New apartments nearing completion on Mission Bay Drive in Bay Park. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Half of San Diego residents can’t reasonably afford to rent a home in their own city. Sixty percent can’t afford to buy a home.

We can’t and won’t accept this. We must all roll up our sleeves, find common ground, be willing to give a little, and work together to solve this crisis.

Part of the reason we’re mired in this emergency is that, to this stage, we haven’t worked together. We haven’t sought common ground. We haven’t been fully willing to step outside our comfort zone.

But there are no villains in this story — only people with differing perspectives and experiences.

Coming from one perspective are advocates for a considerable increase in housing. This group, which includes many people who themselves struggle against high housing costs, is passionate about loosening the restrictions on building new housing.

Coming from another perspective are the residents of our urban and suburban neighborhoods who are anxious about changes that may forever alter the character of their communities.

Crisis breeds tension. That’s natural. What we mustn’t do is demonize each other and lose our heads amid fear and anger. What we must do is understand each other, educate ourselves with accurate information about the proposals being put forth, and work toward planning for more housing where it makes the most sense.

The state Legislature in partnership with Gov. Gavin Newsom are in the third year of addressing this crisis, having already provided more than a billion dollars for local communities to create affordable housing and combat homelessness. We know funding alone won’t solve the problem and that’s why we’ve also streamlined regulations and made it easier for homeowners to add a smaller second home on their property.

Toni Atkins and Todd Gloria in Sacramento. Photo courtesy CALmatters

But this crisis wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be solved by any one swift move. Our work continues.

Among this year’s proposals at the state level is Senate Bill 330 — the Housing Crisis Act of 2019. The author, Sen. Nancy Skinner, looked at what some communities have done to replace housing lost to catastrophic wildfires and modeled SB 330 on those emergency efforts.

SB 330 respects local control, because it adheres to local zoning rules already approved by the community. It says that for the next five years, local governments can’t initiate any new restrictions on housing production. If a proposal to build new housing meets existing zoning rules, that application must be processed quickly. It preserves community input, but it doesn’t allow opponents to drag the process on indefinitely.

As an emergency action, the bill sunsets on Jan. 1, 2025.

In a spirit of compromise, Skinner has accepted a number of significant amendments as she has listened to communities’ concerns. For example, she shortened the bill’s lifespan from 10 years to five. She removed a provision that would have barred local governments from imposing certain fees on project applicants. Skinner has also committed to remove all language that sought to reduce parking minimum requirements for housing projects.

And she added a provision stating explicitly that San Diego’s voter-approved coastal height limit will remain intact.

Considering the enormity of the housing crisis, SB 330 is a modest proposal, and yet it has incited fear and misinformation. The bill would not void local decisions. In fact, it would preserve them. Nor would the bill give “Sacramento politicians” control of local land use decisions. Local government officials and community members will retain their power to consider and shape any development application in their community.

If we are going to solve this crisis, keep people from slipping into homelessness, ensure that our children and grandchildren can remain close to us in San Diego, protect our local business community by reducing employee housing costs, and meet our climate goals by prioritizing housing near transit and jobs, we must abandon the intransigence that helped create the crisis in the first place, and we must understand that no one measure alone will fix it.

We have to work together — the future of our state and our communities depends on it.

Toni Atkins is the President pro Tempore of the California Senate, representing District 39. Todd Gloria is the Majority Whip of the California Assembly, representing District 78.

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