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Building a housing crisis

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
February 21, 2002


Recently I read an editorial from the president of Barratt American, a Carlsbad based development company specializing in the construction of single family homes. This op/ed piece was a classic piece of propaganda, replete with scare tactics and misinformation. In it, the letter writer claims those asking for environmentally sustainable communities are responsible for a lack of housing in San Diego County.

Holding up environmentalists as wicker men to torching the arena of public opinion, this biased editorial assumes readers have failed to notice that population is increasing exponentially in Southern California and new homes are being built in the hundreds of thousands to accommodate them. The letter writer also failed to mention that of all the homes being built by his development company, none can be purchased for less than $400,000, and that none of them are apartments or residences associated with mixed use zoning.

Buying into the building industry's claim of a housing shortage is difficult, when freeways are near gridlock during commute hours, classrooms are overcrowded year round, and new home construction is turning the backcountry into continuous sprawling suburbs. No, our problem is not a housing shortage; our real problems are an overabundance of people, dwindling water resources, and loss of agricultural land.

In his opinion piece, this development profiteer, boldly states that environmentalists and organizations such as the "environmentalists, NIMBYs, the Sierra Club, the BayKeepers, the Surfriders, conspire to make sure housing supplies never meet demand. Environmentalists on the other hand respond that with a growth at all cost mentality dominating regional planning supply creates the demand, and that without serious consideration into how many people the region can accommodate, sooner or later developers will build us all into a cul-de-sac of diminishing returns.

The question being asked by those not profiting from the construction of single family hotels, is why there is not a variety of housing choices in North San Diego County. Another question asked frequently, is why, if there really is a housing shortage, those building subdivision after subdivision of single family tract homes, are not building affordable high density housing.

To meet the needs of renters and those seeking alternative housing choices,it is the responsibility of local officials to deny building permits that do fail to address affordable housing issues. Lofts, small beach cottages, row houses, and apartment complexes situated near commuter rail lines, are ignored as developers seek the big bucks associated with sprawling subdivisions.

On Sunday, Feb. 24 Barratt American hosted a gala grand opening of model homes at Toscana, an Italian-styled estate-home enclave in Bonsall's green and rolling horse country. These 26 "blue-ribbon residences" sit on four-acre lots, measure a liberal 4,795 to 6,132 square feet on either one or two levels, and sell for no less than a one million "affordable" dollars. This price tag buys "three to six bedrooms, including intimate master-suite retreats, 4.5 baths, formal dining spaces, sprawling family centers, and a number of have-it-your-way specialty rooms."

Considering the parent company of Barratt American posted a 2001 net profit of $179 million, and a net growth of 17.9%, it's a serious stretch of the imagination to say they have been impacted by a supposed housing shortage. A builder of single family Mc Mansions blaming environmentalists for a lack of affordable housing is the ultimate in mendacity. It is also a classic case of the wolf crying boy.

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