City: Thumbs-Down to Uptown’s Downzone

City: Thumbs-Down to Uptown’s Downzone

San Diego leads the state in the number of new hotels opened this year, and the county has nearly 10,000 new hotel rooms planned. With the return of the Intercontinental chain (under construction at Pacific and Broadway), the City council’s approval this week of a new Ritz Carlton downtown strengthens the luxury hotel market there – another ‘big city’ step for San Diego.


The Ritz is part of the Cisterra Development’s 7th & Market mixed use project, the biggest, most expensive and densest development in the county, with 1.16 million square feet in two towers:

A 39-story tower blends together luxury condos, market-rate apartments, and affordable rental units. Plans by Carrier Johnson + Culture architects include a rooftop terrace, four levels of underground parking and a 6,000-square-foot public plaza.

A separate 19-story tower includes a 153-room hotel component. The developer is incorporating the historic Clermont Hotel, and its 53 single-room occupancy units, into the project. 7th & Market is slated for completion by October 2021.

Elsewhere downtown, the Modern Times Festival of Dankness had a huge turnout at Waterfront Plaza back in August (yes it’s been that long since I posted):


More than $10,000 dollars in proceeds was donated to BikeSD from Modern Times and its owner, Jacob McKean. As a volunteer board member for BikeSD, and someone who knows how difficult it is to raise funds for a non-profit, I couldn’t be more grateful. For me, Modern Times is San Diego’s best brewery for reasons like this, the impressive creativity that goes into their product and establishments’ design, McKean’s outspokenness on craft breweries like Ballast Point that have sold out, and their awesome beers, of course.

After the festival let out I snapped some pictures of the bayfront area as the sun lowered on this hot day, including one of the new Carnitas Snack Shack‘s bar on the Embarcadero:


Having a decent restaurant and bar on the city’s prime stretch of redeveloped waterfront is long overdue – especially with all the surrounding development going on.

The north end of Little Italy keeps cranking out new establishments, including San Diego’s second RakiRaki (with a Pokirrito), on India St:


We visited shortly after they opened in early September and the Pokirrito poke bowls were very filling – I made the mistake of trying to eat two of them with a 2-for-1 promo they had going. Jay and our friends got RakiRaki’s ramen, which was quite good. And I love that this it’s next door to Bottlecraft, which always has a wide range of smaller-brewery craft beers on tap and is wide open to the street.

Soft-opening this week one block south is a Pali Wine Co tasting room, which includes a balcony for plane-watching:


Pali is “a producer of premium, appellation-specific and vineyard-designate wines from California and Oregon” and the tasting room “features Pali’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, and Rhone and Bordeaux varieties grown in the Central Coast by its sister label, Tower 15. A rotating selection of eight ‘fresh’ wines, blended straight from the barrel to keg, are available for tasting or for carry-out by growler.”

One last downtown item: after 12 years we finally got up on the roof of the Western Metals Building.  It was a work event at the last game of the season, and while the Padres disappointed as usual, the weather didn’t:


Closer to home, we’ve been enjoying the ample patio, craft beers, and fish and chips at Beerfish near 30th and Adams:


Around the corner on 30th, Blackmarket Bakery has opened:



So many interesting places opening in this area right now, including a Tajima, not to mention all the great stuff there already (Polite Provisions, Soda and Swine, Fall Brewing, Cantina Mayahuel, Jayne’s Gastropub, Hawthorne Coffee, Et Viola). Check them out next Sunday, October 30th when 30th St closes for the return of CicloSDias.

Quickies: Nomad Donuts, just down 30th from Fall, and where I get my delicious vegan donut fix, is opening a second location in the former Lady of the Lake bookstore in North Park (Illinois and University).  They’ll also be serving craft beer and bagels.  Check out the North Park Facebook page for all the goings on in NP, it’s hard to keep up…  Pop Pie Co., serving savory and sweet mini-pies, has opened on Park Blvd in University Heights… Fair@44, the El Cajon Boulevard International Food Market next to the new YMCA, started earlier this month and runs each Wednesday evening… A panel discussion on the future of transit on El Cajon Blvd takes place at the vacant lot at ECB and Central Ave next Tuesday.

Speaking of transit on ECB, the City appears to be endorsing a no-bike lane alternative on El Cajon Boulevard after receiving significant SANDAG and County funding to address this dangerous stretch of road.  As one business owner said, “people have been injured, but nobody’s been killed!” to justify street parking over safer streets.  This is a Vision Zero priority corridor, in a transit-oriented neighborhood where the CAP calls for increased alternative mode share, where many lower-income residents walk and bike, and where abundant commercial off-street parking exists – yet not a single parking space can be surrendered for alternative transit.

