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Briefing on Zoning Policies and Communities of Color

At the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee Meeting on July 17, poverty law attorney Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi presented a briefing on the unintended impacts of local land use initiatives on affordable housing for communities of color. Her written statement read, in part: 

In San Diego this November, zoning and land use initiatives presented to voters as environmental protection efforts will give local residents the legal right to exclude from their communities people of color and low-income families, exacerbating the region’s racial segregation and income inequality. These zoning policies are the redlining of our era.

These initiatives’ underlying racial and class-based discriminatory sentiment is evident from their exclusionary language (protect the “unique character” and residents’ “quality of life,” protect “golf courses” which “are valuable assets that promote the well-being of all citizens” in the City-specific initiative; protect “quality of life,” “property rights are at stake,” and “alter the character” in the County initiative), but also from the type of housing that is exempt from voter approval –single-family homes, minimum lot sizes of 2.5 acres, and second dwelling units for existing property owners.

These initiatives’ housing exemptions closely reflect the federal model of zoning that created segregated, white single-family districts during the era of redlining and racial covenants. But most striking in similarity to the decades-old federal segregationist model is these initiatives’ exclusion of multi-family units and high-density housing. A majority of voters must approve affordable housing projects under the county initiative, unless the Board of Supervisors not only makes a determination that an amendment to the General Plan is necessary to comply with state or federal law, but also makes three separate specific legal findings and provides substantial evidence upon which to support each finding. A similarly high bar is included in the city-specific initiative, in effect mandating the majority of voter to approve any proposed affordable housing development.

These zoning initiatives disguised as environmental protection efforts will exacerbate racial segregation and increase income equality, resulting in significantly worse outcomes for low-income families and communities of color. They are this era’s form of redlining. 

Click here to read her position paper on the topic.