[Editor’s note: This story published on Voice of San Diego on June, 25, 2019. bit.ly/2xdRbJZ]
By Scott Lewis
Early Tuesday morning San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry sent out a mass email to promote her campaign for mayor and solicit donations. It had an alarming subject line.
“They’re coming for our homes.”
For months, the race for mayor has seemed like it could serve as a kind referendum about how San Diego would handle its housing affordability crisis. Should we support a vast increase of housing supply, particularly in areas of high employment and transit options? Or should we try to keep people out? Preserve neighborhood character and ensure home-building happens somewhere else?
Attorney Cory Briggs even jumped into the race, however briefly, just to take a stand for the latter point. He proclaimed his battle cry for protecting neighborhoods from builders a success, and withdrew.
But Bry has obviously picked up on the angle. Tuesday’s email was the sharpest cry of her own to appeal to fears that the push for more homes here is literally threatening existing homeowners. And it triggered immediate and angry responses from mostly young Democrats, including the chairman of the local Democratic Party, who called Bry’s email “poor form” on Twitter.
It all had the feel of a blow-up just waiting to happen.
Bry’s missive had several layers of attack, the first was a bill making its way through the state Legislature. The second target for Bry was a local Democratic club, the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County, which started last year and has grown.
“I was very disappointed by my opponent’s vote to approve SB 330 last week,” Bry wrote. “SB 330 would void local restrictions on density, land use, zoning, and design standards and give Sacramento politicians control of local land use decisions!”
IN CASE IT WASN’T CLEAR, SHE MEANS ASSEMBLYMAN TODD GLORIA.
To help you follow: Remember, SB 50, Sen. Scott Weiner’s bill that would have allowed developers to build mid-rise housing projects near transit, good schools and jobs without local approval? It dominated the media’s attention this year, but another piece of legislation in Sacramento also sought major changes.
SB 330, by Sen. Nancy Skinner, would stop cities from adopting policies that restrict new development and forcing them to quickly approve projects that comply with local rules.
For five years, cities with expensive rents or low vacancies would not be allowed to lower the number of housing built in a specific area, or to impose a moratorium on new housing. The bill would also streamline the process of getting a new development approved by forcing cities to clearly articulate to developers their review process and everything required of them, while requiring no more than five public hearings for projects that comply with a city’s development requirements.
Gloria and others had pushed for carveouts to protect San Diego’s 30-foot coastal height limit.
Bry went on: “Last year, my opponent supported the current mayor’s plan to authorize the construction of high-rise apartments, without parking and without community input, in residential neighborhoods.”
Bry herself initially voted for the change to parking requirements before changing her mind after getting feedback from her community.
Nicole Capretz, the executive director of the Climate Action Campaign, took Bry’s email as a NIMBY message – a plea to keep people out of wealthy, neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes. And to her, that’s a problem.
“As I will scream til I am blue in the face, housing policy is climate policy. You cannot be a NIMBY and be a climate champion or comply with our Climate Action Plan,” Capretz tweeted.
Bry said it’s more nuanced than that.
“This is not about simplistic labels like NIMBY or YIMBY. I’m a strong supporter of the City’s Climate Action Plan and favor increased density along transportation corridors, but I believe these decisions should be made locally, by local elected officials, not by Sacramento politicians,” she said in a written statement.
She did not have a direct response to Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, the chairman of the San Diego Democratic Party, who blasted her for attacking other Democrats, as she had against YIMBY Dems.
“I told the YIMBYs that I would not even seek their endorsement because of their support for Sacramento intrusion into local planning. My opponent now wears their endorsement as a badge of honor,” she wrote in the campaign email.
Rodriguez-Kennedy wrote that the message was “out of bounds behavior.”
“How Not To Run For Office 101: Impugning the motives of a group of middle/working class millennials who’s main fight is affordable housing from a multimillion $ home in La Jolla. Extra Credit for fearmongering w/ hyperbolic coded language that reinforces every ism possible,” he wrote.
It wasn’t so long ago that Bry, like with parking requirements, supported reform of local planning laws from Sacramento. Bry now says that SB 330 is “an attempt by Sacramento politicians and their special interest backers to preempt local control over land use planning.”
But when she was running for City Council, she had a different take on Sacramento’s potential role in the housing crisis.
“In discussing these issues, it is important to remember that the housing crisis cannot be solved entirely at the local level. Reforms in state planning laws would ensure more efficient local land use practices and simpler environmental reviews for affordable housing,” she wrote then in an op-ed for Voice of San Diego.
Gloria jumped to the YIMBYs’ defense. He said it was wrong to imply only corporate interests support adding housing supply.
“I will stand against insiders and politicians who want to hold us back and keep the system rigged for themselves, and I will stand up for every neighborhood, school, small business and hardworking San Diegan,” he wrote.
While Bry faced blowback for her take, the push against her came from a decidedly young, diverse crowd. The email was likely more welcome to an older group of Democratic homeowners.
Months ago, I moderated a debate between a housing developer, Ginger Hitzke, who’s active with the YIMBYs and Briggs. The forum was the Foothill-La Mesa Democratic Club and it was mostly an older group.
Briggs did very well there. His anti-developer remarks, hits against YIMBYs and contention that the housing supply arguments were bogus resonated.
Correction: An earlier version of this post included provisions of SB 330 that have been removed.
—Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently breaks news and goes back and forth with local political figures. Contact Scott at email@example.com or 619.325.0527, and follow him on Twitter at @vosdscott.