By Kim Murphy
Murphy & Murphy Southern California Realty 

Real Estate Round-Up: SOS is coming to San Diego


Last updated 9/14/2019 at 12:13am

Earlier this week, I had lunch with a colleague. During lunch, he shared with me the concerns over a movement that would dominate the future development of San Diego County. As he shared with me the most recent news about SOS, I recalled an article I wrote months ago about a similar movement in Ventura County called SOAR that has had a grave economic impact on that region.

SOS is an acronym for the Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside Initiative. Just like SOAR, Save Open-Space and Agricultural Resources, it proposes to set up reform to the current rezoning guidelines, so that when the county board of supervisors approves a rezone to accommodate housing needs, any development of more than five homes would have to come before the county's voters for their approval.

That idea on its own sends chills up my spine. We spend millions of dollars electing supervisors to represent the community on big decisions like development, infrastructure, health and safety and maintenance of the unincorporated areas.

Their job is to understand the issues in the county, to gather the reports and information necessary to be fully informed, to know the state and federal guidelines and make decisions that they believe are best for all the residents of the county.

I don't know about you, but I have my hands full just doing my job thoroughly. I wasn't elected to do their job, and I don't profess to know anything about their job. I would rather make my voice heard through the people who are elected to serve me.

SOS is largely funded by the Sierra Club and the owner of the Golden Door Spa, Joanne Conway. She is wife of billionaire philanthropist and Carlyle Group co-founder, Bill Conway.

Bill Conway's net worth, as reported in Forbes Magazine for 2019, is $3.1 billion. A visit to the Golden Door Spa starts at $8,250 a week. Every guest receives a sumptuous private villa, where they receive daily massage and where they can meditate in their traditional meditation shrine.

They also receive daily facials, a weekly body treatment, unlimited body wraps, a personal trainer for a week, manicure, pedicure, hair treatment, a complete line of body products and a hand wash for their car. It sounds heavenly. I'm just not sure that Joanne Conway's personal angst over a development that was approved by the board of supervisors across from the Golden Door Spa should be the epicenter of a movement that has long lasting ramifications for the whole county.

The project that birthed the SOS movement is Newland Sierra which proposed building 2,135 homes on Deer Springs Road, across the street from the Golden Door Spa.

Most of the homes would cost between $500,000 and $900,000, with some near $400,000, which would provide workforce housing. It will also include 200 affordable housing units for seniors and families.

It also preserves more than 60% of the property as open space, which includes 1,209 acres of public open space, 36 acres of parks and 19 miles of trails. This approved rezone builds what the county needs.

Without the rezone, the land is currently zoned for 2 million square-foot retail and office development, along with 99 luxury estates. I guess this planning is more in line with what Joanne Conway would like as her neighbor.

SOS has gathered the signatures required to get an initiative on the November 2020 ballot. Residents will have their chance to vote this initiative up or down.

In 2011, San Diego County's General Plan was adopted. It serves as the county's land use road map. Every parcel was zoned from 0.5 acres up to over 80 acres. The housing needs of the county have changed dramatically since that adoption.

The county has an availability problem that is causing an affordability problem. It has sprawl which causes gridlock. It has rents that are sky-rocketing due to lack of supply. Teachers, nurses, firefighters and law enforcement cannot afford to live in the communities in which they work.

SOS is proposing that the people decide on every rezone project in the entire county, if the project has over five homes. A developer would not be able to break the development down into 5-unit increments, unless each 5-unit segment were staggered over subsequent 8-year periods of time.

Also, developers could not transfer residential density from parcels designated for higher density use to parcels designated for lower density use.

If approved by the voters, these mandates would be in effect until 2039.

Why am I sounding the alarm? The economic statistics for Ventura County will help residents understand the "why."

Ventura County's average economic growth over the past four years rounds to 0.0%. In the past two years, it has had economic decline, with contractions of 0.9% and 0.4%, respectively. Business leaders from the county's three largest manufacturing firms all agreed that a growing housing affordability crisis and the inability of businesses to attract and retain talent are the single biggest constraints on economic activity in Ventura County.

Affordability is directly influenced by housing supply. Ventura County has effectively stopped building. They are looking at an economy of haves and have nots, or wealthy residents of the county and the large commuter population that enters the county each day to work.

Ventura County's population growth rate was 0.29% in 2017. Ventura County is having negative migrations. Young adults are moving out of the county, often out of the state. Sounds much too familiar and SOS hasn't even been approved by the voters yet.

I also believe that any restrictions to zoning, which are often blanketed in well intentioned concerns such as environmental protection, reducing traffic congestion and achieving fiscal stability are disproportionately harming middle to low-income families and people of color. It almost sounds a bit like red lining, a practice that is illegal in real estate.

My suggestion regarding this ballot measure is to think beyond emotions and think about the local children, seniors, co-workers and friends. 2039 is a very long time. Five or fewer units are an unrealistic limit, and if residents believe that changes need to be made to zoning guidelines, they could work through the respective channels.

What is occurring with SOS is a money play by people with more money than most people, who have a selfish focus, and that if passed, will affect everyone and the overall economy of the county with lasting implications.

Ventura County's results should be more than enough to make residents very concerned about SOS.

Kim Murphy can be reached at [email protected] or (760) 415-9292 or at 130 N. Main Ave., in Fallbrook. Her broker license is #01229921, and she is on the board of directors for the California Association of Realtors.


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