Reader Rant: ‘Point Loma Cannot Afford More Development Without Infrastructure and Water Improvements’

by on June 19, 2018 · 16 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Michael Winn

Water Rationing? Affordability? Traffic?

Elected officials in San Diego and California, both Republican and Democratic, speak about “growth” as if, “thou shalt build” was inscribed on stone tablets that Moses brought down from the mountain after a talk with God, whose name, by the way, is neither Manchester nor Trump.

Every new residence we build in San Diego adds a new demand on water resources, and in Southern California we must import water or extract it from sea water and/or sewage, which are expensive solutions and risky in view of the possibility of breakdowns, drought and seismic activity.

You may have read or heard the words, “growth”, from development industry pundits, politicians and government officials. They are talking about population growth that adds to total demands on increasingly scarce and expensive water and other resources.

Residents in their view, are equivalent to cash cows for enterprises that not only exploit scarce resources, like water, but also, benefit from financing, building, leasing and selling structures, as well as charging users for water, sewer and waste. It’s a set-up for investors but potentially deadly for the population, since the assessment prioritizes economic growth and ignores impacts on residents and vulnerability to disasters, you know, like those we’ve seen in Houston, Puerto Rico, Fukushima and Hawaii.

The unlimited “growth” mentality may seem to you like “business as usual” because development interests (builders, financial institutions and other advocates) have been funding election campaigns of officials at every level of government. Local newspapers and media carry advertising for campaigns and for businesses that benefit from development. Their press releases reinforce the mistaken notion that communities must develop and can’t say, “enough is enough.

Thank you, now stop. We can’t afford more development without infrastructure, water or other resources.”

No recent scientific assessment has been made of regional resources that tells us the population this region can sustain, without negative effects.

City governments promote development as a way to increase tax rolls. Elected officials depend on endorsements from government employees, so they must pay lip service to climate change, water costs, etc., but they haven’t addressed the CAUSE of the rising water costs, congealing traffic or declining housing affordability.

Last month, the Chinese government (for the first time) capped Beijing’s population at 20 million, actually relocating residents. But here in San Diego, politicians talk about growth as if the sky’s the limit, and they promulgate an idea that we have no right to limit development. If growth solves problems that growth creates, please, show me how that works!

Development without adequate assessment of resources creates conditions that reduce quality of life, increase water costs and damage the local ecosystem.

It’s no secret why Zapf, Gloria and Faulconer (to name a few) won’t oppose the idea that we must build more homes, even though our resources can’t sustain it. They must know we can’t build our way out of the housing affordability crisis: after 40 years, we’ve multiplied our regional population by 4x and affordability has steadily declined.  (Campaign financing filings explain their position.)

Another part of the “growth” conundrum is that scientific assessments of our resources are produced by SANDAG, a board composed of local elected officials, whose campaigns are funded by interests that benefit from development. Last year, the Executive Director at SANDAG resigned, when it came to light that he instructed staff to falsify data for an upcoming ballot measure.

Examine campaign filings. Election campaigns are funded by members of the growth industry and endorsed by government employees. When it comes to land use and growth, those who hope to financially benefit from development, including local government agencies, have a lock on our state legislature, city councils and regional planning agencies.

So, what can we do about it?

First: How does this impact you personally? Here are a few examples:

Our water supply is marginal; water costs are rising and our City would like to add 6,000 new residences in Midway and 1000s of condos downtown.

Traffic congestion is bad but rather than relieving congestion, the City proposes to add 24,000 residents on the peninsula, in Midway.

Recently, some members of the Peninsula Community Planning Board, without a hearing or consulting residents, invited a development corporation, owned by the City’s housing agency, to build 78 homes adjacent to Nimitz Blvd at Famosa. When the community objected, the PCPB members said they merely wanted to address declining housing affordability, a huge problem for every PL renter–but by providing 78 units of public housing? Affordability can only be addressed by reasonably capping the amount of annual rent increases!

As threatening as all these conditions together may seem, unlike some of the state and national problems we’re seeing these days, we have the ability to solve this conundrum ourselves though local collective action. We are 80,000 strong. In support of this idea, some Peninsula residents are working to create a town council that will be responsible to all 80,000 residents. They are designing this organization utilizing new internet polling technology, so it can remain free of undue influence and able to quickly inform and mobilize collective action.

Your participation is welcome. The web url is PointLomaTownCouncil.org

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael June 19, 2018 at 12:14 pm

The title “Reader Rant” is the perfect characterization of this stream of consciousness. You offer no solutions and make outrageously I’ll informed statements that have no basis. Your “solution” is akin to addressing highway congestion by closing on ramps.

There are a lot of factors that this assessment completely ignores. Unless you can see this issue from both sides (i.e. quality of life and providing housing for a new generation) your sophomoric analysis is irrelevant.

