Building Housing Should Not Lead to NIMBYs and YIMBYs

by on February 14, 2019 · 12 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

What used to be at Sixth and Olive on Bankers’ Hill.

Editordude: The following appeared as an Op-Ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune online Feb.13 and in newsprint on Feb. 14; we repost it with the author’s permission.

By Roy McMakin / San Diego Union-Tribune / Feb. 13, 2019

San Diego has always built new housing, and will continue to do so. We’ve always been a city that welcomes those wanting to live here. Currently there is need to focus increased energy on home building, both due to demand, but also because the state has mandated we do so. That doesn’t mean we should disregard good planning and robust community involvement in the process.

Great cities strive to meet the needs of changing times with the aspiration of great design. Good urban planning and housing are connected, it’s not one or the other.

However, we have entered a needlessly polarized environment with inaccurate and unsatisfying acronyms: NIMBY and YIMBY, leading us down a rabbit-hole of development culture wars.

Are YIMBYs really suggesting we should allow developers to build anything anywhere they want?

Are NIMBYs fighting every new project proposed in their neighborhood? In hopes of lower housing prices and benefit to the environment, do millennials not care about good design or protecting the quality of life in San Diego? Are boomers fighting to keep new development out of their neighborhoods to selfishly increase the value of their homes?

I don’t believe that is the reality of where we are, but I frequently experience that polemic. I encounter youthful density warriors in Next Door dialogs and planning meetings. While I welcome their participation in the development dialog, I am often frustrated that their entire position is that our city should approve projects without any community input (except theirs). I read about communities fighting a variety of housing projects, not out of greed, but out of love of their community, and justified fear of change.

What I fear is that the simplistic tool of creating good guys and bad guys, is a self-serving tactic of those whose agenda is not beneficial to the community’s greater good. Developers, responsible to their bottom line and global investors, benefit greatly by excluding the community from the process. Our politicians, who sadly seem to have too-cozy relationships with developers, find their political ambitions enhanced. Lobbyists and not-for-profits, finding developers easy sources of funding for their (unrelated) agendas, cynically provide fuel for this dangerous fire.

Bankers Hill’s ongoing battle at 6th Ave and Olive Street illustrates what’s wrong with the way this civic situation is currently being negotiated.

There is a large list of players: a massive global developer, an attractive site, ambitious politicians, a money-hungry land owner, a civically-active community, city-connected lobbyists, not-for-profits moving beyond their appropriate mandate into building design, and well-intentioned youthful activists entering land use debates for the first time. Currently, this kitchen-sink of participants creates a dynamic that has no room for good urban planning. Particularly frustrating is disregard for Uptown Community Plan, which exists to guide the dialog and the design. Sadly, the plan seems to be in the way of developer profits.

The most powerful players, using the YIMBY/NIMBY culture war, are trying to take from the public realm to benefit only the developer and the land owner. While YIMBYs have been convinced they are fighting for housing, the increased housing units within the project was never challenged by the community. Ultimately the fight was simply to remove the community’s voice, giving it over entirely to the developer. But the power-players in the situation never revealed that to be their goal.

What we need in our communities is a shared goal of QIMBY (Quality In My Back Yard). Instead of ignoring the city’s community plan and other important, legally agreed upon, planning tools as is being done in Bankers Hill, we need to go further to enhance and protect those tools.

Hearty discussions about community plans should occur at a policy level, so discussions around a single project aren’t free-for-alls as in Bankers Hill. We must stop this destructive and simplistic NIMBY/YIMBY way of discussing development, and instead focus on the issues that create good design and great cities.

We need to include all stakeholders equally at the table, and then get creative to approve buildings, of all sizes, to address the need for housing and build a livable city. In some neighborhoods we need to lead the world on how to build a dense low-rise city; in others we may need go as high as our structural engineers allow. But we really don’t need our politicians inappropriately putting their powerful fingers (both in front of, and behind the curtain) on the scales in the process. Most importantly we need dDIMBY (democratic Development In Our Back Yard).

Roy McMakin is an artist and a member of Bankers Hill 150 community group.

Reposted with author’s permission.

 

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Ol OB Hippie February 14, 2019 at 12:27 pm

Nice read, Roy.

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Avatar ZZ February 14, 2019 at 2:33 pm

“Are boomers fighting to keep new development out of their neighborhoods to selfishly increase the value of their homes?”