Both the North Park and Uptown Community Plan updates have been in the news recently as they near final approval.  It was very encouraging to see the City Planning Commission reject Uptown Planners‘ downzone of the area and restrictive height limits.  Finally, the city is standing up to self-interested property owners in the community and on the board who prioritize LGBT memories, property value profits and abundant street parking over housing for others:

Leo Wilson, chair of Uptown Planners, acknowledged that Hillcrest is the heart of the LGBT community. “This is our Castro,” he said, referring to the famous San Francisco neighborhood. Wilson worried about redevelopment triggering a “cultural desecration.”

Hillcrest Medical Center workers are going hungry due to high housing costs, but Uptown’s planning chair says we can’t add housing in Hillcrest because of its LGBT history?  What a sad, out-of-touch sense of priorities.

Todd Gloria specifically noted his opposition to Uptown Planners’ plan to reduce density (even more than the city’s earlier downzone), given the city’s Climate Action Plan and related transit-oriented development requirements.  Gloria also said Uptown’s mobility plan needs to be revisited, since it fails to meet bike and public transit mode share goals.  One obvious step, mentioned by the Planning Commission, would be to fill the bike network hole on University Avenue created by the Hillcrest Business Association.

And last, on a completely unrelated note, I finally made it up to artist Do Ho Suh’s “Fallen Star” house at UC San Diego a while back.  Here are some pictures from this unique addition to the university’s Stuart Art Collection.








Return of the Plaza de Panama

Return of the Plaza de Panama

Like a Comic-Con zombie staggering back to life, the Irwin Jacobs Plaza de Panama Autotopia has returned to Balboa Park.  Despite Jacobs walking away after his defeat in court a few years back, the intrusive project has been resurrected by fact-challenged Park institutions determined to squeeze every last car into the Park.  No matter that Balboa Park is one of the few large public green spaces in all of Uptown and downtown, or that a 650-space parking garage for zoo employees was recently added, or that parking lots at the south end of the park are under-utilized.

I biked through the park on 4th of July weekend and found the Inspiration Point lots across Park Boulevard empty. A 2012 parking study found the lots and their 1100+ spaces, served by a tram, are indeed usually empty on weekends:


Back inside the park, the southernmost lots on the west side of Park also had hundreds of spaces open.  In fact, the same study shows that on any given day there are 1200-1800 parking spaces available at Balboa Park, mostly in these lots.

Given that there’s a tram running directly from these lots to the institutions demanding more parking, I assumed there had to be signage up to direct drivers there.  Surely the city would do this before spending $50 million on another parking garage and bridge?  But this is the only sign as you head south from the always-full Organ Pavilion parking lot, and it’s not about parking:


Adding some way-finding signs to the parking lots and tram seems like a low-cost way to maximize existing parking resources.  But given some of the bizarre, parking-entitled arguments for the new garage (“my elderly mother isn’t going to wait for a tram to the Old Globe” – despite a brand new drop-off area on Globe Way for Globe patrons), why start using common sense now?

— Remember when Hillcrest residents opposed the Mr. Robinson project on Park because parking?  Well we visited its new ground-floor restaurant, Trust, a couple weeks back for brunch and had no problem finding any.   It seems other patrons didn’t either (perhaps some of them Ubered, walked or biked) – because the place was full.  I liked the interior design, especially the wall behind the bar, along with the space’s big windows to the street and ample patio outside:




San Diego Magazine has a much better review of Trust’s food than anything I can write, but my fried chicken sandwich was pretty amazing – the spicy ssam sauce, chili and pickles really brought it to another level.

— The Uptown Gateway Council has put up a video showing their vision for 4th to 6th Aves in Hillcrest south of University, including the long-vacant Pernicano’s restaurant:

One component of the Uptown Gateway may be a hotel, and on a trip to Palm Springs last month the Virgin Hotel going up there reminded me of how Hillcrest could use a modern boutique hotel:


The hotel is part of a multi-block downtown revitalization project that replaces a dead shopping mall, and includes this nearly-completed building:


Like Hillcrest, building heights have been a sticking point, and the Virgin hotel’s height was reduced to no more than 69 feet.  This is still taller than the 50/65′ heights specified in the Uptown interim height ordinance (which turns 8 years old this month).  It seems odd that Palm Springs, a city of less than 50,000 people, has a greater height limit than an urban neighborhood near downtown in a city of 1.3 million.  But Uptown Planners and the city planning department are still wrangling over the final building heights for the blocks in the Uptown Gateway area. Much of the debate centers over whether density should be added near Uptown’s extensive public transit, but at a recent Uptown Planners meeting, one caring resident declared that young people shouldn’t be able to live there – unless they can save up the money to afford a house like she did all those years ago.