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Ol OB Hippie June 19, 2018 at 12:16 pm

Okay Mr Michael, what’s your solutions? It’s easy to sling rocks at those who stand up and take positions, but you know what? He’s not sitting on his butt like you are.

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Tyler June 20, 2018 at 9:50 am

Amen.

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Editor editordude June 19, 2018 at 12:18 pm

We often use the “reader rant” title to allow people in the community to come in and take a position on some issue, without worrying whether their rant will please everybody.

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Michael June 19, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Hello, Ol OB Hipster! Organizing Point Loma Town Council has involved more time sitting than I ‘d like. Are you saying it’s a personal attack to write that God’s name “is neither Manchester nor Trump”? If not what rock did I sling at what??

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie June 19, 2018 at 1:36 pm

Not certain, but there’s 2 Michaels making comments.

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Michael June 19, 2018 at 2:35 pm

I should have been more restrained in my initial post. When I read the original post, I cannot ascertain if Mr. Winn is simply complaining about his quality of life being impacted or forging a comprehensive approach to alleviating this housing burden. I dont want to raise kids in a place where the everyday working adult cannot afford to live here. I have no desire to move to SB, Malibu, SLO you name it. I want to maintain the city’s character as being a vibrant employment and educational base, but at some point, we have to realize that if we do not address this housing crisis, we will abandon that model.

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Michael June 19, 2018 at 1:21 pm

Michael, when your arguments make sense, you don’t need to attack people personally. Your highway metaphor is confused. Do you enter a freeway that’s in gridlock?

I’ve asserted that SANDAG’s assessments of (in your words), “quality of life and providing housing for a new generation” are not scientific. As evidence of this, last year, SANDAG Executive Director resigned because he’d instructed staff to publish an analysis he knew to contain false information. See story at this link: https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/government/sandag-leader-steps-down-retirement-amid-scandal/

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Michael June 19, 2018 at 1:29 pm

I’m happy to share some thoughts I have on the issue.

There are two competing/opposing groups. Those being current residents (mostly owners) who oppose new development and the second are new residents (largely renters) who would like some degree of security around their long term housing.
If we start with the anti-growth folks, we can come to the simple conclusion that it is irresponsible to bring jobs and residents to San Diego who cannot afford to live here. Perhaps you do not think there’s any obligation to house the people who work here, but I find that immoral. If that same standard was applied during the previous construction booms most of these anti-growth folks wouldn’t even live here.
To that end, it is not enough to just oppose new development at every turn, but to also decrease the demand for housing. For example, the average salary coming out of SDSU and USD will preclude a vast majority of these students from ever owning a home here in the long-run. In fact, there’s an interesting analysis that shows if you go to USD, get a PhD, and work at USD for the rest of your career, you’ll never pay back your loans to go to USD.

We have created a housing crisis here that means a household will need to earn, at the very least, $300,000 to buy the median priced home. The expected RE growth rate of 6% compared to the expected wage growth rate of 3% means this problem is just going to get worse. If you are anti-growth, you should also be anti-employment unless those jobs are bringing in the aforementioned wages. Hospitality wages are notoriously low and continuing to promote tourism is only setting these people up to fail and creating a class of the wealthy and the supported.

There are plenty of coastal communities that cater to wealthy individuals and affordability is a non-issue because those communities don’t import workers via higher education, tourism and office tower construction.

On the other hand, the pro-growth residents should understand their impact on the local community and environment. The old model of 10,000 SF lots with a detached house and a garage doesn’t work for everyone. If that same model was built throughout SD County (ignoring the current inability to do so), SD would look a lot like Houston which is not why folks move here in the first place. New developments should promote higher density, alternative transportation, reduced commutes to employment centers (i.e. incentivize corporate campus developments in areas away from downtown) and reduced water usage.

The length of time it takes for a “buy right” project to be entitled is far too long and only adds costs to a project which are not represented in the housing quality. Far too much money is spent defending baseless litigation which can be brought anonymously via CEQA by those who just want to maintain their high home prices. Furthermore, prop 13 creates a system where the new home buyers are subsidizing the tax base for the older residents. It makes very little sense to me that there are homes in La Jolla with beautiful ocean views that have a lower tax basis than homes built in a the NE county dustbowl.

We should reduce the burdens on working families to afford long-term housing in SD County while also investing in infrastructure to accommodate this growth. This can start with higher investments in public transportation and incentives to “de-centralize” employment centers.

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Michael Winn June 19, 2018 at 2:24 pm

Since we are by now two Michaels (and there may be more), I am the author of this article and the Chair of Point Loma Town Council, Michael Winn. Would other Michaels, please, identify themselves, and in the interest of transparency, let us know of any professional affiliations (SANDAG? BIA? Developer? Realtor? SD City? Etc.?) so we all understand the nature of any biases in our positions.