Oh no, they have a million selfless reasons to oppose every major development. Tall buildings produce shade!!!!! And where will everyone park!!!!!

If it just happens to make the value of their home grow $40,000 a year, year after year, on a house they pay $900 a year in property taxes on, well in that one case the free market might be OK.

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Avatar Geoff Page February 14, 2019 at 3:22 pm

ZZ, You really need to get a grip. I’m a boomer. I own a small Craftsman cottage that I bought in 1987. Two bedrooms and one bathroom. I raised two children in that small house. I don’t give a shit what it is worth, I live here because I love the ocean and have to be near it.

I came to OB in 1980 when no one had a good opinion of OB. When I used to tell people where I lived they would say OB? It’s full of bikers and hippies and crime. Instead of setting them straight, I would nod and say, “Oh yea, it really is rough, you wouldn’t want to be here” because I knew what a hidden jewel this place is and I didn’t want it discovered. Well, that finally happened. Developers discovered the place and have been going bonkers for years tearing down the old AFFORDABLE housing and building EXPENSIVE housing. It isn’t the boomers who are to blame.

All most of us want is to maintain the wonderful quality of life we loved when we came here or grew up here, it doesn’t have a goddamned thing to do with home value. Sure, I could make a bunch if I sold my place but where would I go ? I still love it here, I’ve lived all over the country and nothing beats San Diego. So what the hell is wrong with trying to maintain that quality of life against the greed of people who are just here to make money. Even if you allow the development, do you think any of it will be affordable? Hell no, not in all of Point Loma.

Some day, when you grow up, maybe you will understand. I sincerely hope you find yourself in the same position as people like me one day so you will realize what the real issue is.

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Avatar ZZ February 15, 2019 at 1:58 pm

“Developers discovered the place and have been going bonkers for years tearing down the old AFFORDABLE housing and building EXPENSIVE housing. ”

So is your old craftsman and properties like it “affordable?” Why not? Is it the developers’ fault?

“it doesn’t have a goddamned thing to do with home value.”

Of course! If it just happened to make you a millionaire, well that had nothing to do with it, right? Everyone else cares about money, but you are above such considerations. It’s about bike paths for kids!

“Even if you allow the development, do you think any of it will be affordable?”

I think prices are going to go up in OB regardless of what is built here. It will never be affordable again to someone making a $50,000 salary. But prices will go up faster if there is no development, and slower if there is more development.

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Avatar Vern February 15, 2019 at 5:31 pm

It would seem prices would go up faster if there is more development. More infrastructure would require more money and quick. More police, more fire protection, more schools, more repairs, more water, more government, more liability, more litigation, more everything.

ZPG makes sense.

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Avatar Roy McMakin February 15, 2019 at 8:28 pm

ZZ, can you provide the data that supports your claim: “But prices will go up faster if there is no development, and slower if there is more development.” I think housing cost dynamics are significantly more complicated than that. But even if was that simple, how does building buildings that negatively impact the public realm versus buildings that are respectful factor into that dynamic?
The issue with the 6th and Olive project wasn’t the number of units, just that St Paul’s wants a private courtyard and the developer wants million dollar views to make money from. There are many ways the same size building could be built and be more respectful of the public realm of the community.

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Avatar Dave February 14, 2019 at 5:36 pm

Roy: Are you reading your own story? In one paragraph you say “What I fear is that the simplistic tool of creating good guys and bad guys, is a self-serving tactic…” and then just below that you write “There is a large list of players: a massive global developer, an attractive site, ambitious politicians, a money-hungry land owner…” Obviously you don’t fear that simplistic tool enough to keep from using it in your own story…

I’m also struggling to understand your characterization of “money-hungry landowner.” By this do you meant to describe St. Paul’s Cathedral or the ultimate owner of the land – The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego? Neither in my mind can be accurately described as “money-hungry.” Both spend pretty much every dollar they have in service to the community. Among other things, the Cathedral builds bridges of healing for current, transitioning and former military members, and supports local, long-term initiatives that address poverty, hunger, disease, economic development and disaster response. The Diocese is a tireless advocate for the disenfranchised, hosting weekly dinners for the homeless here in Ocean Beach and providing tangible support to refugees and others in our community. Both offer Showers of Blessing: free showers, clothes, and haircuts to our neighbors who do not have homes.

