County tackles housing crisis with development rights program

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0, March 28, to direct the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to investigate the means of establishing a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, a density transfer credit program, or an equivalent program for unincorporated San Diego County and to return to the board within 180 days with findings and options for consideration.

“I would like to see this happen,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0, March 28, to direct the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to investigate the means of establishing a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, a density transfer credit program, or an equivalent program for unincorporated San Diego County and to return to the board within 180 days with findings and options for consideration.

“I would like to see this happen,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts.

A Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program is a mechanism in which a jurisdiction purchases development credits to preserve those lands from further development.  A TDR program is a mechanism in which development credits are transferred from one location to increase development potential at another location.  When the county’s general plan was being updated the county’s Department of Planning and Land Use, which is now the Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS), proposed using PDRs as the primary equity mechanism and TDRs as a secondary mechanism since a PDR program would be easier to administer.  Equity of land is a critical factor in enabling farmers to obtain loans and thus leaving the land in agriculture, so those equity mechanisms were explored to ensure that farmers are compensated for the loss of their property value due to downzoning. 

When the county supervisors adopted the general plan update in August 2011 county staff was directed to develop a pilot Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement program to compensate willing property owners for placing an agricultural easement on their land, which would limit future uses and eliminate future development.  The pilot program included a $2 million allocation to purchase the easements, and in July 2013 the county supervisors approved the purchase of five easements and a December 2013 Board of Supervisors action continued the PACE program to allow for the purchase of additional easements.

The general plan update included principles to place development in the most appropriate areas such as near town or village centers and transportation corridors.  The density calculations were based on the expected increase in population for unincorporated San Diego County.

“It is important that we keep to our general plan and the densities in that plan,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

Jacob noted that projects with density lower than what the general plan stipulates decrease the amount of housing.

“I would like a way to recover those units,” said Supervisor Bill Horn. “We have a general plan and we have a housing element. Given the current housing crisis that we have, we need to build more.”

The county currently does not have a mechanism to compensate for projects that do not utilize the full density allowed.

“We’re well behind in our housing cycle,” said Supervisor Kristin Gaspar.

That housing shortage tends to be not at the expensive of luxury homes but at the expense of more affordable housing.  “Our policies are creating homelessness,” Roberts said.

“We should be extreme in our efforts to increase the amount of housing,” Roberts said.  “We have to be a little more creative.”

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