Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who chairs the SANDAG’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment Subcommittee, said the shift is needed to promote economically diverse neighborhoods.
“Vibrant healthy communities provide housing for people at all income levels,” she said. “We need people who work in the local shops and cleaning people’s yards to be able to live in our community.
“If you just become an upper-income rich enclave,” she added, “you’re not as healthy, not as vital.”
In the meantime, San Diego is now leading a major slump in home building throughout Southern California, driven largely by a decline in apartment construction. In the first three months of the year, developers in San Diego County pulled permits for just 556 multifamily homes — a 70 percent decline from 2018.
Many projects can’t fetch high enough rents to pencil out in San Diego County, said Alan Nevin, a development consultant for Xpera Group.
“We have opportunities along the rail and not just the north rail,” he said. “There’s enormous opportunities along the south rail and east rail, and it’s just not happening.”
Many factors go into how expensive a project ends up being — from neighborhood opposition to the cost of construction to permitting fees — but one of the most important, according to experts, is the cost of purchasing land.
Housing industry leaders have argued that as efforts to fight climate change have put more countryside off limits, the spaces to build within existing urban neighborhoods have become more expensive to acquire.
“While it’s well intended from an environmental protection perspective, when you reduce the amount of available land that can be built on, the price of the land goes up,” said Dan Dunmoyer, president and CEO of the California Building Industry Association.
“You’ve still got 90 percent of the state untouched,” he added. “Can we not use more of it?”
New suburban development should be off the table if local leaders are serious about meeting the state’s climate goals and preventing homes from being constructed in wildfire-prone areas, said Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment, who studies the intersection between environmental regulations and land use.
“It’s easier to build a Rancho Bernardo type project,” he said, “but look at the wildfire impacts and the traffic and air pollution they cause.
Elkind recognizes the challenges of building in existing urban areas, often called in-fill development, but he said the state needs to figure out how to streamline the process as fast as possible.
“We’ve made it harder to build sprawl, which is a good thing,” he said, “but we have yet to correspondingly relieve the barriers on in-fill development. We have to grow somewhere or we will just have the uber-wealthy who can afford to live in an increasingly rare supply of homes.”