Opponents of an affordable housing fee increase for big construction projects in San Diego collected enough voter signatures to qualify the issue for a ballot or to have the City Council reverse course, the City Clerk’s Office announced Tuesday.

The referendum challenges the council’s vote to restore the fee to its original level — 1.5 percent of the cost of construction. In 1996, it was halved to 0.75 percent as an economic incentive.

San Diego City Hall

Opponents, led by ex-Mayor Jerry Sanders, believe the fee hike would be a job killer, because it would increase costs for business owners who want to move or expand in San Diego.

Sanders is now chief executive of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and heads a group called the Jobs Coalition, which turned in more than 53,000 signatures on Jan. 22. Nearly 34,000 valid voter signatures were needed to force action on the issue. The signature count stopped shortly after that level was reached.

“This shows that voters are engaged and do not support policies that will have impacts on their jobs and the local economy,” Sanders told reporters.

He called on the City Council to work with small business and other job creators to develop a “sustainable and adequate supply of affordable housing” without damaging the economy.

According to the City Clerk’s Office, the issue will be addressed at a City Council meeting, where members will decide to rescind approval of the fee increase — which passed on two 5-4, party-line votes — or call for a public vote.

While the city’s overall fee on the total construction cost is doubling, opponents say some types of businesses would be charged increases of more than 700 percent, while making only a minimal impact on San Diego’s affordable housing shortage.

The city calls the fee a “Workforce Housing Offset.”

Supporters of the fee increase point to studies that show San Diego’s housing market is among the least affordable, and more affordable housing would make the city more attractive to businesses.

Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, a major backer of the fee hike, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.