City commissioned study in response to 2020 ballot initiative
A study paid for by Santee confirms what a majority of the City Council has been saying for months: Restricting future housing developments could cost the city millions of dollars in potential revenue.
Santee must keep adding housing to stay on top of regional needs, and it will need residential, commercial and industrial development to stay fiscally secure, according to the consulting group, London Moeder Advisors.
The city hired London Moeder for $40,000 last month to study how a citizens’ initiative headed for the 2020 ballot might affect Santee’s finances.
Nathan Moeder told the Santee City Council last week that if it is passed, the Santee General Plan Protection Initiative could stop future developments of all kinds in the city and with that, stymie needed annual recurring revenue for Santee.
Like most cities, Santee is struggling to cover the increasing salary and pension costs of current and retired staff. The City Council has had to make some tough decisions with its budget to meet rising contractual obligations with public safety employees and for animal services as well as other city needs.
The General Plan Protection Initiative was put together by environmental activist Van Collinsworth and backed by City Councilman Stephen Houlahan earlier this year. Signed by more than 10 percent of the city’s 32,962 registered voters, the initiative would allow Santee residents to decide the fate of high-density housing projects that do not comply with the city’s general plan.
The measure seeks to amend Santee’s general plan so the city will need voter approval for zoning changes that would increase the density or otherwise intensify land uses permitted by city law; or alter or increase Santee’s general plan’s land use categories. In the case of state or federal law governing housing needs in Santee, including affordable housing requirements, the measure would not apply.
The City Council could have adopted the initiative or put the measure on the 2018 ballot without the study, but last month voted to put things on hold and hire an outside firm to report on any potential financial fallout for the city. The council again had the opportunity last week to give the go-ahead to the measure or hold a special election between now and 2020, but it did not.
London Moeder’s report said that through information gleaned from the San Diego Association of Governments, the region’s planning agency, and other data, Santee’s residential housing shortage by 2050 will be 1,820 units. It said that “to meet projected future demand, increased zoning density or zone changes must occur” and that the initiative “would inhibit the city from meeting that need.”
The city currently has 20,689 units of housing, according to estimates from the California Department of Finance. SANDAG forecasts that number to grow to 26,005 by 2050 — about 5,316 new homes from now until 2050, an average of 166 new housing units every year.
“Unless I’m missing something, we’ve got 30 years to build 6,000 houses; what’s the rush?” resident Aaron Townsend said. “How about getting that 52 coalition up and running and lay the foundation for smart growth.”
Townsend was referring to the Santee-backed state Route 52 Coalition, a group just starting up that will lobby on behalf of the city to help with traffic on the highway.
SANDAG projections say that Santee won’t be able to accommodate future residential or industrial demand on vacant land in the city and that “current zoning will require future zone changes or increased density to meet the future residential needs of the city,” London Moeder reported.
In reference to the citizens’ initiative passing, the report said, “Historically, development projects that require voter approval do not move forward.”
It also included a letter from Collinsworth dated Aug. 29 that reminded London Moeder that the initiative “does not approve or disapprove any project. It merely provides people a greater voice if the General Plan is not going to be adhered to.”
The consultants looked at three future development scenarios for the city. They shared the projected effects on the city’s finances both with and without the long-planned Fanita Ranch housing project. Fanita Ranch has most recently proposed to add nearly 3,000 homes on more than 2,500 acres near Santee Lakes.
Nathan Moeder said they included Fanita Ranch in their findings because they consider the development’s possible impact “a game changer.” Fanita Ranch is already in the city’s general plan, but with about half as many homes already approved unless it gets the City Council’s OK for a zoning change.
The report showed Fanita Ranch bringing $5.2 million to the city every year. Santee would earn nearly $14 million in annual revenue (with $8.9 million in expenses) with the development. If zoning stays as is, the city would have a net gain of $3.8 million. The report showed $9.8 million in revenues and $6.1 million in expenses without Fanita Ranch.
London Moeder said that the developers for Fanita Ranch have also promised to fund infrastructure to the tune of more than $132 million for parks, public facilities, schools and traffic mitigation.
Traffic continues to be a hot-button issue in Santee that backers of the initiative say are directly related to the recent uptick in development in the city and will only be compounded with more development.
The report said that traffic congestion “will not be significantly changed with or without the passage” of the initiative. “While development, particularly Fanita Ranch, offers a significant financial benefit for traffic impacts and mitigation, the current traffic issues within the City of Santee will still exist even at any level of future development,” it said.
In addition to negatively affecting the city’s finances and making it challenging to meet regional housing requirements per SANDAG, London Moeder also addressed other concerns.
The group said that the initiative, if it is passed, could affect the way the city attracts and retains businesses and employment and change uses of vacant parcels.
San Diego Union-Tribune