I demur to each and every representation you’re making in defense of policies of “growth” that have created congestion, water expense, homeless populations, park shortages, the housing affordability crisis and environmental problems that we now face. All of the arguments you posted above are known to us already because we’ve been fed this nonsense since the ’80s when the politics of growth began to control SD politics.

Secondly, I assert here that the only evidence you can cite in support of “growth” is biased by proponents of growth, similar to so-called “science” produced by tobacco companies to “prove” that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, when they knew it really does.

Because some arguments you present require a lengthier forum and because we anticipate hearing such arguments from the Midway development proponents, I propose here that we should hold a public forum, where we can each present our arguments fully before a Point Loma audience. Please, let me know if you’re willing to participate. You may send me a note directly: michael@michaelwinn.org

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RB June 19, 2018 at 3:24 pm

Perhaps the solution for both Michaels is a model that updates infrastructure first.
After improvements to our roads, public transportation, libraries, parks, police and fire, schools, water and sewer system, we may ready for more development………

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Michael Winn June 19, 2018 at 6:10 pm

While I wait for a response about a public forum on the subject, I’ve taken the time answer the ideas shared by Michael #2 in the order he brought them up above:

1) Owners and renters are equally offended by congestion, infrastructure costs, environmental degradation and water shortages, exacerbated by new development, without consideration of such impacts on residents, whether they own or they rent, whether they’ve been here for generations or recently immigrated.

2) There is no such entity called, “anti-growth folks” except, in your imagination for the purposes of this discussion. There are people who are committed to livable communities and people who are concerned about development without sufficient infrastructure. While there are companies that increase operations and need to hire more people, it appears we have housing to meet that need, but without rent stabilizing policies, the price and rents of existing stock combined with short leases makes them vulnerable.

3) How do you propose to decrease demand? (The student loan analogy is interesting but seems non sequitur to this discussion?)

4) The growth rate numbers you present are not consistent with the Point Loma market. But a RE growth rate is just a projection made by someone for a specific purpose and we’re talking here about real rental cost escalations, not projections. Current law and legal precedent prevents a landlord from raising rent here by more than 10% annually after a tenant has lived in a home for 60 days. With landlords refusing to renew 6 month or 1 year leases, rents charged to new tenants may be 50% or even 100% higher.

5) All coastal communities are desirable and in San Diego, there is no coastal community that isn’t part of this problem. In San Diego, Proposition D restricts the height of buildings to 30’ except for downtown. The Midway development proponents want to repeal or modify Prop D to promote high rise development on the peninsula. But in terms of water usage, more residences means available water must be divided between more people and AB/SB 1668 is about water rationing per capital.

6) As with your “anti-growth folks” phrase, above, there is no class of, “pro growth residents” unless you mean those people who benefit directly from development; such as, developers, financial institutions, development professionals and employees of local government. Ironically, since many of these folks are also residents who suffer the impacts of development without sufficient infrastructure, these may really be the only people who can be accurately called, NIMBY, when they are sanguine with impacts suffered by others in other places, and don’t want it around their own homes.

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Michael Winn June 19, 2018 at 6:20 pm

This response to Michael #2s shared ideas deserves it’s separate response:

7) Developers work in multi-year plans. Anything that requires coastal commission adds 6 months, a public vote adds at least a year, environmental issues involving CEQA? add another year. Our problems in San Diego are the result of a city that, after bankrupting itself with unfunded pension obligations, is willing to sell out everything and everyone to stay afloat during the terms of current elected officials. Then repeat. Bottom line: we can ease the burdens on working families by limiting rent increases to 3%/year for existing and/or new tenants (to prevent evictions with the intent to exceed the limitation).

To even suggest that housing affordability can be addressed by “investments in public transportation and ‘decentralizing employment centers’” is at best misleading, though I politicians of both stripes and SANDAG repeat it as often as Trump blames the FBI.

Conditions haven’t changed since I last worked on a state-funded transportation project. Public transportation isn’t piecemeal, ad hoc a little here a little there exercise. In San Diego, a transportation network would have to include a multi-runway airport with passenger and cargo capacity that meets the needs of the population and high-speed transportation to it from every part of the region, not the nonsense you see on Harbor Drive at Grape and Hawthorne! A multimodal transportation network would provide door to door access from anyplace to anyplace, scaled in consideration of needs. Not the hodgepodge we have of MTS , Coaster and Amtrak. De-centralizing employment centers is an issue more complex but equally unrelated to the water issue that is the topic here.

