San Diego County’s 5th Supervisorial District — covering the North County cities of Oceanside, Carlsbad, Vista and San Marcos and unincorporated areas to the east such as Valley Center — is a likely future focus of new housing and economic development. It badly needs an experienced replacement for termed-out Supervisor Bill Horn.
Because of this, San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond, a Republican, is an easy choice over his Democratic opponent, Oceanside policy analyst Michelle Gomez. Desmond acted immaturely in May when he stormed out of a San Diego Association of Governments board meeting to protest what he saw as a power play by big cities. But it goes against his history of being a constructive, effective, collegial officeholder since being elected to the San Marcos City Council in 2004. And in his two interviews this year with The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, Desmond spoke thoughtfully about housing and land-use issues and promised to bring “a different set of ideas and a different set of eyes” to a county board that has been extraordinarily complacent about problems.
This was in sharp contrast to Gomez. In her two editorial board interviews, Gomez came across as a political novice with a shaky grasp of issues like housing, pensions and Proposition 64, the 2016 measure that legalized recreational marijuana use but allowed local governments to ban cannabis shops.
Carl DeMaio, Chairman of Reform California and the leader of the statewide Yes on Prop 6 – Gas Tax Repeal Campaign, has announced his endorsement of Jim Desmond for San Diego County Board of Supervisors – District 5.
“I am endorsing Jim because he will be a fighter for taxpayers against the special interests and typical politicians who are always trying to raise our taxes, limit our freedoms, and add red tape to our struggling small businesses,” said Carl DeMaio in announcing the endorsement.
“We need a fighter like Jim Desmond who will work with me and our grassroots Yes on Prop 6 – Gas Tax Repeal campaign to repeal the Car and Gas Tax hikes that are having a devastating impact on our cost-of-living in California,” DeMaio concluded.
As The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board has opined for years, San Diego County government really needs strong new voices to challenge the complacency of county leaders who just last week, in their latest egregious example of showcasing a foolishly high self-regard, released a 200-page report on last year’s deadly hepatitis A outbreak listing “noteworthy successes” without really detailing their failures. His more critical eye is one reason why we endorsed Democratic attorney Omar Passons for the 4th District county supervisorial seat.
We used this same lens to view the 5th District race to replace termed-out GOP Supervisor Bill Horn and represent north-northwest San Diego County. Horn has been on cruise control for years, treating the county’s high bond ratings as proof of county leaders’ greatness and being unduly proud of his record even though the quality of life in his district may have actually declined in his time in office.
While no one in the 5th District race details the downside of the county’s arrogance as well as Passons, we think one candidate has the most promise to lead the county in a better direction: three-term San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond. In his interview with the editorial board, Desmond, a Republican, made a powerful point about the importance of a county supervisor having broad regional experience and established relationships with elected officials and executives in other local governments. If elected, Desmond — and county residents — will be well-served by his years of work on the boards of the San Diego Association of Governments, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.
As mayor, Desmond has kept his city’s finances in order. He has also established infrastructure as a priority in a state where the issue is too often on the back burner. This history will be of particular value in never-ending county policy fights between big-city advocates of mass transit and those in rural and suburban areas — like Desmond — who say improving roads and freeways must also be a priority.
Desmond also makes a nuanced case in defense of the county’s unusually high reserves. He thinks the county should always have available funds to cover 50 days of expenses in case of catastrophe to ensure residents have access to vital services. But he seemed willing to accept some new spending.
We do have concerns. In his interview, Oceanside Mayor Jerry Kern, another veteran GOP officeholder and Desmond’s most prominent challenger, showed more of a willingness to criticize county government, starting with budget decisions involving probation agents that he thinks could hurt public safety. Also, Desmond saying he supported the Lilac Hills housing project in 2016 because he didn’t know until later that the developer had cut corners is baffling, and his hard line on marijuana is too harsh given state voters’ mellowing mood. And both Desmond and Kern seemed too ready to play politics with immigration by supporting President Donald Trump’s legal challenge to the state’s so-called “sanctuary” laws even though the supervisors had missed a deadline to sign onto the suit at this stage.
All in all, Desmond outclasses Kern and two well-meaning but inexperienced Democratic opponents, Jacqueline Arsivaud and Michelle Gomez. On June 5, we endorse the San Marcos mayor for supervisor.
Bill Horn announced that he is backing San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond to become his successor on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, making an endorsement of a fellow Republican nearly nine-months before the primary election.
