Why This $2.4 Million Residential “Compound” Is a Poster-Child for All That’s Wrong With San Diego’s Housing and Development Policies

by on December 8, 2021 · 12 comments

in San Diego

No Trees, No Parking, No Set-Backs, and No Affordable Rental Units:

By Paul Krueger

The listing boasts of the “incredible income opportunity for an investor” on a “tree lined street in the historic district of Talmadge” at 4754-4756 Madison Avenue.

For $2.4 million you can buy your own four-bedroom/four-bath “mini-dorm” with adjoining two-story, four-bedroom, two-bath “accessory dwelling unit”.

But this “incredible opportunity” for speculators and absentee landlords is, more importantly — the latest example of the pressing need to sensibly revise San Diego’s building and development codes.

Let us count the ways:

1)    Proponents of the current “build what you want, how you want it, wherever you want” city policies claim their laissez faire philosophy will create much needed rental housing for San Diego very-low and low-income residents.

In fact, this project does the opposite: the converted four-bedroom/four bath mini-dorm rents for $5000. That’s $1250 per bedroom and bath. The projected rent for the adjoining two, two-bedroom one-bath units is $3,750 for each unit. (The average rent for a two-bedroom unit in San Diego county is $2,008, according to a May, 2021 analysis by Co-Star, a real estate tracking company.)

Former drive-way to residence. Former garage now part of the ADU.

2)    Advocates of increased density ignore the impact these multi-unit projects have on the already overcrowded, poorly-maintained streets and freeway access roads, especially in our established neighbors south of I-8.

They claim these additional residents won’t own cars and thus won’t need off-street parking, because these projects are located within a half-mile of a “rapid” bus or trolley stop. The city’s current ADU ordinance follows that same faulty logic, so this 8-bedroom project has no off-street parking (the original garage was converted to the first floor of the new ADU). But the four occupants in the main “mini-dorm” confirm they all own their own vehicles, and don’t take the bus or trolley because it’s “not convenient.”

There’s no indication that occupants of the additional ADUs will forgo their personal vehicles, so this one project will add at least eight cars and trucks — probably more — to a neighborhood where on-street parking is already difficult to find.

3)    To make room for the new ADUs, the developer clear-cut the established trees and plants in what used to be the back and side yards on this property. They did not plant a single replacement tree anywhere on the property or parkway, which completely contradicts the city’s commitment to expanding our “urban canopy” as an integral part of its ambitious “Climate Action Plan”.

No set-backs, no trees.

e new frontage area is covered with concrete and small strips of water-wasting grass, instead of inexpensive, low-water, native plants universally endorsed by conservationists and urban planners.

4)    There are virtually no side or rear setbacks on the ADU building. Instead of requiring minimal set-backs to allow room for tree-planting and give a modicum of privacy to neighbors, the city allows the narrowest of boundaries, covered with bare, decomposed granite.

5)    This project was permitted before our San Diego City Council passed the current ADU ordinance, which includes even more giveaways for real estate developers, imposes a bigger burden on our established neighborhoods, and, to date, has not provided any rental relief for the city’s homeless, very-low, and low-income residents.

The absentee landlords/investors of current multi-unit ADU projects, like the one under construction now at 4681 49th Street, are exempt from paying Development Infrastructure Fees. Those fees are a crucial source of revenue to repair, replace, and upgrade our city’s aging and inadequate infrastructure. Efforts to make those improvements have lagged for decades, and the city now has a $3 billion deficit for infrastructure repair and improvement.

What the “compound” used to look like.

So, here’s the bottom line: the shrewd owner/developer of this $2.4 million Talmadge property will turn a cool $1 million profit on the sale, and the next investor will gross a projected $13,500 in monthly rents.

The only losers are the city’s homeless, very-low, and low-income residents, the city treasury, the Talmadge neighborhood — and many others like it, where similar projects are being built or planned –  and the environment.

