An Important Local Vote for New Housing

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

Time was when you could almost always count on a daily metropolitan newspaper in California siding with environmentalists and other opponents of a proposed new development because of purported impacts it would have on the community or just because the local government wasn’t in favor of it.

But, now in the face of a bona fide, border-to-border housing crisis, the local view may be changing.  In a smallish but important endorsement of a new development in the unincorporated area of San Diego County – complete with over 2,100 housing units – the metropolitan newspaper editorialized in favor of a controversial project full of new homes.

The action of the San Diego Union-Tribune represents a bit of a turnaround.  The newspaper was among the opponents of several North County “backcountry” housing developments – listing environmental as well as traffic problems with them.  For example, it editorialized against the popular Lilac Hills Ranch project in Valley Center two years ago for having “too many fundamental flaws”, including transportation.

Fast-forward to 2018 and the Union-Tribune was telling readers that because of its sky-high cost of housing California had recently become “the epicenter of poverty in America”.  The editorial board of the San Diego daily went on to urge the county board of supervisors (“the Board”) to quickly approve the project.  Among other things, the newspaper cited the developer’s agreement to provide affordable housing, a public school, open space and parkland and a freeway interchange as worthy concessions to ease the impact the development, called Newland Sierra, would have on the broader area.

The Union-Tribune went further – making a moral argument for more housing in the region.  In fact, it said the need for new housing outweighed a proposal for more commercial and office space.  Wrote the Union-Tribune, “allowing for far more homes and far less office and commercial space isn’t just an amendment to the county general plan – it’s an improvement.”  The newspaper further stood by that statement by urging the Board to approve all of the project’s proposed housing – more than twice what is called for in the existing general plan.

Newland Sierra has a long way to go.  A principal opponent of the project is the Golden Door, a spa adjacent to the area to be developed which speaks loudly in the county.  And, looming to file the inevitable lawsuit to block development of any kind in the state – under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – is the usual gaggle of state and regional environmental groups.

And, those groups have been busy telegraphing their intentions, saying the project suffers from what ailed the Lilac Hills development.  And, recently they added a concern over the dangers of new construction in areas prone to wildfires.  But, these charges are strongly dismissed in the Union-Tribune editorial.

It’s too early to forecast whether the action taken by the Union-Tribune in endorsing the Newland Sierra project represents a new perspective on the region’s housing need by but we’ll take it as a good sign.

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NOTE:  On September 26, the Board voted 4-0 to approve the Newland Sierra project in North County. 

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