By Laurie Black
When is the dollar cost, the health cost, the trauma cost, enough for the City of San Diego to forcefully take a clean path to sustainable energy and wise housing development? Is it now? Is it really so impractical to link climate policy and housing policy — the climate movement and the housing movement — around solutions that would tackle both crises at once? I think not. Barbara Bry feels otherwise.
Last week, I was disappointed in Bry’s latest opinion piece on her housing policies. Indeed, her “Not In My Backyard” approach is so 20th century and we know that most NIMBY protests almost always arise from a local concern in a particular community. Barbara’s op-ed was alarmist and pandering with no real contemporary solutions for our many historical neighborhoods like North Park, Talmadge, University Heights, Hillcrest, Mission Hills, and my own neighborhood, Bankers Hill, which insist, rightfully so, on holding developers’ feet to the fire on preserving the character of our precious San Diego villages. But we also comprehend housing crisis and have embraced thoughtful development in midtown.
Worse was her calling out the “so-called YIMBY” movement as reckless. She proposed building short, fat residential projects of 3-to-4 stories rather “than high-rise structures” with less parking. And then worse, Barbara made absolutely no mention of the critical issue of climate change and the direct relationship to our housing crisis here in San Diego and across the country. With the climate emergency, everything is connected. It’s time to talk about the benefits of all that intersectionality: we can —indeed must — solve our most pressing crises at the same time: housing and climate change.
For almost 30 years I was lucky enough to be married and work with the late Robert “Bob” Lawrence, who was a local San Diego attorney turned developer from 1983 until his untimely death in 2011. Bob was a visionary. In 1986 Bob and I looked at the Bankers Hill neighborhood and midtown as places to clean up, build retail, restaurants, and office space. He had a vision of creating a west coast “Central Park” with Balboa Park as the anchor, and in 1988 for our first project, we settled on the corner of Fifth and Laurel, and the “Cucina Urbana” building was built.
By the end of his life we were building residential and infill housing. Bob was the first developer, back in 2004, to do 18% inclusive very low-income housing, a smart growth project built in Mission Hills along Washington Street with bus and trolley access. It wasn’t easy, but we did it and now people who need subsidized housing have units along a bus line, near hospitals and retail. The good news is that those that hated the project are now some of its biggest supporters.
Climate change has morphed from being the legacy I leave my grandchildren to become my current life. It is a crisis that is impacting us all, and we all have a role to play in finding solutions. The next mayor of San Diego has a critical and special role to promise and cooperate in this process of housing and climate crisis. There is a unique opportunity for developers, owners, investors, neighborhoods and governments at all levels to embrace change and be leaders on this key issue. Not only are rising temperatures a danger to those of us already experiencing homelessness, but also extreme weather driven by our changing climate is leaving more and more people with nowhere to turn. Recent California fires come to mind.
The National Low-Income Housing Coalition estimates that the United States has a shortage of more than 7.2 million units of affordable housing. As a result, there is a need for substantial new development in order to solve this crisis. The Department of Energy and the National Association of Home Builders each note, however, that housing accounts for nearly 20% of all greenhouse gas production.
In the face of this gloomy reality, several recent reports, including ones by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Center for American Progress, offer hope that tackling the affordable housing crisis — if done right — will also help to address the climate crisis. However, it is critical that developers, owners, investors, and governments local, state and federal comprehend this will require new solutions because business as usual will likely make things worse. Bry seems to prefer the status quo, calling new approaches “extreme.” Todd Gloria and I agree that we can and must do better for our communities and our climate.
In the real world, you can’t separate the carbon causing the climate emergency from our physical and economic systems, any more than you can separate windows, furnaces, and air conditioners from your monthly rent bill. And you can’t separate voters’ — and political organizers’ — desires for a safe and affordable home from their commitment to a stable climate.
The elderly. Children. Communities of color. And perhaps most acutely, the homeless. Individuals experiencing homelessness know what the climate crisis feels like. Unlike so many of us, they cannot turn to the comforts of home when temperatures soar to new heights or torrential rains fall or wildfire soot blankets the earth around them. Destroying a home takes a few minutes of raging firs. As one victim said, “Our home wasn’t much, but it was all we had.”
I am voting for Gloria, a candidate with a big vision for our most pressing issues. I found Bry’s piece to be parochial, and self-serving, pitting neighborhoods against each other instead of an overall housing vision inclusive of housing advocates, climate advocates and community groups. She supports easing regulations on new residential development but opposes waving minimum parking. This is not climate friendly, it’s doing business the old way.
We have to build more homes and we have to slow climate change before it reaches the point of no return. We must build more homes in ways that address climate change. We can make homes energy efficient, powered by renewable energy sources, in compact, walkable communities that reduce fuel use for transportation and preserve green spaces. This would mean fewer miles driven — and, thus, fewer emissions — more trees for shade, fewer fields and farms cut up into sprawling lawns.
A vote for Todd Gloria is a vote for smart growth.
Laurie Black in a San Diego environmental activist and former commissioner of the Port of San Diego.