Mission Valley was one of San Diego’s fastest growing communities during the last decade, as developers built more than 2,000 new homes there.

Though building slowed with the housing crash, construction has started again. A massive development, Civita, will build close to 5,000 new homes in Mission Valley in the next decade. The first 500 apartments and condominiums are scheduled to be done by early next year.

But as construction moves forward, U.S. Census data released last month appears to offer a reason to pause: Mission Valley had one of the highest vacancy rates in San Diego last year. About 12 percent of homes in the neighborhood’s core, many built in the last decade, were vacant. The citywide average, the Census found, was 6.4 percent.


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Real estate analysts, consultants and developers have summarily dismissed that number, saying their own data show a vacancy rate more in line with the city average, and have shrugged off the possibility that the new data could fuel further criticism of the Civita project — formerly called Quarry Falls — as premature.

“That’s not accurate,” said Marco Sessa, senior vice president of Sudberry Properties, which is developing Civita. “Not even close. We haven’t seen anything above five percent.”

They believe the Census data is skewed, and that Census-takers may have shortchanged Mission Valley because its gated multi-family buildings are hard to access, because of the many college students and service people who only live there for part of the year, and because many Mission Valley condominiums are owned as second homes.

Census vacancy rates are based on whether anyone is actually living in a unit at the time of the survey, not whether it’s rented or owned.

“I have to tell you I’m a little surprised. I wouldn’t have expected them to be higher there,” said Gary London, president of The London Group Realty Advisors.

Mission Valley may have seen a recession-driven outflux, he said, as homeowners and tenants in their 20s and 30s — a large segment of Mission Valley’s population — walked away from homes or left for lower-rent areas of the city or to live with family.

“I don’t think the vacancy rates, even if they’re a tad bit higher, probably say anything more than it’s a transitional moment.”

Robert Martinez, director of research for MarketPointe Realty Advisors, a local firm, said a survey of 16 major Mission Valley rental developments his firm conducted last month found vacancy at 5.5 percent, a rate considered normal in high-density communities like Mission Valley. That survey was based on data that looks at how many units are leased, not necessarily how many have people living in them.

“The problem with the Census is the methodology. They’re counting on people to fill those out accurately and return them,” Martinez said. “I’m sure that a very good percentage do, but there’s always the people in the background that might be screwing it up. And in most high-density projects, good luck getting into a building without someone letting you in.”

Melissa Kresin, a Census Bureau statistician who tracks vacancy rates, said in communities like Mission Valley, with its many high-density, gated communities, Census-takers can have a hard time reaching people. They’ll try several times to get residents to fill out a survey before declaring a home vacant, and may resort to asking building managers whether anyone lives in a unit. “But it depends on their training,” she said. Managers consider a unit occupied if it’s rented, Census-takers only if someone is actually living there, which could account for the discrepancy, she said.

Mission Valley is one of city’s few neighborhoods dominated by multi-family gated buildings. University City in another, but its vacancy rates were less than 10 percent. Downtown, vacancy rates were the highest in the city, with roughly one-third of homes vacant in some parts, as developers have struggled to fill the large number of condos built before the housing market’s bust.

But unlike downtown, analysts said there is little evidence of overdevelopment in Mission Valley, at least from a demand standpoint.

Peter Dennehy, vice president of John Burns Real Estate Consulting, said no Mission Valley developments are suffering from higher-than-average vacancy rates.

The decision by Sudberry Properties to build more than 300 new apartments by next year, Dennehy said, was driven by unfilled demand in the company’s other apartment complex nearby.

“You can’t make the case that there’s overdevelopment,” London said. “That would be grossly wrong, because it’s a central area for prospective housing demand.”

“This is the top region that city planners and consumers want to see developed because of its location and proximity to the trolley, and to employment centers.”

But residents of surrounding communities like Serra Mesa have been heavily critical of further development in Mission Valley, which has continued for decades with little consideration for basic neighborhood amenities like parks, fire stations and libraries. Traffic snarls are common along the community’s main thoroughfares.

Brian Schoenfisch, the city’s planner for Mission Valley, said in an email that the Census vacancy rates capture a snapshot of the community at a moment in time, but don’t reflect the long-term demand for housing in Mission Valley.

Sessa, Sudberry’s vice president, said construction of Civita’s nearly 5,000 homes will be phased in over time, allowing the company to start building, or stop, depending on demand.

