Several interesting events going on this month for Archtoberfest, and the Open House San Diego event on the 17th should be a highlight with 41 locations participating. We’re going to try the hard hat tour of the new hotel going in at Lane Field. I’m also hoping to get to Bosa’s Rethink Downtown exhibit at 700 1st Ave, where next week they’ll be “Healing the Gash” known as I-5 between downtown and Balboa Park.
I-5 isn’t the only freeway that has torn apart our downtown communities. State Route 94 did the same to the historic neighborhoods of Sherman Heights and Golden Hill, because suburban commuter convenience somehow justified it. Now, a new park over SR-94 has been proposed, but the project lacks any funding (funds to widen SR-94 further have been identified however). Strangely, Todd Gloria referred to the 10-lane wide freeway as merely a “psychological” barrier, but I’m guessing locals think otherwise. Bring your ideas to the next imagining meeting, this Saturday in Golden Hill.
El Cajon Boulevard continues its turnaround in North Park/Normal Heights with the planned re-purposing of the O’Connor’s Church Goods store at 3700 El Cajon. The same folks who revamped The Lafayette Hotel will convert this property into a mixed-commercial use building called 37ECB with workspaces, event spaces and multiple restaurants. Given the lack of many amenities in the area, this project and the H.G. Fenton purchase of the used car lot nearby could signal the beginning of some big changes in the neighborhood.
Speaking of Fenton, they’ve announced their plans for the former Pole Position strip club further west at Ohio St: a brewery incubator with three brewery/tasting rooms. But if drinking outdoors is more your thing, North Park’s got that covered too. Ramona’s ChuckAlek Independent Brewers is opening a beer garden in the Art Produce garden behind the new Tostadas on University by January. Here’s what it looks like now:
Nearby, Tribute Pizza is set to open in the North Park Post Office Lofts building by spring:
Further west on University, Breakfast Republic has been open for a few months now, but we enjoyed our first breakfast there. So did half the neighborhood apparently – at least the long wait is helped by the coffee and beer bar out front, part of a layout that makes good use of our mild climate.
Clearly there’s demand for more than just a couple of breakfast spots in North Park (the vegan pancakes at Swami’s are a welcome option too). The same could be said for coffee shops: the new Dark Horse Coffee location next to Waypoint was going strong well into the afternoon, despite plenty of alternatives nearby.
Finally, last month’s BikeSD Bike to the Border Ride was a lot of fun. A big thank you to David Alvarez for cheering us on and to Border X Brewing in Barrio Logan for staging the event in their parking lot.
Almost forgot – at next Wednesday’s Kensington Talmadge community planning group meeting, SANDAG will present their “North/South bicycle route paralleling the SR-15/I-15 between El Cajon Boulevard and Camino Del Rio South. The route will include Central and Terrace Streets, access through/around the south Terrace Street parking lot, and access from near the north Terrace Street parking lot to a route above I-15.” The meeting starts at 6:30 PM at Copley-Price YMCA, with SANDAG presenting at 7:30.
Music Box has opened in the former Anthology location in Little Italy. I was disappointed when jazz-focused Anthology closed (especially since I never got to a show there), but I’m excited that the venue has finally reactivated, and for the broader range of acts that will play there now. Here’s the exterior:
There’s a beautiful bar on the ground floor, which was serving up cocktails on draft (for free!) on this media preview night. Apparently this replaces the old horseshoe-style bar, making for more room.
Just beyond that is the main floor and stage, with seating along one side. There’s great views of the stage from above, even directly over it.
The outdoor patio on the second floor is a comfortable place to take in the western view on this rare comfortable evening – a break from the steamy weather of the past few weeks.
Afterward we had dinner at a busy Cafe Gratitude (in fact all of Little Italy was surprisingly busy for a Wednesday night, but maybe that’s the new norm). We ate out front but the interior of the vegan restaurant looks amazing. For me, it was liberating to eat at a semi-upscale restaurant in Little Italy and not have to rule out most of the menu because of my various food intolerances. We had the Mexican bowl, double cheeseburger and a chocolate mint milkshake; considering each item was plant-based, they were remarkably good.
