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Politics Report: More on the Email Subject Line That Jolted the Mayor’s Race

Assemblyman Todd Gloria and San Diego Councilwoman Barbara Bry / Photos by Dustin Michelson and Vito Di Stefano

The big local political story of the week is probably the big political story of the decade for local Democrats.

Housing. Housing. Housing.

As Democrats ascend to dominance in local public affairs, they will hardly be unified. And this week, some of the cracks in the coalition blew up with just one sentence from mayoral aspirant and San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry.

They’re coming for our homes [1].”

Democrats are not united on housing: A young, vocal group of Democrats calling itself YIMBYs really wants to make it easier to build denser, more walkable neighborhoods to alter our transportation habits and make housing more affordable. Assemblyman Todd Gloria is lining up with them.

Another group has some skepticism about that and are worried, deeply, about protecting the character, height limits and feel of the communities they bought into. The mayor’s race may very well be a referendum on this divide. Bry is lining up with them. That’s the fear she was tapping into with “they’re coming for our homes.”

(Be sure to check out our discussion on this [2] in this week’s podcast.)

We have some follow-ups to the story we posted Tuesday on all this.

First, Bry’s nuances: One of the YIMBY theories is that local politicians have no incentive to approve this kind of development. There will always be pushback in neighborhoods to any kind of more dense housing project. Thus, the state should come up with ways to streamline projects that comply to broader principles.

But state lawmakers were apparently the “they” in “they’re coming for our homes.” But Bry had once supported the state’s role in addressing housing. We quoted Bry’s own op-ed about it [3].

“In discussing these issues, it is important to remember that the housing crisis cannot be solved entirely at the local level. Reforms in state planning laws would ensure more efficient local land use practices and simpler environmental reviews for affordable housing,” she wrote.

She explained in a follow-up statement how she’s not being contradictory.

“The views Barbara expressed in that commentary are 100% consistent with her views today,” wrote her spokesman, Jared Sclar. And he passed along a written statement from her:

“These actions will have to be in concert with community plans to ensure neighborhoods are engaged in this process, since an increase in density is not always a good thing (think One Paseo, a 23-acre project in Carmel Valley that would require changing the community plan).

“Current residents understandably do not want to see wholesale changes in their communities. The key to making new development welcome is linking it to community benefits, which gives residents good reasons to support reasonable growth. These incentives may take the form of new parks, street improvements or convenient transit services and would be identified by residents through the planning process, based on more effective interaction between city planners and the community. The community benefits should be delivered before or concurrently with new development.”

Another Follow-up: The NIMBY Heart

Attorney Cory Briggs argues a case against the city of San Diego in Superior Court. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Several people on Twitter saw “they’re coming for our homes” as hysterical bigotry.

“That sounds like the type of fearmongering you would hear from 45,” wrote [4] Eric Morrison-Smith. “Recognize when people use the language of an oppressor.”

But people concerned about protecting neighborhoods and residents’ voice in what comes to them have been pushing back on this for a while.

Cory Briggs, the attorney who briefly ran for mayor, took some exception to our Tuesday piece when we summarized his position that housing should be built somewhere else.

He said in a written message that he supports adding housing in many neighborhoods “subject to a number of reforms and protections for the communities absorbing the extra density.”

We based the paraphrase on takeaways from a debate March 6 meeting of the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club. The conversation was between Briggs and affordable housing developer Ginger Hitzke over YIMBY vs. NIMBY.

At one point, there, Briggs addressed height limits. (The mayor has proposed easing building height limits [5] around transit areas.)

“There is such a thing as community character. You will hear people say that is code for bigots and racists. I just think that’s not true. There are bigots and racists all over the place, in lots of different things. But to dismiss the concerns of people who have made their single biggest investment for most folks in a certain place saying I like this place, to dismiss their desire to maintain the place where they put they’re single biggest investment as a bunch of racists or bigots is frankly like calling half the country deplorables.

“It’s not a recipe for making progress on an important issue. Height is part of what gives a place character. When you think about Manhattan, you think about a big tall skyline you don’t think about beaches and when you think about SD, what’s in our DNA is that we’re a beach city not a high-rise city. Now maybe that needs to change and that’s a separate question. But it’s not illegitimate to say ‘I like my neighborhood how it is.’”

When Scott asked him if San Diego is growing, much from our own procreation, where should the people live, Briggs had a ready response:

“I would be densifying downtown. Downtown is not nearly dense enough. They’re dense at City Hall, but that’s a different density.,” he said.

You can listen to that tape [6] here.

EDC Chair: Housing!

One prominent business leader in town was aghast over Bry’s email.

“Four-star General [John] Allen, leader of the Brookings Institute, says that the demise of the middle class is a national security threat. Lack of affordable housing undermines the middle class. Density is patriotic,” said Janice Brown, the chairwoman of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

Coming This Summer: Morena Boulevard, the Council Vote

A vacant lot next to a new planned trolley station at Clairemont Drive and Morena Boulevard has been home to years of development fights. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Bry made it clear this week that she was staking her bid for the mayor’s office on a message directed at residents who aren’t eager to welcome new development into their neighborhoods — especially if those neighborhoods are filled with single-family homes.

