Should the San Diego City Council allow project to continue with a community benefits agreement?
The San Diego City Council is finally ready to approve the final phase of the downtown redevelopment project voters approved in 1998. The Ballpark Village Project will produce a host of benefits to our region including $20 million per year in tax increment and sales tax.
On its face, the Centre City Development Corporation is pursuing a laudatory goal of requiring Ballpark Village developers to build on-site for-sale housing for moderate income families. Unfortunately the “deed restrictions” in the fine print will actually shoehorn an expensive and illusory housing solution into the development.
In fact, CCDC’s on-site plan was the subject of much criticism from housing experts and affordable housing advocates from the moment it was proposed. So, it should have been no surprise after the City Council delayed approval of the project in July that the developer had meetings with community leaders from surrounding neighborhoods and nearby industrial maritime employers.
First, the expensive on-site plan would target families with incomes of approximately $64,000, far higher than the $19,000 to $35,000 most advocates believe should be targeted to meet the demand created by the thousands of downtown service workers and their families. CCDC projects in their updated community plan that job growth downtown will create 18,000 new low-income households. But, including projects in the pipeline, there are only 300 affordable units for low-income families in all of downtown.
More importantly, a closer reading of the CCDC plan, revealed that “buyers” would be denied the opportunity to grow equity in their home – the reason most people choose to buy rather than rent a home. These units would have restricted deeds, meaning that anyone purchasing the units cannot sell their property for more than the original price, indexed by any cost of living increase. Worse, these “purchasers” are not protected from a price decrease. In other words, there is no financial upside and plenty of downside. There are, though, effective ways to encourage affordable homeownership that keeps prices low and allows buyers to at least share in the equity appreciation and build family wealth. ACCORD looks forward to working with the City Council on creating policies that improve home ownership opportunities for working families.
The developers encountered many affordable housing advocates who argued that the housing could be provided more economically outside of the CCDC planning area where land is cheaper. But the developers, JMIR and Lennar, insisted than the housing be within the CCDC planning area as required by CCDC in addition to meeting the desire of housing advocates to build more housing targeting to lower income families. What emerged was a remarkable agreement to build twice as much housing that could be rented to families with incomes of $19,000 to $35,000 per year.
To put this in perspective, we should remind ourselves that San Diego’s affordable housing ordinance only requires that builders in a redevelopment area pay an “in-lieu” fee rather than actually build affordable housing. That path, routinely approved by CCDC and the City Council, is the established norm inSan Diego. The Ballpark Village would set an important precedent by agreeing to actually build units as described in the City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance rather than paying the fee.
The off-site inclusionary proposal has been well received by a broad spectrum of community leaders, housing advocates, labor and business leaders and environmental groups who are properly concerned about the future of our downtown.
The full package of community benefits offered by the developers goes much further than this housing proposal toward meeting the needs of more working families.
For example, the developers have committed to build the nation’s first large-scale residential high-rise building to stringent “LEED Certified” conservation and energy standards. This commitment to cutting-edge efficiency will benefit the entire community by minimizing the demand that Ballpark Village will put on our already pressured electricity grid.
They have also committed to providing job training and placement opportunities to ensure that as we build workers get new skills and job experiences that they will carry their families into a far more prosperous future.
JMIR and Lennar should be praised for addressing the concerns of people and businesses that live and work in the communities surrounding downtown. They should be further complimented for producing an affordable housing plan that meets the common sense test.
Remarkable as it may seem, some believe that what happens downtown should only be determined by those who live and own property downtown. The debate over the Ballpark Village project may well determine if we, as a city, believe that downtown belongs to all San Diegans – including downtown residents, the people who work downtown, the families in neighboring communities feeling the crunch of rising land values and the taxpayers of the city that are investing to make downtown a vibrant urban center.
The City Council represents the entire city and should act quickly to move the project forward. Further delay endangers the important commitments made by the developer and the project itself. The market is a rapidly changing environment, and this is a good news story ready to become an even greater story.
Lawrence is co-chair of the Affordable Housing Coalition. Harder is a member of the San Diego Organzing Project’s board of directors. Rodriguez is pastor of St. Jude Shrine of the West.
Should San Diego adopt an ordinance mandating certain wage levels for businesses contracting with the city?
Yes: Taxpayers pick up the tab for public assistance for low-paid workers
The living wage proposal is good public policy, and the City Council should implement it quickly. This ordinance will help taxpayers, businesses and workers.
We should all acknowledge that our economy is harmed when people who work every day can’t afford to buy a home, spend money on their children, save for a college education and do not have adequate health care. Even Henry Ford understood – during the depression – that people needed enough money in their pockets to purchase the cars that would make his business profitable and grow the economy.
As community members, we have a vested interest in the city of San Diego’s contracting practices. Thousands of people working – in our libraries, parks, police cars, fire stations, water treatment facilities keep the city functioning.
Opponents of living wage policy decry the proposal as a mandate on private business. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have established a myth that these workers are really not our responsibility because they are employed by private businesses. However, the hundreds of janitors, security guards, landscapers and other contracted workers that work on city facilities perform a vital public service.
We perpetuate the myth that these workers are not important when we prepare the city budget and therefore we need to ask whether we are living up to the standards we set for ourselves. Right now, these workers earn low wages, receive no health benefits and often do not get paid sick or vacation days. These compensation packages do not, and should not, meet any definition of minimum employment standards.
There are consequences to these employment practices. For example, to afford San Diego’s cost of living and high housing costs, these workers have to put in 50, 60 or even 70 hours per week, usually at more than one job. They double up with other families. Their families struggle to make ends meet.
The city’s contracting practices also burden taxpayers and businesses that have to pick up the tab when workers receive taxpayer-funded public assistance like Medi-Cal or Section 8 housing vouchers and when uninsured workers can’t pay their medical bills. In the last few years, local hospitals have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in uncompensated care. As a result, employers are faced with growing health care premiums – a situation that the Chamber of Commerce has called a “hidden tax to businesses.”
Living wage laws create a level playing field for businesses that pursue city contracts. Countless numbers of employers in San Diego invest in their employees by providing decent wages and health care. In return, they get reduced absenteeism, less turnover, greater company loyalty and ultimately higher productivity. But the city’s contracting practices makes it difficult for these companies to compete. They are up against employers who pay minimum wage and do not provide health care.
The living wage policy is a good and reasonable effort for the city to be honest about these contractual relationships. It eliminates distorted contracting incentives, and alleviates the burden on business and taxpayers created by poverty-wage jobs. And it says to our work force that we value our hard-working public servants enough to enable them to provide their families with food, shelter and health care.
If we value the services provided by our workers, then we have to value the workers who provide the service. It’s good management, it’s good business and it’s good government.
Katz, chief executive officer of Manpower Inc. in San Diego, is a former chairman of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Barnhart is chief executive officer of Barnhart Inc., a San Diego-based building, engineering and construction management company. Cushman is president of the Cush Automotive Group Inc.