Politics Report: Who Really Thinks San Diego Is Going to Triple Housing Production

The city of San Diego this week released numbers indicating that the city is not anywhere close to producing the 108,000 homes by 2029 that the state has determined it needs to combat the housing crisis.

Only, the report never said that. It said the city issued permits for roughly 5,000 homes, but did not say it needed to permit over 13,000 homes each year for eight years to reach the state’s target. The City Council approved a so-called Housing Element last year that aims to let developers reach that total.

Now, to reach that massive goal, developers would need to build roughly 15,000 homes a year for the next seven years – roughly three times the average housing production the city has reached for the last decade.

If they don’t follow through, no one could call it a surprise. The state’s “Regional Housing Needs Assessment” program has for 50 years failed to spur housing production that matches the state’s need. The city of San Diego, in the last eight-year cycle, permitted just over half of its assigned need.

City staff delivered their progress report Thursday to the Council’s committee on housing, and again did not say that after one year, the city is nowhere close to the pace needed to reach the target. Neither of the four Council members on the committee mentioned it either.

One committee member, though, did respond to our story, pointing out that the city now needs to nearly triple its rate of housing production to satisfy the need.

Councilman Joe LaCava wanted to clarify that the city doesn’t build anything – private developers do.

“I saw some interesting comments in the media,” he said. “All we can do is create the landscape. All we can do is create more density in our communities, make more projects by-right, ministerial – which I think we’ve done a very good job of in recent years – and then set the table for private money, private landowners, private developers to come in and build the homes. At this point at least we aren’t building the homes, we can just set the landscape, and hopefully it’s enticing enough for the private market to come in and build those homes.”

That’s obviously true. The city doesn’t build housing, it permits it. And to the extent that the RHNA process requires anything, it requires the city to pass zoning laws that accommodate the need — or, as LaCava said, to “create the landscape.”

Nonetheless, city staff itself refers to the 108,000 figure as both a “goal” and a “target.”

The gap between the annual production number the city needs to hit to reach its target and the average annual production in the last 10 years is so wide, we thought we’d ask the city’s elected officials a simple question.

Do you believe the city will issue 108,000 housing permits by 2029?

So we asked all nine Council members and the mayor. Their answers are below.

Two elected officials acknowledged that the city won’t – or is at least very unlikely – to reach the target the state set for it and the city accepted.

One elected official said the city would hit the target. Another said the city has done its job, and the rest is up to the private market. Another said drastic changes were necessary to reach the target.

Four elected officials did not respond.

District 1 Councilman Joe LaCava

“The City has taken proactive steps (in recent years) to position itself to meet its Housing goals. The question is whether the private markets will be able to take advantage of the streamlining, citywide density increases, and incentives to construct homes at that targeted pace and income levels. In the near-term, the industry will have to navigate the pandemic, inflation, supply chain issues, and labor shortages, which are considerable obstacles.”

District 2 Councilwoman Jen Campbell

Did not respond.

District 3 Councilman Stephen Whitburn

“There are about 530,000 housing units in the city. Adding 108,000 homes by 2029 would increase the total housing units in San Diego by 20 percent in eight years. While the city must prioritize its housing needs, it’s hard to imagine that kind of increase, especially since many economic and other factors influencing housing production are outside the city’s control. Nevertheless, we should still aim for the target and get as close as we can. The current City Council has supported every housing proposal, approved code changes to add homes, and increased staff to process permits. Of course, that’s still not enough, and I look forward to additional measures we can advance. We’re serious about creating more homes for San Diegans.”

District 4 Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe

Did not respond.

District 5 Councilwoman Marnie von Wilpert

Did not respond.

District 6 Councilman Chris Cate

“While I expect the city to continue increasing the pace of issuing permits, I do not expect the city to meet its goal by 2029. Every policy and reform should be on the table to do what is necessary to get as close as possible to reduce the cost of production and also increase the speed and efficiency of our development services department. That includes giving them every tool at their disposal to ensure regulatory certainty in issuing permits.”

