By Kim Murphy
Murphy & Murphy Southern California Realty 

Real Estate Round-Up: Vehicle Miles Traveled - the good, the bad, and the ugly


Last updated 2/24/2022 at 3:53pm

Strike that. From my perspective, in a town like Fallbrook, Vehicle Miles Traveled is only bad or ugly.

The idea of VMT originated in Sacramento to combat “global warming.” The proposal focused on the “stick” approach to decreasing the number of vehicles on the road each day. Rather than entice employers to increase consistent remote workers through tax incentive, the powers in Sacramento chose to punish the workers and the communities from which they come, by adding a fee, a tax by any other name, for driving many miles to get to work.

The part of the equation that they didn’t factor in, is that the only reason people are driving miles and miles to work, is because they can’t afford to live near where they work. The cost of building a home in California has been pushed to an extreme by the requirements put on the builder by the state for things like CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.

CEQA has created so many impediments and costs to building, that the only affordable place to build is far away from the metro areas that people work in. CEQA in principle is good; in practice, it has been the single component to exacerbate California’s housing crisis. VMT is one more layer to the CEQA mentality.

Sacramento needs to find ways to encourage remote working, or create more affordable housing with desirable lifestyles, near employers Vehicle Miles Traveled – the carrot approach. Doing this would require a well thought out strategy and cooperation with cities, counties, employers, and the state. It would require the state to give back to the communities some of the surplus budget they talk about, to make it happen.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to punish the very people they say they serve, by taxing the workers out of their cars – the stick approach. If VMT becomes mandated, workers will have to choose to pay to work, or take mass transit which involves spending many more hours away from their homes and their families. It is a lose, lose for the workers of California.

How does all this matter to Fallbrook? And why am I calling it the bad or the ugly? After all, many of our residents are retired, right? Also, many of Fallbrook’s residents are financially able to absorb a fee to drive if it comes to that, right? The answer is no, and no. We have a diverse population. The VMT will be a fee on all of us based on where we live and how many miles we drive on California roadways. And a fee, based on a bad premise, is bad, even if you can afford to pay it.

Do you remember the “fire fee” the state tried to impose on the unincorporated, rural areas? It was $155 per structure. It was imposed for a few years, and then correctly challenged in the courts as a tax, and therefore was eliminated.

If VMT, as it currently is proposed, were to be enforced, it would become impossible to build any new homes in Fallbrook. Projects where drivers would have to drive more than the regional average would have to pay to study and mitigate. That could make it much more expensive for developers to build in the county’s unincorporated areas, where people typically drive farther to reach jobs and amenities.

In contrast, developments where cars would travel 15% fewer miles than the regional average – like infill development in urbanized areas near roads, jobs, and transit – can be built without expensive study and mitigation.

The additional cost associated with the study and mitigation would be added to the cost of the home, which would make the already unaffordable housing market, even more unaffordable. The result would be no new homes in Fallbrook. For some, no growth for Fallbrook residents, this may sound great, but if we stop growing, we start dying.

At the Feb. 9 Board of Supervisors meeting, in a 3 to 2 vote, with Supervisors Desmond and Anderson opposed, the board voted to evaluate additional potential “in fill” parcels in the unincorporated areas. They also voted to search for additional parcels that could meet the VMT requirements in the unincorporated areas that would lead to an update of the county’s general plan.

The general plan, which took over 10 years to create, defines how many homes and what kind of structures (residential, commercial, agricultural) can be allowed on every parcel in the county. With one swipe of the pen, the three Supervisors who voted in favor of moving forward with VMT, could turn our peaceful, uncongested way of life into another Temecula.

Both moves take the decisions out of the hands of local control. It allows the three Supervisors to decide where higher density should exist in the unincorporated areas. You have a voice in Supervisor Desmond, but the two opposed cannot negate the three in favor.

Hopefully, you can now see why I say that VMT is bad or ugly. It’s potentially either no housing or too much housing, either way, Fallbrook loses.

This will be an ongoing discussion over the next five months. Don’t wait to get involved. Make your voice heard. If you want Fallbrook to be able to provide guidance to the county, as it has done up until now, write to Chair Fletcher, Vice-Chair Vargas, and Supervisor Lawson-Remer and voice your opposition. They should not be making decisions for Fallbrook. If you stay silent, you might be surprised by what is coming to the parcel near you.

Kim Murphy can be reached at [email protected] or 760-415-9292 or at 130 N Main Avenue, 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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