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LINK Delegation Tackling Key Issues in San Diego

Posted on: May 11, 2018

LINK participants learning about the San Diego BRT

On Thursday, day two of ARC’s LINK visit to San Diego, metro Atlanta leaders rolled up their sleeves to address the challenging issues of affordable housing and homelessness.

LINK participants heard from San Diego leaders, who discussed the difficult situation facing their region: Despite a booming innovation economy, many jobs don’t provide a living wage. In fact, about 1 million San Diegans are not living at a self-sufficiency level.

The San Diego region is able to meet just half of its affordable housing needs. Even the military, which has a large presence in San Diego, is challenged to provide housing for more than a small fraction of its population.

Exploring Solutions to the Affordable Housing Challenge

The San Diego region has a history of working together across sectors, and this collaboration is yielding innovative solutions.

For example, the U.S. Navy is working with Lincoln Property Company, a real estate development and management firm, to provide premier military housing, and the San Diego Military Advisory Council is exploring solutions, such as greater housing density and land swaps, with area cities and the county.

Ron Roberts, Supervisor of San Diego County, explained that the problem of homelessness is exacerbated because of the high cost of housing in the region. San Diego has the fourth-highest homeless population in the country yet currently has only 42 beds for every 100 homeless persons.

Mary Lydon, Executive Director of Housing You Matters, talked about innovation and the need to move nimbly. San Diego recently created a homelessness registry to help organizations react quickly when services become available for an individual. Other innovations being explored by leadership include housing placed on church properties and new policies to support small houses and co-housing.

While officials acknowledge they will never completely solve the homelessness issue, they said it can be managed in a way that improves many lives.

LINK Forward Traverses San Diego Region, Dives Deeper into Tough Issues

For the second year, a second group of about 20 Atlanta leaders joined the LINK group on Wednesday but had their own sessions on Thursday that featuerd deeper dives into some of the most pressing issues.

This group, LINK Forward, began their day at the University of California San Diego, where they saw the booming campus and heard about San Diego’s past, present, and future from Dr. Mary Walshok, the school’s Vice Chancellor for Public Programs and Dean of Extension. She is considered the region’s most knowledgeable historian.

The group next visited the Mexican border, holding a discussion inside the Cross Border Express (CBX), a privately-owned port of entry that feeds directly into Tijuana International Airport. For a $30 round trip, travelers enter in San Diego, pass through security, and walk through a 400-foot passage into the airport, which offers more international flights than San Diego’s airport.

LINK Forward participants were particularly impressed with the way U.S. and Mexican economic development organizations have been able to consistently work across a national border. Some noted that metro Atlanta and other regions often struggle to work across local political boundaries. Even during tense political times, the San Diego-area panelists were optimistic about their continued ability to collaborate for the good of people on both sides of the border.

The LINK Forward group poses for a picture by a wall plaque marking the U.S.-Mexican border in the Cross Border Express facility in San Diego. The facility, which is not taxpayer funded, charges $30 round trip to give travelers direct access to the Tijuana International Airport from the United States.

LINK Forward ended its day with discussions on a range of topics that included growing new leaders, economic development and affordable housing.

Alumni from RISE San Diego, a nonprofit that finds and grooms diverse, young leaders, demonstrated their impact. For example, one of the leaders that RISE worked with formed a nonprofit that helps high school students from poor neighborhoods continue their educations, and another is about to celebrate the groundbreaking of a much-needed senior center that she shepherded through the approval and permitting process after more than 25 years of struggle for local seniors.

The final conversation of the day was with Janice Brown, the newly-elected chairperson of the San Diego Economic Development Corporation. Just one day into her position as chair, Brown animatedly displayed optimism for San Diego’s future while also pointing out the barriers preventing the region from reaching its potential.

The group and Brown shared many ideas about how to overcome these barriers, which are common to both regions, such as the rising cost of living, stagnant wages, and a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.