“These first developments — the condos being built — if they don’t sell, we’re not going to start on the next ones,” he said.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

    This article relates to: Census 2010, Community, Housing, Neighborhoods, News

    Written by Adrian Florido

    23 comments
    mary slupe
    mary slupe subscriber

    i lived in west mission valley. for 20 yrs..i just moved to clairemont because of the noise, traffic...i opposed civitas...we did many studies and the traffic and the resulting e air pollution in mission is frigntening....sudberry, the developer of civitas is on mayor sanders staff....and he spent a lot of money to develop cititas....i still have many environment concerns about civitas....mission valleyis built on a very sandy floodplain,,,,,,the soils are very unstable, and with global warming it will start to flood....the predictions are in 20 yrs the oceans will rise 20 feet.....i am very happy to longer be residing in mission valley....there are severe problems about sufficient .parks, and a fire station....i was on the community council, and i am a retired civil engineer/ land use expert.

    m slupe
    m slupe

    i lived in west mission valley. for 20 yrs..i just moved to clairemont because of the noise, traffic...i opposed civitas...we did many studies and the traffic and the resulting e air pollution in mission is frigntening....sudberry, the developer of civitas is on mayor sanders staff....and he spent a lot of money to develop cititas....i still have many environment concerns about civitas....mission valleyis built on a very sandy floodplain,,,,,,the soils are very unstable, and with global warming it will start to flood....the predictions are in 20 yrs the oceans will rise 20 feet.....i am very happy to longer be residing in mission valley....there are severe problems about sufficient .parks, and a fire station....i was on the community council, and i am a retired civil engineer/ land use expert.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    You busy-body controllers really crack me up. For those of you that don't like mission valley; don't go there! Problem solved. As much time as our government wastes on planning documents, it is amazing how many backseat drivers there are complaining about that. Either the plans are terrible, or the people complaining are just angry that they didn't get their plan implemented to control other people's lives. If the developers over build they'll just end up with a bunch of houses that they can't sell. When will they ever learn, and when will we ever stop propping up the market to cover up their mistakes?

    shawn1874
    shawn1874

    You busy-body controllers really crack me up. For those of you that don't like mission valley; don't go there! Problem solved. As much time as our government wastes on planning documents, it is amazing how many backseat drivers there are complaining about that. Either the plans are terrible, or the people complaining are just angry that they didn't get their plan implemented to control other people's lives. If the developers over build they'll just end up with a bunch of houses that they can't sell. When will they ever learn, and when will we ever stop propping up the market to cover up their mistakes?

    John de Beck
    John de Beck subscriber

    One more thought.. The newly named "Civitas" will provide an elevated viewing point for the eventual disaster that will flood the valley from wall to wall. For those who want to live in Mission Valley, that security may be worth an investment. I wouldn't want to live in the flood plain.

    deBeck
    deBeck

    One more thought.. The newly named "Civitas" will provide an elevated viewing point for the eventual disaster that will flood the valley from wall to wall. For those who want to live in Mission Valley, that security may be worth an investment. I wouldn't want to live in the flood plain.

    John de Beck
    John de Beck subscriber

    If I were a family looking for a place to live, I sure wouldn't choose Mission Valley. The only schools that were planned there were by those commercial entities that wanted to sell property. Quarry Falls was a proposed charter and it had strong connections to the developer. The only viable schools for this area (since the Prop S. School Bonds don't include any construction plans for the next 10 years or more) is having the kids get free passes for the trolley to Old Town, (where there is a closed Fremont school) or to go up the hill to Mission Village. I can find far better places for families to live than Mission Valley. Of course, San Diego Developers really don't plan for schools as much as they do for profits.

    deBeck
    deBeck

    If I were a family looking for a place to live, I sure wouldn't choose Mission Valley. The only schools that were planned there were by those commercial entities that wanted to sell property. Quarry Falls was a proposed charter and it had strong connections to the developer. The only viable schools for this area (since the Prop S. School Bonds don't include any construction plans for the next 10 years or more) is having the kids get free passes for the trolley to Old Town, (where there is a closed Fremont school) or to go up the hill to Mission Village. I can find far better places for families to live than Mission Valley. Of course, San Diego Developers really don't plan for schools as much as they do for profits.

    Ben Shaton
    Ben Shaton

    The only reason I don't believe the people who developed Mission Valley weren't on LSD is because it wouldn't have been made so god awful ugly if they were. Anytime I have to drive through that area, I'm so glad I don't live there and have to deal with that traffic every time I leave home or return.

