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It’s Time to Put Money Behind All the Talk About Equity

City Heights / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

The word “equity” and has been lately written and spoken with such admirable passion and noble desire that one might well conclude that change is on the way.

But equity has a price tag, and simply acknowledging the existence of systemic racism or knowing the difference between blatant racism and its more subtle forms isn’t enough.

Not anymore.

In this moment, there should be no dispute about the unassailable notion that residents and businesses of Brown and Black communities deserve the same access to investment and wealth-building opportunities for their families and their neighborhoods as predominately White communities.

Every day, I work to advance wealth-building opportunities on many fronts, not the least of which is to acknowledge our city’s racist history of single-family zoned neighborhoods [1] – which comprise more than 50 percent of the city’s current zoning [2].

Looking back in this way allows for a greater understanding of why communities such as Kensington, Mission Hills, Point Loma and La Jolla are all virtually all White, reflecting redlining policies that date back more than a century.

I firmly believe that the time has come to update these antiquated zoning policies to allow single-family zoned lots to be subdivided into four individual land parcels.

When matched with a potential homeowner down payment grant program, this would create more equitable generational wealth opportunities for Black and Brown families in high-wealth, low-crime neighborhoods with stronger schools and better public infrastructure.

I also firmly believe that our cause of ending what amounts to legal apartheid zoning laws in the city will significantly advance by investing in public infrastructure, with a sharp focus on what are known as “opportunity neighborhoods.”

Not by coincidence, these neighborhoods – City Heights, Barrio Logan, Linda Vista and southeastern San Diego – happen to be the same ones that have been largely neglected over past decades and longer.

In that spirit, I ask the San Diego City Council not to approve Measure C, the Convention Center Expansion Bond.

Instead Council members should use the power of their offices to propose and approve a new municipal bond to fully fund the following projects in these underserved neighborhoods [3] and money for affordable housing:

To pay for this “equity bond,” and when appropriate post-COVID-19, Mayor Todd Gloria and the Council should strongly consider using the funding plan for the failed Measure C – thus raising the hotel tax from 10.50 percent to 13.75 percent.

Already, there is considerable bipartisan support for raising the hotel tax from Republicans, Democrats, business leaders and labor leaders.

Using the Measure C funding plan will generate an estimated $6.8 billion, more than enough to for affordable housing, new neighborhood infrastructure, and additional monies for opportunity neighborhoods to receive the equity long denied by former city leaders.

Prosperous, thriving cities should never be stagnant. Inspired foresight should be our constant compass.

In that light, any great city’s infrastructure is the glue that makes it all work. Yet the continued failure of San Diego’s elected city leaders to deliver on equity of opportunity as related to housing has been neglectful at best, shameful at worst.

Adding new and improved infrastructure to these previously ignored neighborhoods will bring an additional added benefit – a sizable increase in property values.

Let me re-emphasize that point: Increased property values will in turn provide more money to the city to maintain the new infrastructure and provide for funding – to be allocated based on the Council’s desire for more opportunity to achieve a greater measure of equity.

The time has come for actions to match the nobility of our words.

Let’s pave the road to equity.

Ricardo Flores is executive director of LISC San Diego, the local branch of a national non-profit funding agency that serves low-income communities and neighborhoods.