One of those communities is along Morena Boulevard, where the city has for years been preparing a new set of development regulations meant to encourage dense housing near two planned transit stations along the $2.1 billion Mid-Coast Trolley line through the area.

That project has been working its way through the city long enough that it’s been a focal point of two elections in that City Council district. It’s finally expected to come before the City Council for a final vote this summer.

The vote: The City Council is planning a special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 1, to consider two separate land use plans that together cover the Linda Vista, Bay Park and Pacific Beach communities near new trolley line.

The city’s plans, which have already been approved by the Planning Commission, seek to create dense neighborhoods near the new trolley stops. They would increase the amount of development allowed around the existing Morena/Linda Vista station on the Green Line, at two planned stations on the new Blue Line, one near the Jerome’s Furniture on Tecolote Road and one on the western side of I-5 at the Balboa Avenue station in Pacific Beach.

The city has delayed making similar changes at the Clairemont Drive Station and on the East side of I-5 and the Balboa Avenue station until it adopts a new set of development regulations for the entire Clairemont community.

The mayor’s race: Bry has decided to become a voice for those who don’t want the city to increase development. She’ll get a chance to stand on that principle when the proposal comes to the Council in August.

Then again, she said in an email to supporters this week that she supports “increasing density along transit corridors and in neighborhoods like downtown, where it’s meant to be.” Maybe that means she’ll support the proposal to upzone around the new trolley stations, despite the community’s organizing against it for years.

Gloria, as an assemblyman, doesn’t have a vote on the City Council anymore. But now that housing and development are taking center stage in the mayor’s race, maybe he’ll come back from Sacramento to speak during public comment on the proposal.

Quite an Argument

Some weekend reading for you: Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr. has responded to prosecutors. They hit him hard this week with allegations that he was pursuing a number of adulterous affairs and using campaign dollars to finance trysts and other luxuries. The intimacy was key to proving that they were illegal uses of that money.

His lawyers say he was just mixing business with pleasure [7].

“However unpopular the notion of a married man mixing business with pleasure, the Government cannot simply dismiss the reality that Mr. Hunter’s relationships with Individuals 14-18 often served an overtly political purpose that would not have existed irrespective of his occupation,” they wrote.

SANDAG’s Board Makes Formal Plans to Keep Fighting

San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar and SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata / Photos by Adriana Heldiz and Megan Wood

OK, that’s not fair. They scheduled another discussion item for their biggest disagreement. But it’s clear things are still awfully rocky at the regional planning agency.

Ever since Hasan Ikhrata, SANDAG’s director, announced his “5 Big Moves” for remaking the region’s transportation system, elected officials on the agency’s board have been at odds.

Friday, County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar asked the board to schedule a hearing sometime soon to discuss whether they approve of the direction of the 5 Big Moves, opening the door to a vote in which the board tells Ikhrata to abandon the idea before staff spends more time working on it.

The concept broadly calls for making transit more frequent, fast and useful throughout the county while abandoning some highway projects that cities in the northern and eastern parts of the county have been expecting, especially since they were included in a 2004 voter-approved sales tax for transportation, TransNet.

Gaspar and others didn’t like the idea initially, but have only grown more oppositional to it in the months since, arguing that it is too focused on transit improvements and not enough on alleviating freeway congestion.

“It needs to come back and we need to agree as a board that we agree on these five big moves,” Gaspar said. “When we have stuff going out to state Legislature …  and it all references this direction, it concerns me because we haven’t agreed this is what we’re doing.”

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and County Supervisor Jim Desmond joined Gaspar in pushing for the discussion, which was approved by the full board.

But even some officials who support the vision said it would be fine to bring it back to the board for more discussion.

“We’ve come a long way on transparency,” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “This is incredibly important direction and I believe when we have this discussion it’ll get considerable support from this table. Never fear the talk of definitions. That’ll give us clarity.”

The definitions problem had already reared itself earlier in the meeting.

The board needed to let staff seek a state grant for an I-5 project that, like the existing lanes on the I-15, would let cars use new HOV lanes to avoid traffic, for a price. The state hasn’t provided the funds yet, and it’s long been the plan for the I-5 project, but it got caught up in the ongoing fight over the 5 Big Moves, since congestion pricing is part of that plan.

Friday, board members were relieved to hear that the congestion pricing on I-5 would be limited to HOV lanes. They said it’s possible they might not hate Ikhrata’s plan as much as they think, if only they can hear a bit more detail about it.

Santee Mayor John Minto, for instance, said Ikhrata recently settled some of his fears when he confirmed there would still be some TransNet funding to alleviate freeway congestion, even though Ikhrata had previously said TransNet was out of money and the freeway projects included in it that haven’t broken ground yet weren’t likely to happen.

“Until we hear that in a board meeting … I don’t think anyone will really understand what we’re talking about,” he said. “That’s what I’d like to talk about – things I was told will be done. Until we hear them and it’s memorialized in a board meeting, until we do that, there can be no absolute understanding that’ll happen.”

If you have any tips or feedback for the Politics Report, email scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.