— The Port of San Diego has selected the winning project to redevelop Seaport Village – the Seaport project from Protea Waterfront Development:

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Contrary to many residents, I’m not a big fan of the current Seaport Village.  It’s largely geared to tourists (including some awful restaurants), has half its prime land devoted to surface parking, requires bicyclists to dismount when riding its bayfront, and sports Cape Cod-style architecture that’s totally out of place in southern California.  With the city encouraging more people to live and work downtown for a variety of reasons, shouldn’t our bayfront serve both tourists and residents?

The Protea proposal is a mixed bag of ideas, some with more potential for the above than others, but at least it doesn’t include an 18,000 seat indoor arena like a competing proposal did.  Why would you put a giant, enclosed arena where the bay view is the main attraction?  The tower ride (and aquarium) is a reminder that tourism will still be a big driver, but at least it’s not another ferris wheel.  I like the terraced green space built into the tower base, actually:

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Here’s an overview of the project:

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I think the above map is the only one which shows the pedestrian bridge (bottom right) planned to connect Embarcadero Marina Park North and South, which is a neat idea.  (Still waiting for someone to implement my infeasible idea of a retractible pedestrian/bike bridge connecting Marina Park to Coronado.)  It also shows the Market Street pedestrian/market area – similar to Pike’s Place – connecting to the G Street Pier.  Here’s a zoomed-in view of the heart of the project, followed by a rendering of Market Street:

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Pacific Place, a pedestrian plaza at the southwestern edge of the project, looks out on a giant floating screen in this rendering.  Yes that is a picture of a whale jumping out of the water of a screen on the bay:
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A wide promenade is planned for the entire bayfront (as far as I can tell) that will allow bicyclists to actually ride through without dismounting, along with additional space for pedestrians.  A boardwalk for pedestrians will extend beyond that:

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I also like the “beach” shown here:

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I’m hardly an expert on these types of projects, just giving my initial thoughts here, but the SD Environment and Design Council’s recommended guidelines for the development of Seaport Village are probably worth reading if you’re interested in the future of this area.

Horton Plaza Park

Horton Plaza Park

It’s been a busy couple of months with lots of evenings spent at community meetings – from proposed bike lane projects to community plan updates.  To catch up, here’s some shots from the camera roll since I last posted, including the Amgen Tour as it sped through Balboa Park in late May:



Downtown has plenty going on, as always.  The city council passed the Downtown Mobility Plan, and it was encouraging to see council members and Civic San Diego stand up to very powerful interests like the Little Italy Association.  Oddly, the head of LIA (Marco Li Mandri), who speaks of treating streets as public spaces and returning them to pedestrians, strongly opposed this plan that will make Little Italy’s streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.  All because Little Italy will only gain 85 on-street parking spaces under the plan instead of the 135 initially expected.

Tacos El Gordo is coming to 5th and F street downtown in the space below.  We ate at their Chula Vista location recently and it was as packed (and as good) as ever.  The tender lengua (beef tongue) taco is a personal favorite.


Speaking of tacos, Taco Express at 1330 State Street has closed to make way for the 22-story 401 West Ash St hotel (more information on this scaled-back project).

Bosa’s Pacific Gate development continues to rise at the southeast corner of Broadway and Pacific and is already selling units:


Caddy corner to that, the Intercontinental Hotel had its groundbreaking recently, the Spring Hill Suites/Residence Inn dual hotel behind it opened earlier this year.  Project rendering follows (h/t isellthecity)



Across Harbor Drive, Carnitas Snack Shack has been open for several weeks now and brings a welcome change from the tourist-geared establishments on the waterfront.  An outdoor bar and restaurant for locals and tourists, in a neatly-landscaped space overlooking the bay – why did San Diego have to wait until 2016 to do this?



Horton Plaza Park opened and is a huge positive addition to downtown, providing a critical civic gathering space.  I agree it could use some more shade but it also needs clear sight lines to the west-side wall for films, etc.  Hopefully we’ll see some more activation of the space in the coming months.