“I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best” – President George W Bush, 2006
“It was my call (to remove the planned protected bike lanes from University Avenue)” – SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos, 2015
It’s been over a month since SANDAG killed the long-planned protected bike lane on University Avenue in Hillcrest to preserve street parking. Here are some good summaries of just what happened:
The takeaway from these features is that after a years-long process of public input, SANDAG cancelled all public meetings and instead met privately with the California Strategies lobbyist hired by the Hillcrest Business Association for $20,000. Several HBA members, including President Johnathan Hale, Executive Director Ben Nicholls, Director Cecelia Moreno and former Director Eddie Reynoso all insisted that the lobbying was only to keep the Washington off-ramp to University open. Yet lobbying disclosure forms from Todd Gloria’s office indicate California Strategies was indeed fighting to preserve all parking on University also.
Think about that for a second: San Diego County taxpayers, who pay the TransNet sales tax that funds SANDAG, were completely shut out of SANDAG’s planning process for the Uptown Bikeway. Instead, a private business association (who actually receive funding from the city, though none of those funds were used for lobbying), claimed ownership of our public on-street parking, and have now permanently put the safety and lives of bicyclists on University at risk – all for their own private gain.
How does something like this happen? The Uptown Bikeway was supposed to help address several things beyond safety: the city of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan goals for increased bike mode share; state greenhouse gas emissions goals; and decades of SANDAG ignoring bike infrastructure. In my opinion, the blame primarily lies with the culture of the senior staff at SANDAG, namely Executive Director Gary Gallegos.
Gallegos is the former director of the San Diego Caltrans division, an agency that has largely ignored all non-auto modes for decades. He’s been executive director of SANDAG since 2001, during which time the agency has continued to under-fund alternative transit modes in favor of endlessly widening freeways and roads. Their current 2050 regional transportation plan continues this trend, exceeding state greenhouse gas emissions targets seven-fold, and has been successfully defeated in court twice with the state of California as one of the plaintiffs. Yet SANDAG has chosen to continue this court battle (using taxpayer funds), even as the state made these emission targets official last week. Gallegos appears to be stuck in the past, ignoring state law and trends of younger Americans using alternative transit modes. And why wouldn’t he, after serving much of his career in Caltrans, an agency devoted to building and maintaining our auto-centric culture. He is San Diego’s Decider, issuing executive orders to buy a toll road unmentioned in SANDAG’s regional plan, or gut a long-overdue bike facility. Gallegos is charting a course backwards that’s incredibly harmful to our city, our children and our climate.
Oddly, even the author of our city’s draft Climate Action Plan, Todd Gloria, voted to continue SANDAG’s costly-yet-pointless court battle above. KPBS concluded that SANDAG’s regional transportation plan hinders the city’s Climate Action Plan goals. So if a SANDAG board member (and Transportation Committee chair) as progressive as Gloria on transit and the environment can’t go against senior staff recommendations, who can? This suggests that SANDAG board members fear rejecting SANDAG staff recommendations, because funding for their district could be killed as retaliation.
Thus, once the Hillcrest Business Association successfully lobbied Gallegos in private to kill the bike lane on University in favor of parking, the fix was in. When bike advocates finally were granted a meeting with Gallegos recently, he declared that the decision to keep the status quo there was his decision alone. There was no way the SANDAG Transportation Committee board members, who are appointed by elected officials, could vote against the senior staff recommendation to do nothing for the majority of University (where they actually call sharrows a Bikeway!). Well, all but one board member: Mike Nichols of Solana Beach, who expressed concern over a long-planned and badly-needed set of bike lanes being removed for parking, when abundant off-street parking already exists in the area. Two weeks later, when SANDAG staff recommendations for Smart Growth Incentive Grants were announced, Solana Beach’s project had been rejected.
I don’t know how to fix SANDAG’s broken senior staff culture (term limits for senior staff?), but it would be unfair to blame SANDAG alone for the gutted Uptown Bikeway. Lower-level staff working on the project certainly fought for it. Unfortunately there was a lack of political courage – nothing new for our city – from our elected representatives, including Gloria and Ron Roberts. No effort was ever made to bring stakeholders from both sides to the table and find a compromise for the consensus SANDAG said they needed. Instead the “win-win” “compromise” was to simply remove the bike lanes from most of University for parking, or exactly what the HBA lobbied for.
Let’s not kid ourselves about the fact that our elected representatives need to look out for their own political fortunes first. Several members of the HBA donate significantly to Gloria’s campaigns, and when they declare they own our public street parking, so be it. This is exactly why I could never be a politician, because doing the right thing can often be damaging to your career.
