Vista del Mar (“View of the Ocean”) is a condominium project being developed on the corner of Third Avenue and K Street on the west side of Chula Vista. The project will consist of about 70 condominiums with a very small retail area. While there has been strong opposition from its neighbors, this development is being touted as the “catalyst” needed for the area. There is just one tiny, wincy, little problem with the project and why it should be the poster child for bad planning by the city of Chula Vista: The project will convert 20,000 square feet of commercial space to 600 square feet of commercial space with the rest being residential. Losing that much commercial space in exchange for residential means is exactly why the city is facing a gargantuan infrastructure deficit.
Retail, commercial and industrial development bring jobs and critical tax-revenue to a city. In fact, it is the life-blood of any city. The problem is that it’s not easy to create that type of property. Developers can make money much faster building houses and condos. Sadly, the city gets overjoyed when someone wants to develop something, anything, without looking at the longterm consequences of the project. So, in its zeal to turn West Chula Vista into a sad imitation of Manhattan, the city continues to eliminate jobs and revenue-producing land (e.g., industrial, commercial and retail) in exchange for residential projects.
It’s almost like the city has a drug-addiction to residential projects and, as with all drug-addictions, there are serious consequences. The worst consequence is that housing doesn’t pay for itself in the long-term. Housing gives the addicted city a quick “high” in the way of one-time development funds but those homes must be serviced by the city for, well, forever. In its quest to get that development fee “high,” the addicted city conveniently forgets that there are additional expenses for roads, sewers, schools, parks, police, fire, libraries, etc. for every new home and resident that the city adds.
Unfortunately, we are starting to feel the hangover effects that have come from the housing development binge of the last 15 years. During that time, the city added tens of thousands of new homes (that now need additional services) and built a lot of roads that are now falling apart. Since the city didn’t add enough jobs and tax-producing property to balance it out, it now doesn’t have the money to pay for repairs. Why should you care? Because the city’s bad planning has created a $600 million infrastructure deficit and there is now a push to raise taxes that you will have to pay for the next 10 years. It should go without saying but a city can’t tax itself out of bad planning. Chula Vista is the second largest city in the county with the lowest tax base. So, if we enable the city with this tax, Chula Vista will continue to make bad planning decisions and the infrastructure deficit will continue to get even bigger.
Last month, the Chula Vista Planning Commission voted (5-1) to approve the Vista del Mar project (with minor suggestions to compensate for the fact that it is a five-story building with balconies overlooking single-story homes). Part of the reason for the approval was that the project will be a “catalyst” for the area. Well, the same thing was said about the Gateway project and that never happened. Also, if it was true that adding new homes acts as a catalyst, considering the tens of thousands of homes that the city has built on the east side, Chula Vista should be the richest city in the county. Well, guess what? That math doesn’t add up.
If the city was better at planning, we wouldn’t have to be looking to impose additional taxes. Chula Vista needs to add jobs and tax-producing businesses not more taxes.