The Marriott Marquis’ pedestrian walkway from Harbor Drive to the bay front has opened, along with a mostly-public pedestrian plaza… Downtown’s first parklet since the city’s new streamlined parklet policies went into place had its ribbon cutting on June 16th at the Moniker Warehouse building at 705 16th St. (more info):

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Liberty Public Market has also opened, and seems to be wildly popular.  There’s nothing else like it in the county and we really enjoyed the mix of food vendors, plus the option to stretch out in Mess Hall restaurant or on the patio (get there early).  Here’s some pics from our visit a few weeks ago, including a delicious ceviche tostada from Cecilia’s Taqueria:






Renderings are up for Jonathan Segal’s mixed-use project at Park and Polk on a lot that has sat vacant for many years.  Looks pretty similar to Mr. Robinson down the street, where Trust is getting great reviews, while San Diego Magazine wonders, “What Happened to Hillcrest?”.

Finally, Bike SD’s Bike Month Bash was earlier this month and thanks to Lafayette Hotel for hosting the launch and post-pool party, Bean Bar for the refreshing iced coffee pit stop, and to everyone who came out to support the organization!






Bikeways Update

Bikeways Update

SANDAG held an open house for the Georgia-Meade Bikeway yesterday at the Lafayette Hotel, and overall the route looks good, with construction planned for 2017. Meade is probably the route I bike the most, so I’m encouraged by the project’s buffered lanes and traffic calming treatments.  The treatments include mini-roundabouts, raised crosswalks and sidewalk bulb-outs. One pleasant surprise was the incorporation of my (and others) suggestion to add a missing westbound bike lane on Meade behind the YMCA between 43rd and Fairmont. This was done by removing the eastern part of the concrete median there:

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Also, I had forgotten just how wide the proposed painted buffer is on the Meade bridge over I-805 – hopefully this will slow some drivers on what can be a fast stretch of road:

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Another SANDAG open house is coming up on the 24th: the Uptown Bikeway Open House in Balboa Park. This bikeway goes before the SANDAG Board of Directors on June 24th for a CEQA exemption. Construction would begin in 2017 on the 4th and 5th Avenue segments first. Here’s a terrible photo of SANDAG’s rendering of the bikeway on east University Grabbed a screen shot of east University from SANDAG website (the protected bike lanes will end west of 10th):

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More on the Uptown Bikeway below, but first a quick rundown of all the bike-related events coming up:

Construction of the Rose Creek Bikeway could begin in August.  The bike path will extend from Santa Fe Drive east of I-5, along Rose Creek, under I-5, and connect to the existing bikeway along the creek as it travels under Garnet.

The Uptown Bikeway saga continues as the Hillcrest Business Association still attempts to kill it, block by block.  Recently, Urban Mo’s owner Chris Shaw introduced a motion for the Uptown Parking District to request removal of the Uptown Bikeway north of Robinson on 4th and 5th Avenues.  Recall that Shaw supported the Uptown Bikeway after he tore down a 100-year old house for a parking lot.  He’s apparently changed his mind again, since the HBA removing the Bikeway from most of University Ave wasn’t enough.  4th and 5th have to go too, over a mere 15 parking spaces (there are over 700 off-street spaces on these same blocks).

Here a playlist of videos from that contentious Parking District meeting, including HBA Executive Director Ben Nichols interrupting and yelling at board members and the public.  Yes, that’s the same Ben Nichols who has admonished others, “That’s not how we do things in Hillcrest“.

Fortunately, members of Uptown Parking District from Bankers Hill overcame the HBA’s efforts.  And last week, Uptown Planners reiterated support for a continuous east-west bikeway on University, with a suggested two-way cycletrack on the north side of the street from 5th to 10th, to fill the “HBA Hole” (h/t to Jeff Kucharski):


With the city repaving/striping University later this year due to underground pipe work, there’s an opportunity to fill the above gap, potentially removing just 8 parking spaces (5 new spaces are being added nearby on Robinson at 163). I’m impressed at how Uptown Planners has come around on this issue, and I’m grateful that Tom Mullaney, whom I’ve disagreed with on other issues, even attended the Parking District meeting in support of the bike lanes.  I’m guessing the efforts of Kyle Heiskala (who’s now running for City Council) and Michael Brennan have helped people consider both sides of the issue.

Nichols has complained about bicyclists who ride on sidewalks (“It reminded me of those cyclists that give all riders a bad name by riding up on sidewalks… with complete disregard for any rule or procedure at all“), and sure enough, on my way to the Parking District meeting, I saw a bicyclist riding on the sidewalk on a dangerous stretch of University in the HBA Hole:


When I asked the rider, “It’s too dangerous to ride in the street, isn’t it?”, she said yes.

