By Cathy Clark
(page 1 of 3)This whole “boomburb” thing is getting out of hand. That’s not a bad thing if you’re a city booster in Chula Vista. And at the moment, it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t.
Welcome to the eighth-fastest-growing city in the country—Chula Vista, with land to grow and big plans to make it happen. With lots of money in city coffers helping it along—and a happy relationship with very happy developers who are turning the rolling hills east of Interstate 805 into busy, highly planned communities—businesses and high-tech industries also fuel the boom.
The population of Chula Vista has skyrocketed in the past 10 years to more than 200,000—up nearly 30,000 just since the 2000 census. By 2030, the area is expected to be home to 282,000. The city’s energetic leadership is proud of what’s happening and the path it’s taking.
“Everybody realizes the region is coming into its own; it’s about to grow up,” says Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla. “It’s exciting. It’s a little scary sometimes, but it’s exciting.”
The excitement is fired by growth east of Interstate 805 that’s changing the face of the entire South County. It’s pushing National City, Imperial Beach, the city of San Diego and the county to keep up, to fix what’s broken, to do what can be done to get a piece of the boom that many have been anticipating for decades. “They’re all using the concepts of ‘smart growth,’ as we hope the rest of the region would. They’re ahead of the game,” says Mike McLaughlin, division director of land use planning for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the county’s regional planning agency.
What’s scary is that the growth in Chula Vista had driven new-home median prices to $415,000 by October—up from $339,000 in 2002. New $400,000-to-$800,000 homes are blossoming at the rate of a couple thousand a year. Among them are a few multimillion-dollar estates. (South County homes, new and existing, still cost thousands less than anywhere in the northern parts of the county.) The rising values are great news for owners. But they’re a major concern to potential buyers in older South County areas, where prices also have risen in neighborhoods that have long been home to tens of thousands of Latino families drawn by affordability.
The perception may be that the master-planned building is aimed directly at the affluent (and mostly white) middle class, but Chula Vista’s tremendous growth has not altered the demographic picture all that much. Forty-nine percent of its population is Latino, down only slightly from a year ago. The white, Asian and black populations are up a bit. What growth has done for Chula Vista, says community development director Laurie Madigan, “is change the community demographics in a very positive way. It’s brought in lots of families, and it has increased per capita income [to $49,000]. We’re about average with the rest of the county now, where we used to be below.”
“It’s not just white people,” says city manager Dave Rowlands. “The diversity factor in the new area is phenomenal. It’s a collage of races that have moved in here. The racial breakdowns are spread citywide—there is no enclave.”
Like other cities, Chula Vista spends a lot of time working affordable housing elements into new neighborhoods, as required by law. “In my opinion, [Chula Vista] has been more successful than most cities of the region in providing affordable housing and integrating it into the community as a whole,” Madigan says. “But it doesn’t mean we’re not continually challenged.”
The groundwork for Chula Vista’s “boomburb” status was laid years ago, when the city bet on the future and annexed thousands of privately owned acres to the east. The city’s growing pains have been eased because it learned from the experiences of its northern neighbors about how to work with developers. All sides learned there’s a cost to planning to ensure that traffic, commerce, schools, water and amenities are taken care of before the homes go in.
It’s estimated that $30,000 to $40,000 of the cost of a new home in Chula Vista goes for fees paid by developers to numerous agencies, from schools to water districts to the cities themselves. Chula Vista planners are proud that their building-permit system—which allows permits to be issued only when a set of 11 criteria are met—has meant schools, roads, fire stations, parks and pools are ready when homes are built in Otay Ranch or EastLake, not years later.
The result is that would-be homebuyers see a real town. Developments like Davidson Communities’ 115-home Acqua sell out in less than a year—with selling prices rising from the mid-$500,000s a year ago to more than $600,000 by December.
Major commercial development in the new area also is catching up. The first big shopping area, EastLake Village Marketplace, at Otay Lakes Road and EastLake Parkway, opened in November. At $50 million dollars and 410,000 square feet, the center boasts a Target, Lowe’s, Office Depot and much-needed restaurants and services. Tenants have been doing land-office business with customers who no longer have to drive far to the north, west or south to shop.
Two large shopping malls also are planned east of 805, and a huge 13-dealer auto park is about to open on East Main Street, just east of the freeway. All will add even more cash to Chula Vista’s sales-tax revenue stream, which had been among the lowest in the county because of the dearth of shopping.
Major industries also are being courted to bring more high-tech employers to the area where workers already live. Hitachi Home Electronics America, Leviton (another electronics company) and DNP Electronics America Limited already have opened shop. And there’s a plan to lure a high-end resort to land overlooking Otay Lake. City officials also are actively recruiting for a high-end “restaurant row” that will share the view.
“Chula Vista has its act together,” says Alan Nevin, an economist with MarketPointe Realty Advisors who has worked with most of the area developers. “The place has gone nuts. Its growth rate is strong now, but I don’t think anybody realizes the impact of [State Route] 125.”