REGION — In a Sept. 6 meeting lasting over three hours, a majority of the SANDAG board of directors members voted down a proposed county housing allocation formula. Yet the vote became moot when the board immediately reversed it with “weighted vote,” locking in the proposal and sending it to the California state government for review.
The housing formula, known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), is overseen by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. It calls for North County’s incorporated cities to build 27,186 housing units during the 2021-2029 time period. That includes 9,607 in Escondido, 3,116 in San Marcos, 2,561 in Vista, 5,437 in Oceanside, 3,873 in Carlsbad, 1,554 in Encinitas, 875 in Solana Beach and 163 in Del Mar.
The housing allocation came from a complex formula, weighting city populations against access to transit centers on a 35% basis and area jobs centers for the other 65%. And the housing units slated for construction, under the RHNA mandate, is a mix of housing for very-low, low-, moderate- and above-moderate-income housing.
When all was said and done, almost no one on the SANDAG board walked away fully content with numbers. The weighted voting system as a means of overturning a standard vote is a creation of AB 805, a bill which became law in 2017. Authored by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the AB 805 system gives any of the cities with the top four highest populations the ability to call for a weighted vote in attempting to overturn a standard vote.
That many SANDAG representatives will walk away discontent is the nature of the beast in a body representing every city in the disparate county, said Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear just before the vote took place.
“We’re not going to be able to come up with something where everyone’s happy,” said Blakespear, who voted in favor of the proposal.
Though RHNA is a state mandate, the state has almost never — until a recent case in Huntington Beach — brought a civil lawsuit against a region or city failing to achieve its allocated housing numbers. Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara pointed to that in slamming the entire premise of the process.
“It doesn’t really pass the sanity check,” said McNamara. “Might as well put them all in Escondido. We’re not going to make those either.”
San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, in her comments, pointed to the region’s homelessness crisis as exemplifying a systemic failure to build affordable housing under the RHNA banner.
“Fix or foster, that’s what we’re up against. Do we want to fix the housing crisis or do we want to foster it?” asked Gaspar, adding that she had recently nearly hit a homeless individual while parking for a SANDAG meeting, which she showed a picture of in making a statement. “We are underperforming and status quo isn’t going to work. A planning exercise isn’t going to work anymore because people are waking up. Where is the accountability?”
Analyzing the allocation from a city-by-city perspective, former U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray — who represented the 49th and 50th Congressional District during two different stints in Congress — testified that he feared the RHNA plan could lead to discrimination within the county.
“If you draw and like that says, south of Highway 8 where you have working class people living close together, packed in, a high-minority, low-income area, and that’s where you’re going to shove the housing,” said Bilbray. “The job-housing balance is only 35% of your strategy. This thing doesn’t wash environmentally, socially or politically.”
But San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer spoke out in support of the proposed allocation. “We are in the midst of a housing crisis,” he said.
“It’s time to act. Doing things the same way is not going to give us a different result,” said Faulconer. “All of us in our home jurisdictions are working very diligently — I know we are in San Diego — to cut red tape, cut processing time, and get more units out of the ground.”
With the proposal passing, it now goes before the California Department of Housing and Community Development for a review. The agency has 60 days to provide feedback, after which the SANDAG board will convene again to discuss and plot next steps.
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news ouetlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com.
A native of Wisconsin and graduate of University of Wisconsin, Steve is a competitive distance runner, with a personal best time in the marathon of 2:43:04 and nine marathons under his belt. He also has served on the film screening committee for the San Diego International Film Festival.