At least Toni Atkins mentioned affordable housing as she defended her position last week during the City Council's mad rush to pass a second-unit ordinance before a state-mandated deadline passed on July 1.
Atkins, who has been the City Council's staunchest advocate for increasing San Diego's supply of affordable housing, joined the council majority in passing the most restrictive second-unit law possible amid the state of California's push to ease restrictions on building second units to help relieve the statewide housing crunch.
Second units, or granny flats, as they're sometimes called, are little apartments that are either attached to or detached from houses. State law required local governments to begin permitting such units without burdensome public review by July 1, or at least begin the process of creating a new ordinance.
The council voted for a second-unit ordinance last Monday, but only because the state put a gun to their head, as two members put it. Mayor Dick Murphy and Councilmembers Scott Peters, Brian Maienschein and Jim Madaffer were beside themselves with dismay over what they considered the state's unconscionable meddling in local land-use matters.
Murphy and Madaffer, in particular, spoke about how single-family neighborhoods must be "protected" against the scourge of granny flats. Madaffer said that if they were discussing dwellings that would actually be for "Granny," that would be one thing-but, really, he said, these homes are nothing more than rentals in disguise, and we don't want a bunch of rentals stinking up our pristine single-family neighborhoods.
Murphy added that he's never been a supporter of second units. We're guessing that, being a lawyer, a judge and a mayor and all, he's never needed one.
We at CityBeat understand there are problems associated with potential proliferation of second units. We also agree, to some extent, with Atkins' rationale that in most neighborhoods, there's already a shortage of neighborhood services and amenities without a new influx of residents. And we know what a pain in the ass it is when the state hands down mandates, especially regarding matters-such as land-use-best left to local officials who better understand the terrain, so to speak.
But we couldn't help but detect in the second-units discussion a latent bias against those who would occupy them. OK, maybe it wasn't a latent bias-maybe it was an obvious, scream-it-from-the-mountaintops bias. Without a doubt, this was pure suburbs-rule mentality.
Second units, if properly and reasonably regulated, could be incredibly useful tools in fighting San Diego's housing crisis. They are perfect-yes, Mr. Madaffer, perfect-as rental units for single people and perhaps couples without children. And we think it would be OK if some of them were located in-gasp!-the suburbs.
Atkins, in defending herself against the backlash from affordable-housing advocates, said the debate is not a matter of "affordability." Well, there are two varieties of affordable housing: the type that is subsidized and available to families who qualify under strict income rules, and market-rate housing that people can simply afford.
Atkins and others are doing a great job in their efforts to create programs that satisfy the first group. But there is a ton of people in this city who fall into the second group-mostly single folks-many of whom have decent-paying jobs and are still being priced out of even the low-end apartment stock. Second units that provide additional income for homeowners are oftentimes priced below your average apartment.
Aside from the NIMS-FaN factor (not-in-my-single-family-neighborhood), arguments centered around such matters as parking and services. Well, those are overall population problems. The population is going to increase whether the city's hostile to second units or not. If we don't use the tools available to us to help alleviate the housing dilemma, the increased population-much of which comes from the natural birthrate-is going to continue to cram itself into the existing housing stock, and we're still going to have parking and traffic problems and a lack of services and amenities.
The City Council should represent all San Diegans, not just the married suburbanites with children.