Irrational Rationalization


Mayor Sam Abed likes to rationalize developments like Lilac Hills and Safari Highlands Ranch, developments that will abominably destroy habitat and farmland, by avowing (over and over again) that the population growth in San Diego County is twice the growth of housing. This is pure manure.

In the year 2015, San Diego County population grew by around 28,000 people, 25,000 in the number of births within the county, 45,000, less the number of deaths, 30,000, and about 3,000 people moving into the county. .   The national average of people per household is 2.63, so that growth would theoretically require some 10,600 or so new housing units.

In July of 2015, the Union Tribune reported that housing permits could top 10,000 for the 2015.  At the present time, Zillow lists 8,379 homes for sale in San Diego County. Zillow’s listing for rentals is less abundant. Which emphasizes the point that the crisis in San Diego County’s housing is not the amount of housing, it is the cost of housing.

Folks like Abed, and Councilman Ed Gallo with his domino theory of housing, argue that the more homes that are built, the lower the price of housing. This basic rule of economics is valid, but doesn’t apply to San Diego County. As UCSD economist Dr. Richard Carson has pointed out, there are two ways in which San Diego County can go. It can be built out to resemble Toyko or Hong Kong, and the prices of housing will continue to rise, or growth can be managed and the prices of housing will continue to rise, because San Diego County is such a desirable place to live. Building more homes will attract more businesses, more businesses will bring in more employees, and the endless cycle will continue.

Housing projects like Lilac Hills and other proposed General Plan Amendment projects now making their way through the county’s process, will not lower the price of housing.  The only way to do that is through construction of more low-income housing, public housing, socialist housing if you will—anathema to Abed and his cohorts. In the county’s current General Plan, there are 72,683 housing units that could be built in the unincorporated county, without any General Plan Amendment.

San Diego County is home to more endangered species than any other county in the nation. Just as my right to shake my fist ends at your nose, the right of developers to destroy habitat and farmland should end where the rights of future generations to enjoy wildlife as it is today begins, and it begins today.





6 thoughts on “Irrational Rationalization

  1. kirkweffinger

    Taking a snapshot in time and using it to rationalize a point of view is no more valid than intimating the comments of Mr. Abed have no factual basis. The fact is, this is the first year in many that housing starts have come close to the 10,000 figure you point to. The reality is that housing production has lagged demand for several years and it will take MORE than 10,000 units per year for the next several years to bring back balance. This is not the imaginings of Abed, it is the statistical reality SANDAG analysts have been pointing to for years.

    The number of existing listings isn’t the key figure here. It is the absorption rate of that inventory that is important. The supply of single-family detached homes listed in North County (as of March) was 1,531 units. Average market time for the 836 closing during the same period was 39 days, meaning there is only a 2 1/2 month supply of inventory, and that number is falling. The numbers for attached units for sale are even worse, with a less than 1 1/2 months supply. Furthermore, the total listings figure quoted for the county as a whole also fails to take into account that over 4,500 of the listings quoted are actually pending sales, i.e.; “sold” but not yet closed.

    As far as the cost of housing goes, while it is true San Diego County is a lovely, desirable place to live and people will pay more to live here, much of the added cost of housing has absolutely NOTHING to do with desirability but, rather, is directly linked to the enormous costs associated with development brought on by governmental regulation, NIMBY lawsuits, and other obstructive actions and policies. The notion that tens of thousands of units can be built in unincorporated county areas based on the current General Plan belies the fact that the densities required to enable the economic development of these areas due to the aforementioned make it virtually impossible.

    San Diego (perhaps) has more endangered species than anywhere else but, that is also because San Diego is also more biologically diverse. That diversity is in no small part preserved by the development policies that have produced mitigation sites developed as an offset to the damage necessarily wrought by development.

    What isn’t mentioned here (surprisingly) is the complaining about “traffic”, that other popular no-growth bugaboo. But then, maybe that’s because recognition of the fact that long commutes…which are growing ever longer…are one very salient byproduct of growth measures that push workers further and further out in search of affordable housing is starting to creep into the consciousness.

    It’s clear the author’s answer to growth in the region is to encourage economic stagnation and, as a byproduct, the eventual decline of our economy and the government services that private sector employment pays for. Let’s take a moment to consider how well that model is working for cities/regions like Detroit…


    1. mmliles Post author

      Ah Mr. Effinger, you are a master of specious rhetoric. This isn’t as bad as your notion that human destruction of the world’s habitats was a natural result of evolution, but it comes close.
      First is your reference to SANDAG figures. Figures that are traditionally influenced by the BIA. As Dr. Carson has pointed out building lots more houses will bring in more businesses, and thus more employees, increasing the demand for housing. You do not answer my claim that the proposed General Plan Amendments will not lower the price of housing.
      Second, your observation that San Diego has more endangered species is because it is so biologically diverse is correct. If you understood what the implications of habitat destruction were to such diversity, you would understand that destroying a unique (diverse) habitat of a few square miles is more likely to destroy a unique organism.
      Third is your straw man argument that encouraging controlled growth will necessarily lead to economic stagnation. I have mentioned before that population growth is not necessary for economic growth. Economic growth is easier with population growth, but not impossible.
      Fourth your second straw man argument reference to Detroit, a city destroyed by the exportation of jobs overseas. It did not fail because of the lack of government, it failed because the government failed to act to retrain factory employees.


      1. kirkweffinger

        Let’s take your response point by point, shall we?
        I find it almost humorous, if a bit pathetic, that your response to my pointing out SANDAG is the organization doing housing analysis is to claim some sort of conspiracy between a government agency and the BIA. Just because their analysis doesn’t agree with yours. Classic.