District 7 Councilman Raul Campillo

“For far too long the city has fallen short of our RHNA goals. I am confident that under the leadership of this Mayor and this City Council, our city will finally address our RHNA needs. In the last year and a half, we as City Councilmembers have approved a number of housing projects across San Diego and have supported policies that will make it easier to build homes in every zip code. The mayor has brought forward policies, like the Housing Action Package, that address the dire need of our city to build more homes for all San Diegans. As San Diego leaders we are dedicated to promote the creation of more housing, and our actions in the last year and a half undoubtedly show that the Mayor and the Council are committed to work together in addressing the pressing housing needs in our city.”

District 8 Councilwoman Vivian Moreno

Did not respond.

Council President and District 9 Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera

“We are way behind in the production of homes in the City and the consequences of it are painfully obvious. Unaffordable homes for purchase, unaffordable rents and a lack of housing are a major contributor to our homelessness crisis and a huge obstacle for a generation of people to build wealth. We are off pace and have to do better.

As a Council, along with the Mayor, we are taking every opportunity to encourage and approve affordable housing, market rate housing and providing opportunities for more people to build homes through Accessory Dwelling Units. At MTS, we are exploring creative options like building on parking lots at trolley stations.

Residents from across San Diego must do their part to help us reach our housing goals and addressing our housing and homelessness crisis which means accepting building more homes in every neighborhood. Eliminating the 30 foot height limit in the Midway will be a first step in removing artificial barriers to increasing production of homes in a meaningful way.

Ultimately, achieving these goals is going to require doing things differently than we’ve done or are doing. The market cannot solve this problem alone. We will need private options, public options, bold policy changes… all of it. We simply can’t accept not reaching our housing goals.”

Mayor Todd Gloria

“That is our goal. It’s important to note that Mayor Gloria has embraced Regional Housing Needs Assessment allocations and worked to make changes in order to meet those metrics and increase the production of homes that San Diegans can actually afford. The mayor has launched a number of new policy proposals aimed at doing just that – including a series of Housing Action Packages under his “Homes For All of Us” initiative and his “Bridge to Home” program. Building 14,000 homes every year until 2029 is an incredibly ambitious goal, especially given that many of the factors that come into play are out of the City’s control. The State of California has certified the City’s Housing Element, indicating that state housing leaders believe we are on the right track. It’s impossible to predict whether the City can build 108,000 new homes by 2029, but the Mayor is doing everything within his power to hit that target.”

In Other News

  • The city of Oceanside announced this week it would investigate a series of allegations against Victor Roy, the city’s elected treasurer, that were made in a letter from the city’s treasury manager last month, as our North County reporter Tigist Layne reported late Friday.
  • The deadline for restaurants to tear down outside dining structures if they didn’t get a permit to make them permanent has come and gone, and there are far more dining structures standing than there are city-issued permits. The city says it’s contacted businesses to get the structures down and they could eventually get hit with $1,000 fines, but a spokesperson was happy to say they didn’t unleash code enforcement officers en masse on the first day of the new rules. Businesses aren’t happy about the complexity of the permitting process and at least one told our MacKenzie Elmer that they had no plans to remove their outdoor dining area.
  • The developer behind a massive revamp of the Central Embarcadero, currently home to Seaport Village, is ready to present the project’s new design concept to the Port of San Diego Thursday, after a re-design earlier this year was heavily scrutinized for being too large while offering too little in the way of public amenities along the public waterfront, as the Union-Tribune’s Jennifer Van Grove reported Friday. It’s been six years since the Port selected the developer, Yehudi “Gaf” Gaffen to redevelop the downtown waterfront before it even finished its own process of creating a new vision for the state tidelands that it is tasked with regulating. The developer has hit a series of problems since it was selected – including the discovery of a fault line through the project – that has forced the redesign, of which Port Commissioner Mike Zucchet earlier this year said, “if you look at the current status of Seaport Village compared to the 2016 concept… I think it’s a bit of a spin to say (the project) has evolved. It has exploded.”

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