I’m hopeful someday Hillcrest can overcome Ben Nichols, Crest Cafe owner Cecelia Moreno, Bread and Cie owner Charlie Kaufman, Chris Shaw and Ace Hardware owner Bruce Reeves, who have all put their claim to public street space over the safety of residents and visitors.  Meanwhile a new SANDAG report shows University Ave has the highest number of pedestrian and bike collisions in Uptown:

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The Bike Wars Are Over, and the Bikes Won“?  Not in Hillcrest, unfortunately.

– Finishing up: traffic calming is coming to the Sixth Ave south of Laurel courtesy of the City, with buffered bike lanes, a road diet, new crosswalks and rectangular rapid flashing beacons (UPDATE: here’s the City presentation [h/t Adrian] and screen shots from it below:

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And here are the results of the I-8 corridor study: lots of interesting proposals, but making this part of Mission Valley safer for non-drivers is going to be a big (unfunded) infrastructure challenge after decades of auto-centric planning.  Also, some useful Mission Valley planning maps (h/t Tyler) as this area readies for transit-oriented development.


Chuck Alek Biergarten

Chuck Alek Biergarten


Ramona’s Chuck Alek Brewers beer garden opened recently behind Tostadas on University in North Park, bringing the first outdoor tasting “room” to the neighborhood. The garden is a mix of picnic tables, plants, and a walk-up beer window (about ten on tap, minus a couple that were tapped out) that overlooks the space:


Menus from Tostadas are on hand for ordering food  and the garden is fairly kid-friendly.  A few more trees or umbrellas would be appreciated, especially with hot summer sun not too far off.  In the beer department, their IPA was not quite as hoppy as what I’m used to in San Diego, but the porter was more true to form.  Eater has more details on this welcome new outdoor space.


On Adams Ave, French restaurant Et Voila has opened in the former Fiesta Market, where the building looks so much better with a fresh coat of paint and all those signs removed from its facade:



Again, Eater has a good writeup on their menu and some pretty interior shots.  With Tajima going in next door, Blackmarket Bakery set to open south of Polite Provisions, and Beerfish just west of Soda and Swine, the intersection of Adams and 30th is really turning into a dining hub.

– Gordon Carrier from Carrier Johnson presented the proposed Strauss on 5th project in Hillcrest between Walnut and Brookes.  It’s a 72 foot, 6-story apartment building with 141 (24 of them affordable), and many studios and one bedrooms.  Currently the lot is two parking lots and a small apartment building:

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My pictures from the slide show are pretty sad, but since there’s no renderings online yet…

I’ve updated the post with renderings from Carrier Johnson (thanks Vicki!):
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The prominent cap on the building raised some ire, and I’m not totally sold on the “window” in the middle of the building, but the project provides badly-needed new market rate and affordable housing in Uptown.

It was interesting to watch the reactions of Uptown Planners Mat Wahlstrom and Leo Wilson to the project.  They both stated recently that all new development in Uptown is unaffordable, and therefore we shouldn’t allow any.  Yet this project includes affordable units and studios.  Thus Wahlstrom pivoted and criticized the loss of 20 parking spaces – even though the project includes far more parking than required by the city, with three levels of underground parking.  If Wahlstrom is truly concerned about affordable housing, wouldn’t he be arguing for the elimination of parking minimums that contribute upwards of $200/month to the cost of an apartment?  Either the affordable housing argument is just a smokescreen for plain ‘ol NIMBYism, or housing for cars is just more important than housing for people.

For a more sensible approach, check out this new CirculateSD report on how parking minimums are barriers to smart growth. Or read this recent planning exercise where parking minimums made sensible residential development impossible.  If San Diego politicians were serious about addressing the housing crisis rather than just talking about it, they’d have done away with our parking minimums years ago, as many other cities have.  But then they probably wouldn’t get re-elected, given the demographic turnout for local elections.

– The Mid-Coast Trolley extension to UTC may still be five years away, but that hasn’t stopped Costa Verde Center from releasing an ambitious plan incorporating the terminus station that will front this retail center on Genesee.  Renderings in this big pdf show bike lockers, bikeways, pedestrian-friendly features and a rooftop park for patrons exiting the elevated station:

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 11.08.34 PM– Downtown, Bosa has traded in their conservative condo tower design for Aqua-lite on their 42 story project coming to 777 Front Street:


San Diego doesn’t have much in the way of daring or remarkable high-rise architecture.  Let’s hope this project starts to change that.