        As to my not answering your claim regarding the General Plan, I suppose my answer went too far into the weeds. Let me clarify: What WILL provide more affordable (but not, on its own, truly affordable) housing is to streamline the approval process for development (including modifying CEQA) to mitigate one of the major cost components to development…time.

        Your argument that “controlled” (which is really “no”) growth can support economic growth is not supported by any facts. Name any region with strong, vibrant economies and tight growth restrictions that also have adequate housing for its workers at affordable rates (except, possibly through government subsidies). (I have for decades found it ironic that government, which bears a significant amount of the responsibility for the skyrocketing cost of housing through its ever-growing panoply of fees and regulation, is now seen as the white knight for affordable housing.)

        My “strawman”, as you put it, is your own interpretation. Funny how you put up a strawman of your own in response. I never said anything about the cause of Detroit’s economic malaise, only the effect. But, since you brought it up, let’s examine, shall we? You argue jobs were sent overseas, thus destroying the economy. Well, it so happens many auto sector jobs didn’t move overseas, they just moved to other states…where, among other things, the cost of living (including housing) was lower, making labor costs more affordable. And, before you whine about the displacement of all those union workers, remember that the auto industry is a highly competitive business that must compete with manufacturers from around the world. That means costs have to be mitigated wherever possible and that may include lower wages and/or automation to replace workers altogether. But that’s for another time…

        San Diego and many other regions of the country have suffered similar impacts when major industries/employers shut down or scaled back. The difference is, in most cases, they adapted and developed new economic sectors to replace them. Not so Detroit (although the city now seems to be finally taking the steps necessary to turn things around). Maintaining a status quo economic environment in the vain hope of preserving things just as they are for all time is folly.


        1. mmliles Post author

          Let’s take your points one by one. Yes SANDAG is a function of the BIA. The members of SANDAG’s board are elected officials, the majority of which like Abed and Horn are basically tools of the developers who paid for them. SANDAG’s population numbers do not take into consideration out-migration, just net in-migration. When I studied the census figures between 1990 and 2000, I found that the increase in working age people within the county far exceeded the number that would naturally occur as a result of youngsters coming of age. Old people moved away, young workers came in to take the jobs that result from more businesses that came because more houses were built and on and on. I suspect it is the same for the 2000 to 2010 figures.
          Your argument that lowering regulations and fees would lower housing prices begs the question—if tomorrow all fees were waived in the county, would the builders immediately lower their prices? Of course not. The price of housing is always determined by the demand for housing, not the cost of construction as many failed spec builders have found.
          Regarding Detroit, your argument seemed to be to my statement the only way to increase affordable housing is to increase public housing, as they’ve done throughout Western Europe, a good example of how well controlled growth works. I have never said there should be no growth. I have said that developments like Lilac Hills are unnecessary destruction of habitat.
          What is folly is ignoring the delicate state of our planet. Global warming will cause more harm to the economy than any regulations that attempt to reduce the burning of fossil fuels. Al Gore said it best when he noted that birth control is the most cost-effective way to fight global warming.
          There was an article in Nature, in June of 2012 that basically hypothesized that human over consumption of the planet was bringing about a cataclysmic change that cannot be reversed. I understood the implications of global warming since I read the first IPCC report in the 90’s. Scientists have been trying to warn us for 25 years. It is folly to ignore their prognostications.


          1. kirkweffinger

            Wow! So many circular arguments, its hard to know where to begin!

            SANDAG’s figures most certainly DO take into account migration, both in and out. You are right that in-migration has accounted for some of the growth. However, it has long been known that 65% of our population growth is the result of the county’s internal growth…babies having babies…and the happy consequence of people living longer not “making room” for that growth.

            I don’t know about you, but I am a San Diego native. My wife is not. Both of our children were born here. So our household is made up of both internal growth and in-migration. When and if our children bless us with grandchildren, and assuming we live another fifteen or twenty years, its quite likely my little example will have created a net increase of four or five San Diegans who were born here. I realize this is a small sample but, I’d be willing to bet it is a very common scenario.

            It was the voting public who put these people into office and, as I recall, Abed and Horn each have only one vote on a board with weighted voting and representing eighteen different cities as well as the county. Your statement implies our elected officials are uniformly not to be trusted, and we are all dupes. I guess that means democracy is a failed ideology. OK…

            No, builders won’t “immediately” lower prices. I do not recall saying that…at all. I, and just about any other person who understands basic market economics, do understand this simple premise however. Supply and demand means if you INCREASE the supply, prices will either drop or moderate. And, if enough building is allowed to take place to accommodate the needs of the workforce, there will be housing stock of all price points available.

            I am for growth management that takes into account many factors, not just impacts on environment but also the economic and social consequences. The unintended consequences of the latest hot-button, if well-intended, attempts at social engineering have far too-often left us with a worse world than the one we tried to fix, and government’s heavy hand is the frequent culprit.


          2. mmliles Post author

            The only thing circular about my arguments is your inability to see its end points. I have never said that we should not grow the housing stock, what I said was that building more housing in San Diego will not lower prices! That would take a recession. What I have said often is that we should be doing everything we can, worldwide, to stabilize population. What I have said is that it is irresponsible to build abominable developments like Lilac Hills. Yes, because of increasing life spans, the population will increase, but it will eventually stabilize. We can no longer afford to “balance” the need of developers with the needs of the environment. We’ve done that in California over the last century. It has demolished Los Angeles County and Orange County. It’s time to stop sprawl from ruining more habitat and farmland. Once again we must agree to disagree.


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