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Dave June 20, 2018 at 11:08 pm

David Michael checking in here – not that anyone ever addresses me by middle name, but I’m still claiming my Michael mantle nonetheless. Qualifications: I’ve been a renter in the area for 10+ years, raising a daughter who’s gone through OBE, Dana, Correia, and will soon be a PLHS sophomore. I split my time as a real estate broker and professional journalist, and I’ve been following this issue with interest, living less than 1/2 mile from the proposed site. Am I allowed to have an opinion? As a reporter, no. But I have opinions as to how facts might be presented in one way or another to skew opinion…

1. We live in a desert, water concerns are for real. But deploying them in this argument is only valid if you’re supporting a larger “nothing should be built, ever, anywhere in the county” viewpoint.

2. Growth – If anyone here is truly anti-growth, meaning the birth rate should be restricted to below the death rate, and that no one should be allowed to migrate here unless others correspondingly migrate elsewhere, I suppose that’s a take. It seems to be more idealistic than realistic, however – how does one police this? What would those laws look like?

3. I get caught almost every day at a red light waiting to turn left onto West Pt. Loma coming off I-8 on my way home. One of my OCD traits is counting things – for the last month I’ve counted how many cars come out of Pt. Loma northbound on Nimitz while I wait, which I’m presuming would be the primary ingress/egress point for residents of this proposed development – it’s always between 60 and 80. Assuming the 210 parking spots cited for the project are all filled, and every car travels in and out of the project every day, right at rush hour, that’s three one-minute light cycles’ worth of traffic. I’m not an engineer and I can’t say whether or not that’s a significant number, I’m just offering an observation here.

4. The idea of destroying the job market in order to discourage growth is an interesting one – again, I’m not sure it’s wise or how it would work with regard to policy or practice, but I’m interested enough to sign up for the newsletter of anyone proposing such a scheme and would be willing to hear them out.

5. It does not require a $300,000 household income to purchase a home in San Diego, though the real number is still discomfiting. According to the California Association of Realtors’ (forgive me for citing a trade group) housing affordability report, a family would only need to make about $126,000 to afford a median-priced $610,000 home. Of course, that’s not factoring in the fact that in our neighborhood that’s only buying a condo so you’ll need to tack on HOA fees meaning you’d probably need to make closer to $140,000. Also, we’re assuming you’ve got a 20% cash down payment, or $120,000ish. If you need a low-down payment FHA loan of 96.5%, maybe you need to earn something like $180,000. While that’s a scary enough number for a median-priced home (meaning half the houses in town are still out of reach at this income), it’s not $300,000.

6. There’s a bit of a question as to whether the local planning board intended to identify the site in question as one where they wanted to see affordable development – I’ve heard rumblings Lorie Zapf’s office inserted that language after the letter of recommendation was drafted and before it was signed. If you know anything about this I’d love to talk to you, as I’m investigating this issue right now.

7. There’s also the question of whether this land should be used for anything other than open space, as it seems this may have been the explicit intent of the benefactor who gifted it to the city more than 100 years ago. This is another story I’ll be telling soon, and I’d love to talk to anyone with a take here.

8. The definition of “low-income” is a bit misleading for anyone scared that “poor people” may move in. Under the San Diego Housing Commission’s guidelines, an “affordable housing” development could mean housing that’s only affordable to a family of four making more than $115,000 and able to pay in excess of $2900/month in rent. What they might end up building, then, might better be classified as “maybe just a hair under market rent.”

9. Any assertion that it’s illegal to raise rent by more than 10% is misinformed. As a real estate broker (and manager of more than 30 units of rental property), I’m happy to report that I can raise your rent by as much as I want, whenever I want (provided you aren’t under lease), but that if I’m raising it by more than 10% I have to give you 60 days’ notice rather than the traditional 30. Not saying you can’t call me a heartless prick if I do it, or that you’ll be able to afford the new rent if I choose to, just saying you can’t tell me it’s impossible.

10. 6-8% is a fair historical assessment of annual real estate value appreciation. Recently it’s been higher, with a lot of neighborhoods in San Diego seeing multiple years of double-digit growth. But crashes like those in the early nineties and mid-aughts, and the one that’s coming in another year or two, offset the excessive gain of the boom times. Coastal real estate is a bit less susceptible to the overall trend, tending to decline more slowly in downturns and experience a shorter explosive growth period in strong markets.

11. The transit issue raised late in the debate is an interesting one, and one that really deserves much more discussion as it relates to the other pieces. This, though, is more of an opinion than statement of fact.

12. I very much look forward to any future public forums addressing any/all of these issues. I’ll be there in the back, listening, and writing things that will inevitably anger someone or another the next day.

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Barbara June 22, 2018 at 11:14 am

We do not live in a “Desert.” We live in a climate of Coastal Chaparral.

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