To support the development or not is your choice – but at least speak truthfully and make sure your arguments make logical sense…

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Avatar ZZ February 15, 2019 at 3:36 pm

“Roy: Are you reading your own story?”

Roy is making his own story. His website and some press releases say “Born in Lander, Wyoming in 1965, Roy McMakin is a Seattle-based artist, designer, furniture maker”

But prior to 2016 or so, they all said “Born in Lander, Wyoming in 1956, Roy McMakin is a Seattle-based artist, designer, furniture maker, and architect.”

Age, like height limits, are just an arbitrary number.

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Avatar retired botanist February 15, 2019 at 3:59 pm

Seriously, THAT is what you choose to drill down on? Why not stick to the topic instead of wasting time on when Roy was born?
Honestly, this is such a view on the downside of the internet! People lookin’ to hate on something….disappointed in you, ZZ.

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Avatar Roy McMakin February 15, 2019 at 9:27 pm

Dave, I’m sorry my writing was entirely clear to you. The UT had a strict limit of 750 words for the piece, so brevity was required. However, all the many people I discussed my piece with understood I was referring to NIMBY and YIMBY as the overly simplistic good guy/bad guy categories. I find binary options presented in culture wars (gay/anti-gay, against abortion/accepting of abortion, etc) to be the tactics those in power want us to fight over in simplistic terms, instead of finding ways to discuss the complicated details, and maybe even a compromise in the nuances. That is the tactic I was referring to.

Regarding my list of the players in the 6th and Olive project, while I clearly have my opinion about the project and situation, and every player is more complicated than I described them (again, darn that 750 word limit), I am in the general vicinity of who they are.

You seem to be defensive, even angry at my description of St Paul’s Cathedral as “money hungry”. While I suppose she used slightly more polite ways to describe it, I took that description from Reverend Penny Bridges, the dean of the institution. She has stated many times that the sale/development partnership of their property will allow them to continue their mission, that maximizing its value is very important to them. So I suppose you could say they are very desirous of making as much money from this project as possible. But again I only had so many words available to me, so I felt “money hungry” said the same thing in a more compact way.

I see St Paul’s Cathedral as being similar to many not-for-profit institutions, they do good things and are always trying to find enough money to keep doing the good things they do. I am more familiar with arts and environmental institutions, but I found Reverend Bridges in many ways to be similar to the various directors of other admirable institutions: money hungry.

That doens’t make either them or their institutions bad people. But in the case of St Paul’s I do wonder if they went too far in agreeing to accept a very large incentive, above the sales price of their land, if they work edto make sure no changes were made in the their project. This would have been good if there weren’t substantial (and I think reasonable) criticisms and associated relatively minor design changes being asked for by a very large number of their neighbors. Between 2 petitions (one hand signed in person and the other online) we got around 1,000 signatures. To me it seems like St Paul’s was dis-incentivized to work with their neighbors. I suppose the offer from the developer was too attractive to not want , but it feels kinda crummy to me.

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Avatar Roy McMakin February 15, 2019 at 9:29 pm

Dave, in my first line I left out a word. It should read like this:

“Dave, I’m sorry my writing was entirely wasn’t clear to you.” I left out the key word “wasn’t”. sorry!

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Avatar Roy McMakin February 15, 2019 at 8:17 pm

For anyone who cares, I was in fact born in Lander, Wyoming in 1956 (that makes me a baby boomer!). It appears there was a typo somewhere, I apologize for that (however some people have said I look good for my age). I am an artist who has had a successful career. My practice spans various categories, and I have made many things that are categorized as sculpture, furniture and architecture. I recently decided to not do architecture so I stopped using it to describe what I do. I am not a licensed architect so I have always worked with licensed architects when required. Maybe you noticed public works at a few sites around town or in other cities. Regarding where I live, I now live in San Diego. I went to school at UCSD and lived in San Diego from the late 1970’s for a decade or so. I ended up in Seattle for a long time, but ended moving back to San Diego when my husband took a job at Illumina.

I have surprised myself by being extremely happy living here again, and one way my love of this city expresses itself it to care about land use circumstances, as I think San Diego is worth fighting to protect.

And, green is my favorite color, so if anyone sees anything in print that says its another color, that is incorrect.

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