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From Boom to Bust

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
November 13, 2001


The complete lack of affordable housing in coastal North County has finally come home to roost. With market researchers declaring new housing sales down 66 percent, perhaps a building moratorium is in order until coastal cities reevaluate their housing needs. Something that is long over due.

For far too long, the building industry has been calling the shots in San Diego's North County. Building only high priced single family hotels, and obscenely priced Mc Mansions, developers have transformed the region into a land of gridlock while building themselves into a gilded corner. And for those who wish to blame the dogs of war for this misfortune, it's important to note that this downturn started long before September 11th.

Builders, real-estate agents, and industry analysts believe buyers are suddenly balking at the high-priced houses that comprise the bulk of North County's market of new homes. Ironically however, those associated with all aspects of the housing market are going on record to say that the weak market is not about the looming recession, inflated housing prices, or lack of housing alternatives, but because of a housing shortage.

Let me translate this industry double speak. What these folks are saying is that they have inundated the housing market with homes most people can't afford to buy. These high priced homes have driven up the asking price for existing homes, placing them out of reach as well. Now, as a way of hedging their bets, they are crying buffalo tears over a lack of sales and high priced inventory, which in their minds somehow justifies the continuation of over development, overpopulation, and the over consumption of what little open space that remains in coastal North County. It's a vicious treadmill.

Living in the shadow of the World Trade Center, isn't it time we begin the transition away from the thinking that brought us here in the first place? Southern California sprawl contributes to the problem as it represents our relationship to America's involvement in the Middle East. Building high price homes at a considerable distance from where we work, is only accomplished with enough oil to choke the planet.

We must begin to redesign our communities in such a way as to preclude the use of fossil fuels. Not only are big homes expensive to buy (a medium priced new home is now selling for $437,826), they are also expensive to heat and cool, both of which require fossil fuels at more than one point in the process. Big homes require big lots, and big lots are found further and further from city services, which require tax funded infrastructure, only increasing the cost of living the California dream.

Perhaps development interests should shift their focus to redevelopment, and create affordable housing in affordable communities. Smaller homes in denser neighborhoods can mean a higher standard of living. Planning cities in such a way as to encourage people to live and work within walking distance of their destination, or to the mass transit that will get them there, is not a new idea. Nor is converting our utilities to solar generation.

September 11th should be a wake up call. Evolving our priorities would be the highest form of patriotism, and the best thing we can do for the global community. Not to do so will only continue the current conflict.

I say let's roll.

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