Entrance to Route 125
An entrance to Route 125 near the border. Courtesy of SANDAG

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday discussed how to move forward on a land use and transportation plan that could impact future building development in unincorporated regions.

The county needs to comply with state Senate Bill 743, which changed how jurisdictions analyze transportation impacts from private and public projects under the California Environmental Quality Act. That analysis must now use miles traveled instead of road congestion to evaluate a project’s environmental impacts.

According to the county Land Use & Environment department, the state mandates that “projects that generate or attract fewer than 110 average trips per day generally may be assumed to cause a less-than-significant impact.”

Any policy change would directly affect residential and commercial developers, whose projects would have to mitigate traffic impacts. The policy could also raise development costs and housing prices.

Some developments, depending on their size and location, may be exempt under SB 743, according to Land Use & Environment.

The board voted unanimously for staff to present options for a potential regional plan, including infill development that doesn’t require miles traveled analysis and a full review of San Diego Association of Governments’ transportation plan when it’s released.

County staff will have two months to present their findings to the board. After the vote, Chairman Nathan Fletcher said tackling climate change, increasing affordable housing and more efficient transportation corridors are top priorities.

“We are in the midst of making a transformational shift to our approach to land use and transportation planning to ensure we can build affordable housing and improve our environment,” Fletcher said. “(Wednesday’s) action will help us assess the best opportunities to comply with SB 743 and meet our climate and housing goals.”

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer called SB 743 “a departure from business as usual,” as it encourages development within walking distance.

She added that if her colleagues believe in tackling climate change and affordable housing, they should support SB 743. Supervisor Joel Anderson urged his colleagues to move cautiously on major transportation plan changes.

Earlier in the week, Anderson argued the state law will eliminate affordable housing in the Back Country and poorer minority communities.

“We’re talking about crushing the spirit of people in my district who aren’t going to get housing,” Anderson said on Wednesday. He added that he supports a county climate action plan, but SB 743 mandates don’t take new technology, such as electric cars, into consideration.

His colleague Jim Desmond said a regional approach will diminish the amount of new housing the county needs by adding more building costs. Desmond suggested waiting until there’s further guidance from the state on SB 743.

“I’m hearing talk of sprawl, and more transit-oriented development — but we’re talking about unincorporated areas,” Desmond said.

He added that the county has 6,700 housing units required by 2028, and as of now, “there’s no way we can get to that number.”

Supervisor Nora Vargas said she wants to see how miles traveled options and related costs can be balanced with affordable housing developments.

Vargas said her constituents have told her that they want a chance to become first-time homebuyers.

During an hour-long public hearing, callers weighed in on reshaping county development and transportation policy. Most were opposed to any overhaul that might lessen housing development.

Carla Farley, president of Greater San Diego Association of Realtors, said home ownership shouldn’t be limited to the wealthy. She added that home prices are up, driven by record low inventory. Farley said her group was very surprised to learn that Board of Supervisors is considering something that would put a moratorium on new housing and add more fees.

Erik Bruvold, CEO of the San Diego North County Economic Development Council, said that over the past decade, the county has added over 270,000 jobs, but only built about 60,000 homes.

“People don’t get beamed up to the Starship Enterprise,” but instead drive to another county where they can afford to live, Bruvold added.

Carolina Martinez, climate justice director with the Environmental Health Coalition, said that with climate and housing being the county’s biggest priorities, “we can’t afford to prioritize one over the other.”

She urged the board to collaborate with SANDAG, establish a housing equity working group and support regional boundaries to comply with SB 743.

County resident Craig Jones also said he supported a regional plan.

Some argue that more sprawl is necessary to meet housing needs, but “this is a trickle-down theory” he said. “If it worked, we’d have affordable housing now.”