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A former Sanders official said a big solar company wouldn’t have come to San Diego if the affordable housing fee increase that just passed had been in place. But a company spokeswoman says it would have come regardless.
Jim Waring never minced words when he was former Mayor Jerry Sanders’ top land-use guy. And he didn’t hold back Nov. 4 when he got one minute to tell the City Council not to increase the fee on developers to support affordable housing.
He said the city has been proud of the Soitec manufacturing plant that moved into Rancho Bernardo. Soitec is a French company that builds parts for solar arrays. More about their endeavor is in this U-T San Diego piece.
“I can tell you, because I saw the numbers with absolute certainty, that if this fee had been in place, Soitech would not be in San Diego,” Waring said.
That’s not exactly true. A Soitec spokeswoman says the company would have come regardless.
Waring told me that he was part of a group that worked to help Soitec get to San Diego. There were two steps: 1) They needed to persuade Soitec to come to California over Arizona. 2) They wanted the company in the city of San Diego not Oceanside, where there was a building the firm was considering.
Sanders and others in the economic development community led the effort.
“There were very good reasons to go to Oceanside. It was a teeny bit better in Oceanside. They made the decision to go to Rancho Bernardo because of all the city had done to welcome them,” Waring said.
But it was close.
“If they had been assessed another $400,000 or $500,000 extra, all things being equal, they would have gone to Oceanside,” he said.
Oceanside, like all cities in San Diego County other than San Diego, does not charge an affordable housing fee on commercial and industrial developments.
When I checked with Soitec, however, I was surprised to hear a representative say Waring was just flat wrong.
“In the context of a $200 million investment, it wasn’t an issue then. Would it have been a determining factor? Probably not because of such a strong allegiance Soitec had to San Diego,” said Karen Hutchens, a local public relations professional who represents the company.
I clarified to be sure. She was saying Waring was wrong.
“Yes, he is,” she said.
Hutchens said Soitec was motivated to come to San Diego County because of its contract with San Diego Gas & Electric. And it chose the city of San Diego because of Sanders.
Rancho Bernardo, she said, also offered the company easy access to a “talented workforce.”