Housing crisis leads to first joint San Diego county-city meeting in decades
The housing crisis in the region prompts San Diego city and county officials to hold an extraordinary joint meeting on Monday to spur the construction of 10,000 subsidized housing on public land by 2030.
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The move came after years of friction and lack of cooperation between the county and the city on various issues, most notably the hepatitis A health crisis five years ago.
The joint panel will take on the leadership role normally expected of the San Diego Association of Governments, a regional agency that also includes officials from the county and all 18 local towns.
For the first time in more than 22 years, San Diego City Council and San Diego County Board of Directors will hold a joint meeting, and it’s the second such meeting in nearly 32 years.
Leaders of both panels said Wednesday that such a joint meeting was necessary due to the severity of the housing crisis and its negative impact on the economy, homelessness, social justice and overall quality of life.
The two largest government agencies in the region must join forces to set an example of cooperation and leadership in building cheaper housing, said Council chairman Sean Elo-Rivera and County chairman Nathan Fletcher.
The Association of San Diego Governments (SANDAG) has been cited in recent years as a potential leader in cooperative housing efforts. But Fletcher and Elo-Rivera said a joint county-city panel was a better option.
“What makes this particularly important are some of the dysfunctions we see in SANDAG,” said Elo-Rivera. “I sit on the board and it is often the opposite of working together. There are obstructionists who try to prevent action. “
Elo-Rivera refers to SANDAG’s battles for funds, voting resources, housing purposes, perhaps charging drivers for road use, and how to link San Diego International Airport to transit.
Several cities have resisted state-imposed housing targets, and Coronado, Solana Beach, Imperial Beach, and Lemon Grove have unsuccessfully appealed seats to the state’s Supreme Court.
Fletcher and Elo-Rivera said their joint meeting, which will be held in neutral territory at San Diego State University, is also an opportunity to reverse years of friction, mistrust, and limited collaboration between county and city governments.
A glaring example, they said, would be pointing a finger instead of collaborating in the early stages of the 2017 hepatitis A crisis.
“I would say this is the exact opposite of the critical needs of the community,” said Elo-Rivera.
“The history of the city and the county is not a history of collaboration,” said Fletcher. “Imagine the city and county were holding a joint meeting on the Hep A case, instead of opposing press conferences that blow each other up.”
The 10,000 subsidized housing that county and city officials want to build would cut the 172,000 units that San Diego County government agencies need to build by 2030 to meet state goals.
As virtually all 10,000 units are expected to be dedicated to low-income residents, the promised units would have a much greater impact on the 69,000 low-income units that the region needs to build by 2030 to meet the state’s targets – 42,000 units for very low income residents and 27,000 for low income residents.
The city and county do not undertake that all 10,000 units will be located on county and city land. Subsidized units built on any public property, whether in a school district or a smaller town, count towards the goal. The same goes for 3,000 units already built or under construction on government land.
Building housing on unused government land eliminates the main driver of housing costs – the cost of purchasing rare land in San Diego County, Fletcher said.
“This fits in with the concept of using public land to meet the highest needs, as nowadays affordable housing is the greatest need,” he said of the shared county-city promise.
While the meeting together is clearly symbolic in some respects, Fletcher said it would also be meritorious.
“So many of the problems we face are part town, part county, and there is a need for all of us to get together,” he said. “We thought it would be symbolic to organize a joint meeting. We also thought on the merits that it would be good if we focus on the goal and the problem.
Elo-Rivera said the meeting would be more than just symbolic.
“Having the board and the board in the same space, and at the same time hearing each other, committing to each other and together with the public, I think this is more than just a ceremony,” he said. “When we do it together, I think there is joint ownership.”
Fletcher said that of the 3,000 subsidized units already built on government land or in preparation, around 1,000 are on county land and 2,000 are on land controlled by the Metropolitan Transit System.
Fletcher said 10,000 units on government land by 2030 was a lofty target.
“We set realistic goals that are ambitious and we may not achieve them,” said Fletcher, saying that setting ambitious goals increases productivity through concentration of thought and effort.
The joint meeting, starting at 9am at Montezuma Hall, will include presentations about the San Diego Housing Commission plans for denser projects in its controlled territories and how the lack of affordable housing affects the economy and homelessness.
The San Diego Nonprofit Foundation also summarizes the mapping tool it has created to evaluate all government-owned land in the region for possible housing projects. The foundation also provides $ 10 million for subsidized housing projects on state-owned land.
Fletcher and Elo-Rivera said the meeting idea evolved from discussions that followed MTS board meetings, where they both act as panellists.
“We threw out ideas for what it would be,” said Fletcher, noting that he had no idea 22 years had passed. “I didn’t know they ever did anything. I was away when Susan Golding was mayor.
Fletcher refers to the last county and city joint meeting in April 2000, where Mayor Susan Golding and Dianne Jacob, chairman of the board of directors, discussed homelessness. The last joint meeting before this was in November 1990 on illegal drugs.
Joint meetings were more frequent in previous decades. County records show that there were four joint meetings in the 1980s and six in the 1970s.
Fletcher said the lack of meetings in recent years was a reflection of friction and a lack of cooperation.
“The relationship between the county and the city was not in the best interests of the people of San Diego,” he said. “We’re doing it, we’re sending out a powerful message that we’re going to align and we’re going to work together and figure out how to do it.”