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No new North County sprawl has its consequences

Now you will have to drive down from Riverside

Newland Communities plan for 2135 homes in Merriam Mountains put on hold by Sierra Club suit.
  • Newland Communities plan for 2135 homes in Merriam Mountains put on hold by Sierra Club suit.
  • Image by Alison St. John/KPBS

Where are the high paying jobs cropping up in San Diego? North County. And where are many of the big sprawl housing projects proposed? North County.

The "two simple numbers" that really count in that equation, Erik Bruvold told county supervisors at the October 30 board meeting, are eight and one.

"Since the end of the great recession, for every eight net jobs we've added in North County, we've built one home."

So Bruvold, CEO of the San Diego North Economic Development Council, and Gary London, a real estate land-use economist with London Moeder Advisors, who spoke, are fighting a March 2020 ballot initiative that resists those developments.

Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside would require countywide voter approval for general plan amendments that increase density in semi-rural and rural areas by five or more dwelling units.

Swirling at the center of the debate about where to put housing is a cloud of carbon. With the county's nod, developers of projects like Newland Sierra and Lilac Hills, both outside Escondido, planned to mitigate greenhouse gases stemming from the increased traffic by buying carbon offsets outside the county. Planting trees, say, in another country. Which does nothing to reduce local emissions, the whole point of the county's climate action plan.

The Sierra Club sued the county, alleging that the plan failed to protect the region from greenhouse gas emissions from new development, and won. Last December, a judge halted Newland Sierra, Warner Ranch and Lilac Hills over this flaw in the approval process that lets developers "pay to pollute" as critics say.

With that, the county's climate-action plan had its plug pulled, and 10,000 homes were put on hold. So, too, are similar projects that might use the same strategy while the county plans its appeal in Sierra Club v. County of San Diego.

As Bruvold sees it, a dearth of homes like those that would be built in the backcountry – specifically, traditional single family homes – has led to the chasm between jobs and homes, with a lot of vehicle miles in between.

"Lots of attention has been paid to the SOS initiative," he said, but it could be a 3-5-year delay to move forward on any of the approved projects. The result is that in North County, "those people have been displaced further and further out, adding to greenhouse gas emissions as they commute in from southern and now central Riverside County."

A report released in August by the California Air Resources Board found that statewide emissions from transportation are going up.

Bruvold brought supervisors a letter and "resolution language" in hopes it might be used to "strengthen your position in the lawsuit between the county and Sierra Club that is stopping the construction of 7,000 to 10,000 homes that this board previously approved."

A housing study using SANDAG data from local plans found that historically, most additions to single family home inventory were in the North County. But from 2012-2050, single family home growth there will plunge in both the west and east metropolitan statistical areas.

Multifamily housing will prevail in all but two metropolitan statistical areas: east suburban and East County, "which may add a higher ratio of single family homes."

Not that the county is out of elbow room. A SANDAG report shows that the general plan already allows for up to 67,800 units in unincorporated San Diego County by 2035.

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Yea where are these great jobs ? I’ve got a bachelor degree with a very high gpa and would love to know. I haven’t seen it.

This may be 'Willian Lore C's big opportunity, if not expansion.

It is all about NIMBY's. The lack of housing, affordable or otherwise, in San Diego City/County build Temecula. Like the idiots on the City Council the County Board of Supervisors have no vision. The other issue is wages. The City Council wants affordable housing but do nothing about the low wage no/low benefit full and part-time jobs. Our elected officials have no vision and no common sense. You can't fix stupid.

Remember of Building Cap, when it came out on the development-politico format? What about (to later making, what never came as) Traffic Cap??

The project that has been at the center of this knock-down-drag-out fight is that Newland Sierra fiasco. The place is everything that we are told new housing must avoid. It doesn't provide any sort of walking access, and nothing like shopping, schools or services can be accessed except by car. Oh, then there is the matter of jobs close by. There are none, except maybe at the shopping center that is in the development, right by the entrance, and again, only practically reached by car. (I think the name of the area is Merriam Mountain.) To make it all happen they will bulldoze building pads, and a winding street to access them, along ridgelines. That might be appropriate for huge view estates, but these are supposed to be middle-income homes. If you want to have to drive a mile or two just to buy a quart of milk or meet a school bus or . . . you might love the area.

Yes the county needs more housing, but a number of these projects don't add all that much to the housing stock, and put houses in places that just don't accommodate them, while adding to a massive amount of car traffic on roads and highways that can't handle it.

I had occasion to visit the Pala Mesa Country Club. On the way there I noticed two new housing developments. One just south of the country club and one across I 15. There is nothing near them. You have to drive to Escondido or Temecula for everything.

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