New home under construction
The frame of a new home under construction. Courtesy County News Center

In an era of intense and often senseless partisanship, there is an initiative on the March ballot opposed by a broad bipartisan coalition of community leaders, including both the San Diego County Democratic Party and the Republican Party of San Diego County. Measure A is a countywide ballot initiative that, if passed, would create added challenges to building the homes and apartments we so desperately need, and further drive up the cost of all housing. As members of the Strategic Roundtable, we join the bipartisan coalition urging a NO vote on Measure A.

Measure A would make our housing affordability crisis worse, and that would hit young families, seniors and workers the hardest. It would negatively impact all of us. Our entire region would suffer — economically, environmentally and socially — if voters approve Measure A.

Thirty years ago, Peter Navarro launched a campaign to cap the number of housing units in our region by trying to stoke fears of sprawling development and traffic congestion. Voters across the county rejected all of the no-growth propositions promoted by Navarro, and as a result San Diego became one of the most vibrant economies in the nation. Navarro is now in the Trump Administration backing tariffs that increase the cost of goods and services for Americans and hurt bi-national regions like San Diego.

Today, we confront another Navarro-like ballot initiative — Measure A — that is attempting to instill the same fears and would have the same negative effects on our region. While we strongly believe unchecked development is not good for our region, artificially capping home building for middle- and low-income buyers and renters with no regard for market needs also is a huge problem.

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Requiring — as Measure A does — to take any General Plan amendment to 1.6 million voters, even if it increases the number of allowable homes and apartments by as few as six units, would serve as a de facto ban on new homes and apartments and drive up the cost of mortgages and rents even higher.

Here is a little historical background:

Two major recessions in the early 1990s and in 2008 dramatically slowed housing production in San Diego. As we recovered from these recessions, construction costs, permitting challenges, and other policy constraints have slowed the recovery of housing production — taking away good construction jobs and driving the cost of existing housing to unaffordable levels for most San Diegans. Today, San Diego County is one of the most expensive markets in the country in which to rent or buy a home, and very few homes and apartments are built to meet demand.

Last year, only about 6,500 residential building permits were issued in a very strong economy with high employment and strong demand for homes and apartments, especially at the middle- and low-income levels. It was the fourth year of decline countywide, and the fifth year of decline in the City of San Diego.

Experts, like economist Lynn Reaser at Point Loma Nazarene University and the San Diego Housing Commission, believe our region needs 15,000 to 22,000 housing units a year of all types, just to meet the demand. What is the result of inaction? Housing prices and rents continue to rise.

This is the basic law of supply and demand. If demand outstrips supply, costs will rise. Who gets hurt? Our children and young families trying to get a start are affected, including firefighters, police officers, teachers and service workers.

Those who stay are too often forced to move further away into Riverside County or Tijuana to find something — anything — that is affordable. They endure extreme commutes, which pollute our air, diminish their quality of life and time with their families, and clog our freeways. We are not capturing any of their tax dollars (because, while they work here, they no longer live here or pay taxes here) to help clean our air, fix our roads, build our schools, and improve our lives.

We are all in this together. If we make housing ever more costly because of yet another regulation or ballot initiative, we eliminate jobs. Businesses that can’t find workers because those workers can’t afford to live here, will give up on San Diego.

If Measure A passes at the county level in March, we will see identical measures surface in our cities.  One copycat measure is already on the ballot in Santee this November. which is another reason why it is so important to defeat this harmful and deceptive measure. Here is another reason: Ballot-box planning measures like Measure A have historically been used as exclusionary tools that segregate communities.

Navarro’s scare tactics did not work 30 years ago. We hope those same tactics don’t fool voters today. We need housing incentives and less red tape — not more roadblocks like Measure A — to encourage middle- and low-income housing for our teachers, firefighters, police and service workers. We encourage voters to do the right thing and reject Measure A.

Richard Murphy is a former Mayor of San Diego and retired superior court judge. Wendy Gillespie is president and CEO of Frontier Trading. Julie Meier Wright is a former Secretary of Trade & Commerce for California and retired CEO of San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation. They are members of the Strategic Roundtable, a group of nearly 40 retired executives who believe in “Community before Self.”