California is facing a profound crisis because of the cost of housing. With rents for modest apartments topping $2,000 in many cities and the median cost of homes north of $550,000, it’s no wonder the ridiculous cost of a roof over one’s head has caused California to have the nation’s highest rate of poverty — and caused growing numbers of poor and middle-income residents to flee the Golden State.
The factors driving this crisis were clearly laid out in a state Legislative Analyst’s Office report in 2015. It found that the high cost of shelter was directly related to a massive shortage of housing stock, which was in turn caused by the difficulty of building new homes and apartments because of the high cost of labor and land — and the regulatory thicket homebuilders face at the local government level.
Against this backdrop, a proposal to make it harder to build housing in large parts of San Diego County would actually harm the local economy by fueling a cycle of less worker housing, higher employer costs, job losses and an exodus of firms and families. If the “SOS” (Save Our San Diego Countryside) measure passes, general plan amendments that add six or more housing units in unincorporated areas would require county voters’ approval.
Yes, proponents — mainly environmental groups, some union locals and the wealthy owners of the Golden Door Spa in North County — have effective arguments. They say county supervisors have a history of kowtowing to deep-pocketed developers and approving projects in remote areas with inadequate infrastructure and high fire risks. They argue that “people, not politicians” should be trusted to prevent sprawl. They say that tens of thousands of units could be added under existing zoning.