COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JIM SCHMIDT

Thank you to historic San Diego leaders who got projects approved fast

As an amateur historian this writer continues to think back on the great things that have been done in our region that would be difficult to do or even be considered today with the continual opposition by the "no growth" advocates and the environmental overkill people who make many public and private projects very difficult to complete.

One of the major growth facts is that many of us are living too long. The difference between births and deaths is getting wider and wider.

A recent SANDAG study shows that the number of people in our county over age 65 will increase by 134 percent in 2030. Our future growth is not people moving here from other areas, it is people living longer and longer.

Let's hope no one advocates adopting China's policy of only allowing one child per household or arguing against the use of prescription drugs by people over age 65. Those changes would reduce growth nationwide and in our Golden State -- I bet we have some supporters of those ideas.

Our needs for more housing, transit, highways, water and schools will continue to increase as we continue to grow.

Our region needs to go all out to return to the fast processing era we used to have when a new sub-division project permit could be applied for, studied, approved, built, sold and occupied in about one year. The risk of the three, four or five years and even more time for processing is great and has hurt many builders, construction workers, sub-contractors, etc. When things come up like the recent sub-prime fiasco, the 1979-82 tight money period with 18 percent interest rates and several previous problems, the ballgame is over.

Many builders will no longer take the risk of trying to build in the San Diego region. There are several areas of the county, like in some northwest city areas and Chula Vista, where processing is faster and also much easier although the opponents still will not go away.

Look back to the time when Harbor Island, Shelter Island, SeaWorld and Mission Bay Park were put in place with the support of our San Diego civic and business leaders. Let's give our thanks that those projects were put in place before the California Coastal Commission was born in the 1970s. Those projects have been a tax revenue "bonanza" with more sales taxes, TOT taxes (many major hotels were built) and property taxes. The creation of CCDC by Mayor Pete Wilson and the City Council made San Diego's downtown re-development happen, making San Diego to be known as "America's Finest City." CCDC's fast processing of all projects should be a model for other city projects and for the county and other cities as well. As a re-development area, which gets to receive large property taxes, about 80 percent of the total paid in that area, CCDC oversees the funding which is a bonanza for San Diego and includes funding for affordable housing.

A recent published study showed that Petco Park, the Padres ballpark, has created a 7.6 percent return for the city of San Diego/CCDC investment in the project. This finding will be a plus for the new plan to build a Chargers stadium in the same area. The Padres ballpark stimulated a lot of new housing and other projects. The location is great for transportation with easy connections to freeways. Both the Blue and Orange line trolleys are right next door. The Chargers stadium will have great tie-ins to the hotels and help get San Diego more conventions (TOT taxes) helping our economy and create more jobs for our people. Super Bowls will return as San Diego is considered by many to be the best place for Super Bowls with our good weather.

Our current stadium can be torn down and the property used for condos and apartments. Freeway and transit (Green Line Trolley) is right next door to serve the area.

Why not have fast permit processing for properties? In the movie "Ma & Pa Kettle at Waikiki," Pa Kettle is called to go to Hawaii to help his cousin whose pineapple factory is not profitable. Pa & Ma are taken on a tour of the factory where the Hawaiian employees were slowly passing pineapples to each other to put them in cans. Pa is carrying a portable radio listening to slow Hawaiian songs. Pa stumbles and drops the radio and the music shifts to fast jazz music. The workers heard the music and immediately started moving the pineapples fast and the factory soon became profitable. His cousin says to him "Pa you are a genius!"

Why not fast processing for all projects and consolidate all departments involved in project permit review into one in order to simplify project processing? Adopt the CCDC way. Also, have the staff in processing and planning all answer their own phones with a fast service mentality.

Our San Diego region needs teamwork. We need labor, business, civic leaders, Chambers of Commerce, taxpayers, planning groups and everyone to team up to help our region. If we return to fast processing for projects it will also improve our image while helping provide more jobs for our citizens and avoid housing shortages and low apartment vacancy percentages that increase rents.

So let's get enthusiastic. Upgrade San Diego from the "finest city" designation by some to that designation by everyone. Let's get enthusiastic and make it happen. Also, use the Pa Kettle fast music approach.

Remember, San Diego will continue to grow and we need pluses for our economy like more jobs and more homes and apartments.


Schmidt is a retired banker and attorney who is active with the chamber of commerce and in civic affairs in transportation, housing and sports. He also serves on two public boards and was Gov. Reagan's appointee to three positions in state government.

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