    Robert Parkinson
    Robert Parkinson subscriber

    The only reason I don't believe the people who developed Mission Valley weren't on LSD is because it wouldn't have been made so god awful ugly if they were. Anytime I have to drive through that area, I'm so glad I don't live there and have to deal with that traffic every time I leave home or return.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    City politicians have been upzoning Mission Valley to create more wealth for real estate developers since 1960, when they approved the construction of Mission Valley Center in the middle of a flood plain. As long as developers keep giving the politicians campaign contributions, the politicians will continue approving more and more development in what should have been preserved as one the regions few remaining river valleys. In doing so, they have created one of the biggest planning disasters in the southwestern United States, complete with 7/24 traffic gridlock. It is no suprise to find that many people don't choose to buy, rent or live there. It's a terrible place to visit, and I sure wouldn't want to live there.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood

    City politicians have been upzoning Mission Valley to create more wealth for real estate developers since 1960, when they approved the construction of Mission Valley Center in the middle of a flood plain. As long as developers keep giving the politicians campaign contributions, the politicians will continue approving more and more development in what should have been preserved as one the regions few remaining river valleys. In doing so, they have created one of the biggest planning disasters in the southwestern United States, complete with 7/24 traffic gridlock. It is no suprise to find that many people don't choose to buy, rent or live there. It's a terrible place to visit, and I sure wouldn't want to live there.

    Robert Viskil
    Robert Viskil subscriber

    Mission Valley where there in now a condo on every Corner! what a joke how many Schools and parks are down here! places you can take your kids and throw a ball or fly a kit. take a trolley ride through the heart of Mission valley it's wall to wall retail and condos no open areas for a family to go and do stuff.

    tallflyer
    tallflyer

    Mission Valley where there in now a condo on every Corner! what a joke how many Schools and parks are down here! places you can take your kids and throw a ball or fly a kit. take a trolley ride through the heart of Mission valley it's wall to wall retail and condos no open areas for a family to go and do stuff.

    Doug Wescott
    Doug Wescott subscriber

    Remember that for all the development in Mission Valley and elsewhere, it is your City government that continues to approve development despite the large and increasing deficit in infrastructure, such as parks and fire stations, schools and road capacity. If you don't like it, find one of the organizations fighting the City over it, and join them, speak out, sign petitions, attend the meetings, do something! Don't let the precious few who are trying to bring sanity to planning carry the load alone. You can fight City Hall!

    For The People
    For The People

    Remember that for all the development in Mission Valley and elsewhere, it is your City government that continues to approve development despite the large and increasing deficit in infrastructure, such as parks and fire stations, schools and road capacity. If you don't like it, find one of the organizations fighting the City over it, and join them, speak out, sign petitions, attend the meetings, do something! Don't let the precious few who are trying to bring sanity to planning carry the load alone. You can fight City Hall!

    Richard Tanner
    Richard Tanner subscriber

    Valley and Quarry Falls will just add to the situation.

    Richard
    Richard

    Valley and Quarry Falls will just add to the situation.

    joshuajay619
    joshuajay619

    Traffic in Mission Valley can be a real drag. It's funny that the trolley is mentioned multiple times as one of the draws. I think the trolley in general is a draw, but I don't think there is a particulary high usage rate in Mission Valley. I think the main draw for Mission Valley is that it's centrally located, new construction, and lots of nearby shopping and dining. The trolley is not on the top of the list.

    Macsvens
    Macsvens

    And still only one patrol officer for the area.

    William Sweeney
    William Sweeney subscriber

    And still only one patrol officer for the area.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    What would you expect Sudberry to say? "Oh, the vacancy rate is too high, so we are not going to build Civita now". But at the end of the article, they sort of contradict themselves, by saying the development is going to be built in phases--"...if they don't sell, we're not going to start on the next ones". If the market is "normal", as Sudberry claims it is, there should be no reason not to build out Civita.

    aardvark6
    aardvark6

    What would you expect Sudberry to say? "Oh, the vacancy rate is too high, so we are not going to build Civita now". But at the end of the article, they sort of contradict themselves, by saying the development is going to be built in phases--"...if they don't sell, we're not going to start on the next ones". If the market is "normal", as Sudberry claims it is, there should be no reason not to build out Civita.