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Aug. 2, 2017

Housing revolution rears itself in Escondido

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By Mick Pattinson
Housing advocates gathered in Oakland earlier this month determined to turn the tide of housing supply across America.

The second annual "Yimbytown Conference" brought together roughly 200 community pioneers aiming to reverse decades of "Not In My Backyard" NIMBYism which has destroyed housing opportunity for millions of people. These advocates aim to reverse course and persuade neighbors to say "Yes In My Backyard" through education and public awareness campaigns.

The City of Escondido has already witnessed a YIMBY campaign known as ROCC - Renew Our Country Club - brought by neighbors of the Escondido Country Club who have lived through the nightmare repercussions of a NIMBY assault on the property owner. When the economic depression and escalating water costs pulled the rug out from the golf industry, developer Michael Schlesinger purchased the land with a view to building over 600 new homes on the abandoned fairways.

No sooner had Schlesinger begun the already arduous process of navigating the city's guidelines and regulations than up popped a local NIMBY group known as ECCHO -- Escondido Country Club Homeowners Organization -- which engaged the property owner in a four-year battle involving propaganda, lawsuits, a referendum and much bad feeling. So bad was the relationship between the developer and his opponents that a one stage Schlesinger sprayed the golf course with foul smelling manure so they knew how he really felt about them.

Not surprisingly, the city sided with the NIMBY opponents (who vote in local elections), but the courts found in favor of Mr Schlesinger, who successfully claimed his property rights had been violated by the city's actions. In reality, four years of fighting during an economic depression had produced no real winners but lots of losers. The losers were the property's neighbors who during years of neglect had suffered declines in the value of their homes, vandalism, drug dealing on the abandoned golf course, overgrown fairways, dead trees and foliage, closure of the clubhouse and animosity all around.

Out of this failure emerged a new group of YIMBYs demanding that the mess created by years of obstruction be cleaned up. Today it appears this group has contributed to a turnaround that sees a new developer, Urban West Communities bringing forward a plan for 392 new homes and a promise of recovery in the neighborhood's fortunes.

Last year, San Diego delivered barely 10,000 new housing units -- most of them rental apartments. This year, it appears we will struggle to achieve 8,000. These are pathetic numbers in a region of well over three million inhabitants and explains all of our housing challenges from homelessness to exorbitant prices. When I came to San Diego in 1984 we were building nearly 40,000 new homes and apartments each year.

In San Franscisco and the greater Bay Area, the YIMBY movement is up and running. Activist Kieryn Darkwater of East Bay Forward is pushing back against NIMBY groups in his housing-starved region. Backed by Silicon Valley money he is taking on the liberal establishment and bringing with him Bay Area politicians like State Senator Scott Weiner who is proposing legislative action to tackle California's biggest challenge -- its acute housing crisis.

In San Diego we need to learn from the examples of Escondido and the Bay Area. Environmentalists, who create and back local NIMBYism, have long understood that California's laws and regulations provide them with the ammunition to destroy housing through delayed approvals or reductions in densities or the designation of an endangered species and many other obstacles. On top of this comes the greed and self-interest of people who have already achieved the American dream and care not if anyone else enjoys the same success.

San Diego's business groups and leadership must tackle NIMBYism if they wish to achieve fair priced housing for employees. Political leaders must stand up against NIMBYism if they wish to take the homeless off of our streets and put a roof over their heads. Liberal politicians must stand up to NIMBYism if they wish to avoid charges of hypocrisy by backing the environmental groups who are at the heart of our housing crisis.

Today's massively depleted home construction industry no longer has the resources to fight prolonged legal battles for the privilege of building a handful of homes. This is a battle that affects our entire community with lots of losers and very few winners. Either the community steps up and invests in a YIMBY movement aimed at building thousands more homes or we suffer the consequences.

Mick Pattinson is past president of both the Building Industry Association of San Diego and the California Building Industry Association. The opinions expressed here are his own.

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