“Mayor Desmond shares my view that the Supervisors must maintain the fiscally conservative policies that have made San Diego County one of the best managed and financially secure local governments in the nation,” Horn said in a statement released by Desmond’s campaign.
Horn, who is leaving office next year because of term limits, said he also supports Desmond for his policies on crime, traffic congestion, libraries, and agriculture, and that he will address the interests of the rural, unincorporated stretches of the county.
“I am confident that Mayor Desmond will address the particular concerns of the Backcountry, one of the most critical roles of this office,” Horn said.
Desmond is running against Oceanside Councilman Jerry Kern, a Republican, as well as Oceanside Councilwoman Esther Sanchez, a Democrat.
The concept of “affordable housing” can conjure images of blowing trash, cracked windows and blight. But affordable housing being developed in San Diego County these days often comes with workout rooms and granite countertops.
Take the Promenade at Creekside, a new apartment complex with more than 60 units in downtown San Marcos. San Marcos is one of the North County cities that has built the most affordable housing in the last three years.
Like many new affordable housing complexes, the Promenade at Creekside has amenities you might normally expect in a luxury condo complex: a workout room, a small theater, a pool and a playground.
Gina Leftwich has been the rental manager since it opened last May. “Oh, we filled up that same day!” she said. “There’s a lot of demand for affordable housing.”
To build this affordable housing with the help of federal tax credits, the developer, North County-based Opportune Companies, had to make a commitment. Units may only rent to people who qualify — those who earn less than 60 percent of the area median income, or AMI. For this project, that means under $35,700 for a single person and under $45,9000 for a family of three.
Leftwich said the rents at The Promenade apartments are well below market rate.
“The least expensive would be $388 for a one-bedroom, and $1,221 for a three-bedroom,” she said.
It’s not surprising there is a lot of demand for these units. The market-rate rent for a three-bedroom in San Diego is now well over $2,000 per month.
Leftwich said the tenants for the affordable housing run the gamut.
“It’s a mix of everybody,” she said. “There’s seniors, there’s young families, a lot of single parents — men and women. So we’re helping a lot of different people.”
Ryan Thorne and his cat
By Kris Arciaga
Ryan Thorne and his cat “mew” sit in his affordable apartment at the Promenade at Creekside in San Marcos, Jan. 9, 2017.
Ryan Thorne, a single dad, was one of the early occupants. During a tour of his apartment, he pointed to photographs of his children on a side table.
“This is Riley, who turned 7, and this is Reece. He’ll be 6 in May,” he said. “With two children and being a single father, I’m the only one that’s bringing in an income. Right now, combined with child care expenses and rent, I just make it.”
Thorne is campus president of a private vocational school in San Marcos. He said he put his name on the waiting list for a place at The Promenade as soon as he saw the project break ground two years ago.
Thorne’s three-bedroom unit is spare, but well-equipped. It has granite countertops in the kitchen, generous closets and a balcony.
Thorne said that besides myths about low-rent apartments, there are also a lot of stereotypes about the kind of people who live in affordable housing. But he said his neighbors are “amazing” and they come “from all walks of life: people with disabilities, people with lots of kids. They’re not in the best situation, and something like this really helps them out.”
After he moved in with his children and his cat Mew, Thorne said he discovered it was more like a community than other places he‘s lived. There’s even an activities director.
“The activities director constantly has things going on during the week,” he said. “Movie nights, crafts with the kids, a New Year’s get together. The kids really enjoy it and it gives a chance for everyone to come together.“
What is affordable housing?
Affordable housing is defined as housing that rents to people who earn under the area median income. It also depends on how many people there are in your family.
San Diego’s Area Median Income for 2016 was $73,500.
So, for example, some affordable housing is reserved for “extremely low-income” families: people who earn less than 30 percent of the AMI. For a single person, that is $17,850. For a family of four, that is $25,500.
“Very low-income” housing is reserved for people who earn 50 percent of the AMI. For a single person, that is $29,750. For a family of four, that is $42,500.
And “low-income” housing is for those who qualify by earning less than 80 percent of AMI. For a single person, that is $47,600, and for a family of four, $68,000.
A definition that can confuse the issue is moderate-income housing, for people who earn between 81 percent and 120 percent of AMI. At this level, earnings are quite high, so housing estimates that include housing for “low-and moderate-income families” tend to obscure that fact that most of it is not affordable.
North County’s rents are the highest in the region, partly because so few new houses have been built.
How much new affordable housing have North County cities built recently?
A KPBS survey of North County showed coastal cities — constrained for land and with high land prices — have added far less affordable housing than the cities along Highway 78.
