Land Use - Overview
San Diego County will be home to nearly 4 million people in 2030. We will need 230,000 housing units and related services to meet the demand, increasing pressure on our natural areas, energy and water consumption, and adding to traffic congestion.
By the year 2030, San Diego County will need an additional 230,000 housing units to meet our housing needs
Source: SANDAG, 2010
However, regional growth and development are not inherently bad. Most of our population growth, about 60%, comes from our own children and their families deciding to stay in the region.
Moving forward, the key question to answer is “How can we accommodate this growth so that the quality of life for all of San Diego’s residents is maintained or even enhanced?”
San Diego County is home to more kinds of native animals and plants than any other county in the continental United States, and leads the nation in the number of indigenous species at risk.
Source: The Nature Conservancy, 2009
Past Land Use Decisions Still Affect The Region Today
Decades ago, San Diego, like many other metropolitan areas, was growing as if there was unlimited land and unrestricted energy and water supplies. Land use patterns have changed significantly within San Diego County as vast tracts of land were consumed for mostly single-family homes, impacting local habitats, reducing agricultural lands, and absorbing small towns into the metropolitan region we see today. Public transportation could not compete with the allure of the automobile, and homes and jobs grew further apart, driven by cheap gasoline and the appeal of quiet, clean, and spacious communities.
Consequently, our past land use decisions are felt every day: San Diegans spend 100% more time in traffic delays and almost 300% more in travel delay costs today than they did in 1988. Compounding the issue, San Diegans do not enjoy a public transportation system that easily takes us to our many destinations. Housing affordability is also affected by past land use decisions. San Diego ranks 44 out of 50 for affordable housing against other large metropolitan areas.
Simply adding more growth rings around the metro region will not solve, but will only exacerbate, the sprawl challenges facing San Diego unless we change the way we plan for the future.
Data Source: SANDAG, 2009 www.sandag.org
Data Source: SANDAG, 2009 www.sandag.org
What Will the Future Landscape Look Like?
Emerging trends show we are thinking differently about our future:
- Consumer preference surveys and studies of housing values show that there is unmet demand for walkable neighborhoods that incorporate working, shopping, entertainment, and services within close proximity to one other, enhancing the sense of community and promoting the quality of life.
- Local municipalities have added open space requirements to new developments, securing in perpetuity more public lands and open space.
- The average age of our population is increasing, and as our population ages, San Diego will need a wider variety and more affordable housing that has access to public transportation or is in walkable neighborhoods.
As a region, our challenge is to carefully resolve policy decisions such as:
- What kind of permitting and zoning regulations will promote and encourage mixed use and walkable neighborhoods;
- How to combine transit development with housing and economic development opportunities;
- How much open space to set aside for habitat conservation or recreational use;
- How we manage growth yet also provide affordable housing opportunities.
Is Smart Growth the Answer for San Diego?
“Smart Growth”, a comprehensive approach to development used in many cities across the nation, incorporates the following principals:
- encourages development in existing urbanized areas,
- creates more compact development in non-urbanized areas,
- promotes the proximity of jobs, shopping, and services to residential areas,
- provides more transportation options,
- and ensures access to natural areas.
Smart growth principles have been advocated to help San Diego meet the needs of our current and future families by revitalizing neighborhoods, preserving natural areas, stimulating economic development, and providing transportation alternatives to the car.
Recently enacted legislation such as SB 375 has helped set the stage for smart growth, and requires increased emphasis on integrated land use and transportation decisions.
Benefits of Smart Growth
- Studies show that compact development results in fewer miles driven, reducing fuel consumption and transportation emissions.
- Compact growth can save governments money, reducing infrastructure costs by anywhere from 12-70%, compared to scattered growth.
- Smart growth encourages healthy habits such as walking and biking, an important factor considering San Diego’s high obesity and chronic disease rates.
- Denser development helps conserve energy in a number of ways: 9% of energy is lost in transmission so the farther a building is from an energy source, the more energy is wasted. Multi-family buildings generally use less energy per square foot than single family homes.
- There is evidence that more dense metropolitan regions have higher economic productivity and by emphasizing strategies such as the revitalization of depressed areas, the reuse of aging buildings, and development of vacant and abandoned properties, smart growth builds the tax base for the benefit of both city and suburb dwellers.
Smart growth is already happening on the ground in San Diego County and has gained support from local and regional agencies including the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the Urban Land Institute, and various redevelopment agencies and local governments such as Chula Vista.
Walking less than a mile per day reduces the odds of obesity by 5%, and another 5% for every 2/3 of a mile walked after the first.
Source: Frank, L., 2006
As part of SANDAG’s Regional Comprehensive Plan (RCP), adopted in 2004, the Smart Growth Concept Map was created that outlines nearly 200 locations that are existing, planned, or potential smart growth areas. The map serves as a model for how we should grow and provides guidance to municipalities about where to grow. In addition to SANDAG’s efforts, many public and private partners have dedicated significant funds for smart growth projects
In 2006, SANDAG was recognized by the ULI with the “Best Framework for Smart Growth Award” for the Smart Growth Concept Map
Source: SANDAG, 2009
Although many smart growth principles and ideas are gaining traction, some critics have voiced legitimate concerns that prescriptive development can cause housing prices to increase and may even actually increase congestion in urban areas. These concerns must be given consideration, especially given the crisis in affordable housing in our region. We need to explore how to reap the environmental and other benefits of smart development while enhancing the amount of affordable housing in the region.
Equinox Center Priorities
Equinox Center will research and advance policies that encourage responsible and balanced land use decisions for our region. Our priorities include the following:
- Advance the thinking around more compact and mixed-use/mixed-income development within close proximity to transit opportunities
- Address growth issues regionally and encourage integrated planning that takes into account land use, energy, water and transportation systems and engages stakeholders at various levels of decision making
- Identify ways to engage and incentivize the private development community
- Enhance opportunities for access to open space and the conservation of natural areas
- Investigate the links between land use, smart growth and housing affordability
- CA Dept of Finance Population Projections, 2008 Census Population Projection
- Frank, Lawrence et al., Many Pathways from Land Use to Health, Journal of the American Planning Association; Winter 2006; 72, 1;
- The Urban Land Institute. Transportation for a New Era: GrowingMore Sustainable Communities. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Land Institute, 2009
- SANDAG, 2030 Regional Growth Forecast Update, 2006
- State of California, Department of Finance, E-1 population Estimates for Cities, Counties and the State with Annual Percent Change — January 1, 2008 and 2009. Sacramento, California, May 2009,