By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
The good news is that the City of San Diego has halted a decade’s old practice of allowing large single-family homes to be built in coastal areas expedited under the City’s affordable housing and sustainability program.
The bad news is that the City’s Development Services Department allowed single-family mansions to be built at all under a program that they were ineligible for – for a decade.
We reported in an earlier postabout this program and how developers of single-family units had their projects expedited and how one big-time insider was able to take advantage of his connections:
A developer and political insider – a former chairman of the San Diego Planning Commission – appears to have benefited big-time from a City of San Diego affordable and sustainability housing program – that he was ineligible for – by being allowed to construct single-family McMansions at the coast.
Tim Golba of Golba Architecture was given the green light by the City’s Development Services Department to obtain the permits for his single family home projects through the city’s “Affordable/In-Fill Housing and Sustainable Buildings Expedite Program.”
Andrew Keatts at Voice of San Diego:
According to city records, Golba’s company built 31 percent of all the single-family homes that were approved by the sustainable expedite program since 2006.
On December 7th, city officials said they will bring this all to a halt and no longer allow permits for single family homes to be processed through the city’s expedite program. This pronouncement – which has not been confirmed by a full City Council vote or Mayoral directive – came about only after a report went public by City Auditor Eduardo Luna at the City Council Audit Committee hearing on the 6th. Luna had found-
… many single-unit projects fast-tracked under the program between 2011 and 2015 provided “questionable environmental benefits” and were not designated as affordable.
And, according to the SD U-T,
Robert Vacchi, director of the city’s Development Services Department, appeared to hear the committee’s concerns, twice reassuring members that his department would immediately stop letting single family residences into the pipeline. …
“At some point those projects were allowed in and they were just never taken out,” he explained. “Obviously we’re going to look, as part of the other recommendations and responses, at revisions in the entire program.”
But how did all this come about in the first place?
Three recent press articles have been helpful in understanding it all: two articles by James DeHaven in the San Diego Union-Tribune and one by Andrew Keatts in Voice of San Diego. (San Diego U-T by James DeHaven – San Diego U-T James DeHaven and Voice of San Diego by Andrew Keatts)
For starters, DeHaven describes what happened:
San Diego wanted eco-friendly and affordable housing. What it got was dozens of large, market-rate coastal homes outfitted with solar panels.
It turns out, affordable housing accounted for only 13 percent of expedited projects completed over the past four years, according to the audit.
From these articles, then, we can construct a time-line of sorts.
2003 – the City Council approved the Affordable/In-Fill Housing and Sustainable Buildings Expedite Program. It was supposedly crafted to reduce the cost to develop affordable housing — and to encourage compact, energy efficient, urban development — by streamlining the whole permit review and process. Importantly, in order to be eligible for the program, it is required that projects include at least four housing units.
April 2006 – City Council committee meeting held during which an advisory panel suggested it would consider adding small residential projects to the program. This suggestion was never ratified by the City Council. What advisory panel was this?
It was the Sustainable Energy Advisory Board, and our old buddy Tim Golba was a member. In fact, it was Golba who made the proposal to open the affordable/ sustainable housing program to projects with less than 4 units. Kevin Faulconer, then a City Council member, sat on the committee. Golba stated then:
“What we’d like to do is take this program to the next level. There’s an incredible market that’s untapped for this.”
Again, this proposal was never approved by the City Council. But it turns out, as Development Services Department staff admitted to the auditor’s office a decade later, that they began allowing the smaller projects into the program, based on that hearing.
Vacchi – the current head of DSD – stated that these projects were allowed to be expedited anyway, at least in part because “at the time, there was capacity within the program to allow that.”
2008 – Tim Golba is appointed to the San Diego Planning Commission.
2011 – Golba sent out an email in which a draft proposal of a language change which would have changed the program to include single-family homes was sent to sustainable development industry members and city staff, including then-DSD director Kelly Broughton. The change was never officially made, but DSD continued to operate the program and allowed single-family developments “as long as staff had time to do it”, said Golba in his VOSD interview.
2014 – Mayor Faulconer appoints Golba as chair of the Planning Commission.
Meanwhile, Golba is regularly donating to Republican politicians and causes, particularly Faulconer’s mayoral campaign in 2016 and 2014.Golba contributed over $12,000 to City Council and mayoral elections since 2007.
2016 – Auditor’s report is made public at Audit Committee hearing. The City announces a halt to allowing single-family homes into the program.
While denying to the Voice that his political donations and connections were the grease that pushed his projects forward, Golba made some candid statements to Keatts, basically proving the point that in San Diego, where developers rule, advantages and benefits were made and the City’s department of development services provides the grease:
“There’s a lot of stuff at DSD that are done that way,” he said. “That’s why we all shed tears when we lose senior staff: We lose 30 years of how to do things, or how to interpret the code. There’s a lot that operates that way, more than we would ever want.”
It ends up being an advantage for those architects with a history with the city.
“Someone in Scottsdale comes in, reads the four-unit threshold, and gets scared away because he doesn’t know about an unwritten policy,” Golba said. “That’s not fair, but after 30 years of dealing with the city of San Diego, I like it being that way. We know what policies there are.”
The mayor’s spokesman, Craig Gustafson, said Faulconer agrees with all of Luna’s recommendations, including immediately ceasing single-family homes from participating in the program. Other changes to Development Services Department policies are expected to go before the City Council by the end of June, says Keatts.
Editor’s Note: OBceans and local members of the Planning Board had their own run-in with Golba as he presided over the disastrous Planning Commission hearing on the OB Community Plan Update back in 2014.