Del Mar, Solana Beach and Oceanside have built virtually no affordable units in the last three years.
But Oceanside added 139 units four years ago in 2013, and 288 units are in the works to open later this year. Assistant City Manager Deanna Lorson said job growth has not kept pace with housing in Oceanside and the city is focused on a plan to increase jobs to support residents in the future.
Del Mar’s Deputy Mayor, Dwight Worden, has written a paper called “Cracking the Conundrum,” proposing various strategies to meet the city’s affordable housing goals. They include the city buying units to rent, and requiring new granny flats to have affordable rents. He has a mantra: “five in twenty,” which means five new affordable units within the next 20 years. It remains to be seen whether he can achieve his goals politically. Del Mar residents voted in November not to pass an ordinance that would have made it more difficult to permit new, more dense construction.
Solana Beach has been struggling for years to get a 10-unit affordable housing project called “The Pearl” approved, in the face of lawsuits from neighboring condo owners. City Manager Greg Wade said he optimistically hopes to get the permit in 2017.
Poway is the only inland city to have added no new affordable units since 2014. The city recently rejected a 22-unit affordable housing project for veterans that had been several years in the making.
Encinitas is the only city in San Diego that does not have an approved state Housing Element, a plan of where new housing can be built. Residents rejected a compromise plan in November, and further litigation is expected. Half of the 12 new affordable housing units the city has built recently came as a result of a “density bonus” incentive that allows developers to build more houses on a lot if they include an affordable unit.
Carlsbad has major developments ongoing in Robertson Ranch and Quarry Creek. Like many cities, Carlsbad requires 15 percent of new construction over seven units to be affordable or developers must pay an in-lieu fee. However, affordable includes low- and moderate-income housing. Community relations manager Jessica Bowen said new projects will include 101 apartments for low-income seniors and 64 apartments for rent to low-income families.
Escondido has added new affordable housing by allowing Urban Housing Communities to rehab and convert 44 market-rate units into affordable units. The city also preserved almost 300 affordable homes when Community HousingWorks and KDF Communities invested in rehabbing older units.
Solutions for Change, an organization that has worked with the homeless population for years, is building 33 units in Escondido, reserved for families with extremely low incomes (less than 30 percent of the AMI).
Vista completed a multi-family project near the Sprinter light rail line last year, with some funding from the San Diego Association of Governments, which offers incentives to build near public transit. The 759-unit project included 137 affordable units.
San Marcos appears to have added more affordable units than any other North County city. Mayor Jim Desmond said his city council has not been afraid to put in affordable housing where it fits.
“We’ve got over 3,300 affordable housing units in the city of San Marcos, which is about 10 percent of our total housing units in the entire city,” he said. “And I bet if you took somebody around and gave them a tour, they couldn’t even be able to point and say ‘that’s affordable housing’ or ‘this is affordable housing,’ because it all looks beautiful.”
For the developer of these apartments, the profits are less than building market-rate homes, but the risks are also lower. For one thing, there will never be a problem finding tenants. Rental manager Leftwich said she expects it will be five years until any vacancies open up at The Promenade.
“We have approximately 700 people on the waiting list at this time,“ she said.
One reason San Marcos had little trouble getting this project approved is there are no older neighborhoods nearby to object to the 60 new families who have moved in.
SAN MARCOS — San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond has announced that he is running for county supervisor in 2018.
Desmond is running in District 5, where longtime supervisor Bill Horn will be termed out of office after serving six terms. He is the first person to announce their candidacy in what is expected to be a crowded field to succeed the controversial longtime supervisor.
Desmond in a brief statement on Feb. 4 touted his experience as mayor in San Marcos, where the city has had a period of unparalleled stability, both financially and politically. Desmond and his colleagues ran unopposed for mayor in 2014, prompting the city to cancel the election for the first time in the city’s 51-year history.
He also touted his experience on regional boards such as the San Diego County Association of Governments and the San Diego Airport Authority.
“As Mayor of San Marcos with balanced budgets, strong reserves, and solid infrastructure our community has thrived,” Desmond said. “As a board member of SANDAG and the San Diego Airport Authority I have approved billions of dollars of regional projects creating thousand of local jobs.”
Desmond was elected to the council in 2004 and scored a major political upset when he defeated four-term mayor F.H. “Corky” Smith in the November 2006 election.
Desmond, who has been a pilot with Delta Airlines since 1986, is a self-proclaimed “fiscal conservative” and a registered Republican.
“I’ll bring fiscally conservative values to the County and build a better future for all county residents,” Desmond said in his statement.