plans and the CAP. Residents want all ‘teeth’ in the CAP that means more than mandating transit oriented development (buildings). Who likes looking at a poor soul with only one tooth in their head? The other ‘teeth’ in the CAP relate to sustainability, controlling the ‘heat island’ effect, green areas, walkability, bikeability, etc. We want any new development to be a broad, fully toothed “smile.” When landscaping is left to the homebuyers to install, sub-standard water wasting systems prevail or front and backyards are left barren and underutilized. Builders should be required to build in complete landscaping systems scored appropriately with a green area ratio scorecard, just as is the case of Washington, DC. Leaving the ‘green’ out of building density is like letting an otherwise healthy set of teeth to rot.
America’s Finest City
Any new development in our community, transit oriented or not, should be built ‘better,’ not ‘bigger.’ I’m a full-time real estate broker and from my experience, what sells one home over the other is not necessarily size. If only the density (buildings) portion of our Plans and CAP are to be realized today, hoping for tomorrow to complete the other goals and visions is like waiting for the buyer, who could barely afford the purchase of the new single family home in the first place, to be expected to immediately install some decent landscaping. Density must come along with the other amenities of sustainability—such as a Green Area Ratio, or it must wait. This is what we are hearing from our residents; build it right, or don’t build it at all.