The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 Wednesday to rescind a transportation study guide connected to future development projects, including housing.
The vote comes after the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research released new guidance stating that unincorporated areas should use the entire county region as a basis for analyzing the number of vehicle miles traveled for development. The county’s previous study guide was based on vehicle miles traveled only within unincorporated areas.
Supervisors also directed staff to provide additional information on 13 items, including more infill development and projects built near public transportation, by January 2022.
In June 2020, supervisors adopted the TSG to analyze vehicle miles traveled, as mandated by state Senate Bill 743. Signed into law in 2013, SB 743 changed how housing projects are analyzed by reviewing residential VMT as way to reduce traffic, travel costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
Last year, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation filed a lawsuit against the county’s original TSG in San Diego Superior Court, claiming it violated state law.
At the same time, the county has fallen short of meeting affordable housing goals. Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said if the county doesn’t follow OPR guidance, it needs to show that an alternative policy will work.
Lawson-Remer said SB 743 and the state Environmental Quality Act are the law, and “the only regional path forward is to align with state guidance.”
And because SB 743 supports infill development and reduces commute times, “it cuts regulations and makes it easier to build in the right places, and makes it more difficult to build in the wrong places,” Lawson-Remer said. “That is good policy.”
Supervisor Jim Desmond said he reluctantly supported a county staff’s recommendation to rescind the TSG. Desmond also said using a regional approach “will devastate our housing opportunities.” But any legal challenge will delay housing development, he added.
“We keep forcing people to move further away” to find affordable housing, which only increases vehicle miles traveled, Desmond said.
He added it was better to rescind the TSG, and resolve the Cleveland National Forest Foundation’s lawsuit, so the county can keep some local control.
During a public hearing, environmental groups supported scrapping the TSG and starting over, while building industry representatives suggested the board leave well enough alone.
Noah Harris, with Climate Action Campaign, said the county needs to follow state guidance, and adopt new VMT standards.
“This board has made several bold commitments to climate action, but still has not taken any significant action on stopping sprawl,” Harris said.
Lori Holt Pfeiler, CEO of Building Industry Association of San Diego, said starting over would increase the housing crisis.
“Our community fabric is eroding because of that, with families chasing housing where they can find it,” she added. “Our first preference would be to do nothing today.”
Erik Bruvold, CEO of San Diego North Economic Development Council, agreed with Pfeiler. He reminded environmental groups that 150,000 people commute every day from Riverside County to jobs in San Diego County because they can’t afford housing here.
In a statement released after the board meeting, David Grubb, a member of the San Diego Quality of Life Coalition, said a strong endorsement of SB 743 “will provide exactly what the county needs to preserve our natural lands in remote areas, and promote smart development in areas where services, infrastructure and amenities can be provided efficiently — especially to those communities where it’s needed most.”
Supervisor Joel Anderson was absent from Wednesday’s board meeting, which focused on land use issues.