Paul Krueger is a long-time Talmadge resident, volunteer with Neighbors For A Better San Diego, and a former San Diego journalist. You can learn more the grass-roots campaign for sensible revisions to the city’s ill-conceived Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance, and help us persuade the city council to act, at www.nfabsd.org

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Krueger December 8, 2021 at 10:17 am

If you’re concerned about the cumulative impact these multi-unit ADUs are having on San Diego’s older, infrastructure-poor neighborhoods, and the fact that these developments are not providing much-needed low income housing, please express your concerns at the Planning Commission’s December 16 meeting. Details at: http://www.nfabsd.org


bobo December 8, 2021 at 10:40 am

I think it’s time for us to put in a Citizens’ initiative for a City ordinance that requires all sales of single-family residential real estate to be occupied by the owners for a period of no less than 5 years before they’re allowed to rent or resell the property. No exceptions. And for multifamily properties lower than 5 units: prohibit the new owners to initiate eviction of current residents for a period of 12 months after the sale (unless a breach of the lease by the tenant). AND put a 12 month moratorium of rent increases for that same period.


Chris December 8, 2021 at 11:21 am

So a person buys a home and moves in. Then something comes up and they have to re-locate due to circumstances beyond their control. Loss of job, or a new job opportunity in another state, family emergency (they need to re-locate where their elderly parent needs them near by), Navy member who relocates due to PCS orders, etc. So no exceptions?


bobo December 8, 2021 at 12:32 pm

Exceptions to the rules. That’s the root-cause of a lot of our housing problems. Let’s use your example. The new owners need to resell or rent out their house before they’re allowed to. Then let’s write into the ordinance that the sales transaction (or a portion of the rent they take in) is taxed at let’s say 0.5% and that revenue goes to fund affordable housing for the homeless.


Chris December 8, 2021 at 1:11 pm

Even if exceptions are the root cause, IMO that’s not a good reason to not allow them. Things do come up and that are out of a person’s control.


bobo December 8, 2021 at 1:17 pm

exactly. That’s why I have a solution to the exception. If someone intends to sell or rent out a property (for profit by the way) that is supposed to be homeowner occupied, then they pay that penalty tax. It’s a great disincentive to investors. In fact, my proposal, if written with actual “teeth” would vastly reduce the ability of non-resident investors coming in and decimate the valuable and very limited amount of housing stock in San Diego.
Don’t you agree?


Chris December 8, 2021 at 5:14 pm

I guess I don’t really understand your solution enough to say if I agree or disagree.


Greg December 8, 2021 at 2:02 pm

Exactly. Keep housing for housing.


Geoff Page December 8, 2021 at 12:44 pm

Excellent piece, Paul. A complete telling of the Armageddon coming to our neighborhoods unless people are willing to fight it.


Paul Krueger December 8, 2021 at 2:01 pm

Thx much, Geoff.
Please help galvanize support for our effort to revise the current ADU regs.
You can read and share our info at:


Gustav Swanson December 17, 2021 at 11:52 pm

Sadly San Diego has learned nothing from the Huffman Six-packs that ravaged the city nor the mini-dorms that have decimated the College Area. It is debatable that San Diego is “America’s Finest City”; quite clearly it will NEVER be America’s smartest city.


Lorna Zukas May 15, 2022 at 9:45 pm

One significant aspect of late capitalism is the constant proliferation of new frontiers, spaces subjected to development or redevelopment for extractive processes. Financialized rental housing is among the latest instruments of extraction expanding the frontiers of capital and valorization of what is not yet fully commodified.

Utilizing spaces of home for wealth extraction is rapidly transforming urban and suburban neighborhoods across California, and beyond. In California, new State laws have open spaces for wealth extraction that were once closed and locked by zoning laws. New laws effectively up-zone all of California’s neighborhoods. San Diego is the worst.

Christian Horvath wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2021 this is absolutely the wrong way to solve California’s affordable housing crisis. These changes in legislation destroy single-family neighborhoods. As investors buy housing stock, prices skyrocket and would be homeowners remain renters because they cannot afford to buy. Investors are not only extracting ever increasing rents, and increasing the number of renters, they are also removing opportunities for intergenerational wealth creation from middle- and working-class individuals.


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