Housing permits are like crack to a city and the city of Chula Vista has a crack problem. All cities know that housing developments are not good for them, but they can’t stop saying no to the
crack dealer housing developer. Why is that? It’s because building housing units is the lowest hanging fruit, in other words, the easiest thing for a City to build.
Housing developers need land and the City
has had plenty of green pasture land. It’s no coincidence that the current Planning Department is basically the Planning Department that came from the City of San Diego and they know how to permit a housing development like the back of their hands. Finally, Council members depend on developer money to fund their campaigns and developers know that.
Just take a drive on the east side and what used to be rolling hills of green pastures is now row after row after row of houses. Take a look at what development is currently being planned. You got it – more housing. With all of this new housing you would think that the City would be doing great economically. Well, no, actually, it’s the opposite. Since the housing bubble burst, the City has been running in the red.
The reason for the deficit is because while housing permits generate fees that go to the City’s general fund, these are one-time fees and the cost of maintaining these new houses, condos and apartments can go for, well, forever. As the City gains more housing, it needs to fund more services like schools, parks, libraries, police, fire, sewer, roads, etc.
But what about the Bayfront? Surely, this will save us from our crack-addicted ways. There will be hotels and retail and a convention center, right? Did I mention hotels? We were also told that it will generate $11.5 million in annual tax revenues. Well, while the Bayfront will be a nice addition to the West side, you need to look at the fine print because it won’t add a single penny to the City’s coffers.1 Why? Because the plan all along has been that all of the money generated for the Bayfront, will be for infrastructure and services on the Bayfront. (You should read that line twice)
How about mixed-use housing development? That way you have the best of both worlds: the one-time fees from housing units plus the long-term tax generation from the retail at the bottom. Mixed housing is the sneaky way that the housing developer gives crack to the City. The City feels good about the retail space and the developer gets the housing which is the real money generator. The problem with mixed housing is that it only works in certain places. The first mixed housing projects built on Broadway seem to have a lot of empty retail space. The reason is not clear but parking may be an issue.
What’s the alternative? The alternative is to build a sustainable model that balances new housing with separate development that generates tax dollars on a continual basis: commercial and industrial. So, if you see an Economic Development plan from the City, ask yourself, is it more housing, more one-time fees from development that will continue to drain City resources, or is it real economic development like stores or businesses?
Here is challenge to the City: put down the crack pipe and focus your energies on replacing the abandoned retail spaces like the Kmart on Third Avenue, the Alberson’s on Proctor Valley Road, the two Haggens stores on Telegraph and Third Avenue, the Fresh and Easy on Third Avenue, or the Target on Fourth Avenue.
Until then, don’t talk about economic development plans.
- The exception to that fact are the condos being built by Pacifica on the only land that belongs to the City. However, what is the problem with that? You got it! One time generated housing fees and not ongoing tax revenue. You’re learning.