Myths and Facts about the North Park Density Bonus Program

You may have read something recently about the big density increases proposed for North Park and “approved in concept” by the North Park Planning Committee.

After announcing in December 2015 that the Density Bonus Program would be removed from both the North Park and Uptown Community Plan Updates, the City put a modified version of it back into the Land Use Element of the North Park Community Plan Update on January 6, 2016. Then, after posting an agenda on the City’s website on January 15th, North Park Planning Committee voted on January 19th to “approve in concept” the Density Bonus along El Cajon and Park Boulevards. The vote is still pending on the density increase in the residential area between Howard and Lincoln Avenues.

So, what’s the big deal? The Density Bonus Program for North Park would allow up to 145 dwelling units per acre for the area bounded in black (El Cajon and Park Boulevards) and up to 73 dwelling units per acre for the area bounded in blue (between Howard and Lincoln Avenues).

NP Density Bonus AreaPlan proponents claim that the significantly increased density will result in an increased supply of affordable housing, as well as increased walkability and use of mass transit along El Cajon and Park Boulevards.

Affordable, climate-friendly housing should be a high priority throughout San Diego, but this proposal does not make sense. Following are some of the more common claims by plan proponents and the facts.

MYTH: The North Park Density Bonus Program will result in more affordable housing.

FACT: According to an email I received from Lara Gates, North Park Community Plan Update Project Manager, “The density bonus as currently proposed does not include an affordable housing percentage requirement. Currently, the City gives the developers the option to either build affordable housing or pay an Inclusionary Housing Fee.”

In a recent article in San Diego Uptown News, North Park Planning Committee Chair Vicki Granowitz stated that “one way North Park planners are encouraging development of more affordable housing is to encourage developers to “put their affordable units in their projects, rather than pay in-lieu fees. We believe that spreads out the affordable units through the newer developments.”

More than mere encouragement will be needed to produce truly affordable housing in San Diego. According to the City’s Affordable Housing Information web page, “the median income for a family of four in San Diego is $63,400. Utilizing HUD’s definition, affordable housing for a low-income family (household earning up to 80 percent of San Diego area median income) would be an apartment renting for about $1,500 per month or a home priced under $225,000.”

Another recent article published in San Diego Uptown News quoted Danny Fitzgerald, an Uptown resident and developer who owns properties in North Park regarding his opinion on the proposed North Park Density Bonus Program. “This is a big vision. The renaissance of Little Italy didn’t happen overnight and was the result of long-term planning. Ditto regarding Downtown.”

Let’s see, according to Trulia, the average home sales price in Little Italy is $425,312, $512,669 in downtown San Diego, and $516,798 in North Park.

Average Sales Price

MYTH: The density proposed in the North Park Density Bonus Program is necessary to comply with the City’s Climate Action Plan.

FACT: Existing density in the area proposed for the Density Bonus Program is already supported by research on “transit-supportive density.”

One of the City’s Climate Action Plan goals is to “Promote effective land use to reduce vehicle miles traveled” by “achieving better walkability and transit-supportive densities by locating a majority of all new residential development within Transit Priority Areas.”

Average residential density in the area proposed for the Density Bonus Program is approximately 19 dwelling units per acre (du/ac), based upon data provided by the City Planning Department. According to Reconnecting America, a national nonprofit that integrates transportation and community development “The general consensus is that 7 units per acre will provide for basic 30 minute bus service.  Other research suggests that there is a per capita ridership cap after 20-30 persons per acre is reached.” A simple internet search on “transit supportive densities” will produce numerous study studies that support this claim.

If the proponents of the North Park Density Bonus Plan can produce research proving that 73 to 145 du/ac is required to increase walkability and use of mass transit, I would sure like to see it.

Transit-Supported Density

Take Action

San Diego definitely needs more affordable, climate-friendly housing. Unfortunately, the proposed North Park Density Bonus Plan does not have the teeth required to produce more affordable housing, and the proposed densities are overkill, according to research on “transit-supportive density.”

This proposal is moving quickly so it is critical to let the City know what you think soon.

City staff have begun hosting office hours in various locations of the community starting Friday 1/29. Staff will be available to review plan update documents and maps and answer questions or concerns relating to the plan update process and what is being proposed. Please visit for a list of office hours and locations.

You can send a letter or an email to:

Lara Gates, Plan Update Project Manager
City of San Diego
Planning Department
1010 Second Avenue, 11th Floor MS-413
San Diego, CA 92101