By Mick Pattinson
According to reports, two of our prominent political leaders got into a verbal fracas at last week's SANDAG meeting called to confirm state mandated housing goals for our region. During the debate, retiring County Supervisor Ron Roberts poured scorn on suggestions that state politicians in Sacramento were solely responsible for the severe housing crisis we are now facing.
Roberts suggested local politicians should look in the mirror. "You're part of the problem" he said. "Every part of every community has an excuse for why they're going to turn down housing. The state are a contributor but damn few people around this table are doing their part."
Fighting talk, but San Marcos Mayor and candidate for County Supervisor Jim Desmond wasn't having it. He said he and others had "approved a lot of housing and paid the price for it". He went on to say, "In our city, we've approved a lot of housing and I've had my head handed to me with 200 people screaming in the audience." He added that he had people who hate his guts "because he supported housing".
So there you have it. A leading local city mayor who just won 35,832 votes in the primary race for County Supervisor can't handle 200 people screaming at him at a city council hearing. A city mayor responsible for roughly 97,000 constituents allows 200 "NIMBY "screamers" to undermine his city's decision making!
Sadly, this remark by Mayor Desmond about the tactics of the NIMBYs who want to deny others the benefits they enjoy is familiar. Any builder or developer who has navigated years of entitlement wars can give you examples of councils succumbing to the NIMBY "screamers" at the city council hearing. Time and time again deserving development projects have been denied, delayed or down sized because of the small turnout of rude objectors.
It is true that San Marcos has approved its share of housing in recent years but a large amount of that is student housing connected to the University of California San Marcos and is not workforce housing. Surely the citizens and elected officials of San Marcos understood there would be a need for student housing when they sought location of the university in their city with all the economic benefits that came with it.
This is the hypocrisy of our local government in action. Cities attempt to attract businesses, tourists, universities and other growth inducements to our region but then fail to support necessary housing. When confronted by 200 NIMBY "screamers" too many elected officials forget they also represent the "silent majority" who are not present at council hearings. These are the people who elected them to office at the ballot box and expect them to do their job. Not give in to the mob.
Elected officials are also responsible to property owners who may wish to cash in their land for a better and more lucrative use after years of uneconomic avocado growing. Our political leaders are responsible for executing the city general plan and now they are responsible for compliance with the state's housing goals as California wrestles with decades of housing neglect.
Last week's SANDAG meeting was a fourth attempt to get an agreement to accept the state's target of 171,000 new home completions between 2021 and 2028. SANDAG had hoped to negotiate this goal down to a mere 116,000 new homes but finally gave in to the state mandate thanks to arm wrestling from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulkner invoking legislation giving big cities greater say.
Delivering 171,000 new homes over eight years calls for the doubling of our current production levels and ignores a current deficit of 143,000 homes. Not a pretty picture. Worse is the thought that the people who occupy our seats of power and control the approval of development projects can't handle a few cuss words from an unruly council chamber!
How does that saying go? If you can't take the heat...
Mick Pattinson is past President of the California Building Industry Association and San Diego Building Industry Association. The opinions expressed here are his own.