Removing public street parking for alternative transit and increased safety is something many cities are doing. San Francisco and Seattle have removed hundreds of spaces for buses and/or protected bike lanes. Isn’t it more important to get more people to their destination on time safely, via the greater carrying-capacity of multiple transit modes, than setting aside this space solely for the publicly-subsidized storage of private vehicles? Apparently in San Diego, the answer is no.
On a personal level, the loss of the protected bike lanes is deeply disappointing. Hillcrest is a community where I first came out and it’s long been a special place for me. I’ve picked up trash from their streets during community clean-ups, despite not even living there. I attended Uptown Parking District meetings to contribute ideas to mitigate any lost parking from the Bikeway. I’ve promoted HBA events and new Hillcrest businesses on my blog as its business district has declined over the past several years. Yet I was questioned by both the President of the Uptown Parking District and the Hillcrest Business Association about my activism in their community, since I didn’t live there. It didn’t matter that I wanted to travel to their businesses safely by bike and make streets safer for others; since I wasn’t a resident, my input was suspect and invalid. Meanwhile, HBA senior members Hale, Moreno and Nicholls also all live elsewhere.
The Uptown Bikeway was an opportunity to set Hillcrest apart with something really unique: the only protected bike lanes in a commercial district in San Diego. It could help draw back younger residents who have long written off this now decidedly-unhip neighborhood, and moved on to more interesting districts in North Park, Little Italy and East Village. And with the first multi-million dollar investment ever from SANDAG in the neighborhood, the placemaking opportunities were huge. Yet the anti-bicyclist vitriol that I witnessed from many community members was astonishing. Maybe it really is true that the long-oppressed (in this case, the Hillcrest gay community) often become the oppressors. To be fair, some community members, such as Hillcrest Town Council President Luke Terpstra, did try to find compromise.
Finally, the most amusing part of this saga has to be the contortions from HBA Executive Director Ben Nicholls. Even to the bitter end he was telling the bike community that he supported Transform Hillcrest, the alternative bike lane plan that preserved most parking – while secretly agreeing to SANDAG’s plan to gut the bike lanes. Bike advocates were even trying to sign on to a letter of support for Transform Hillcrest with the HBA until it got bogged down on – you guessed it – parking. The fact is that the HBA never budged on “giving up” one street parking space, despite the addition of hundreds of on and off-street parking spaces that have (or will) come online in the area. This is precisely why the HBA opposed the original SANDAG plan and the western segment of Transform Hillcrest. But this statement in the comments of the SD City Beat article has to be the king of all Nicholls-whoppers:
Forget the “good compromise” part – how exactly is status quo on most of University a compromise? The “private closed door meetings” from Circulate SD and SDCBC were a single desperate, last-minute meeting with SANDAG Transportation Director Muggs Stoll (on the Memorial Day holiday no less) to the HBA’s successful lobbying of executive director Gallegos to gut the bike lanes. Nicholls’ ability to contort truth is breathtaking, but no more so than his laughter during the SANDAG Transportation Committee meeting while speaker after speaker begged for safe bike lanes (middle image below; from the Parking Over People Facebook page):
Changes are coming to El Cajon Boulevard, and Voice of San Diego summarized them in a recent article. “Give us all of your density”, said the president of the Boulevard Improvement Association, reflecting the decades-long desire for more housing and retail along the corridor. That’s certainly looking like it’s going to happen, with about a “dozen” mixed-use projects on the way.
Up first is H.G. Fenton’s project at Florida Ave, which will replace the long-vacant San Diego Sound & Lighting warehouse and the debatable LGBT historic site next door (its demolition permit “error” sadly wasn’t the first time that’s happened). Fenton has also purchased the Kars to Go lot at 3441 El Cajon for $3 million. I also heard a rumor that the block housing Pomegranate and Flavors of East Africa has been bought up. Further east in City Heights, the Talmadge Gateway Project gets another hearing in front of the KenTal Community Planning Group this month (many of whom are “out of our comfort zone” on El Cajon). Back at the corner of Park, the Lusti Motors lot seems like a prime candidate for a very tall project, given the relaxed height restrictions there. And further south on Park, Jonathan Segal is apparently planning an 8 or 9 story mixed-use building at the vacant lot at Polk. Other development/land-use items:
– The new Sempra building looks about done across from Petco Park and has some interesting design features compared to most of the bland boxes going up around it:
– Quartyard has added some art to its shipping containers; I recognize this artist from the utility boxes along University in North Park:
– We did a brewery/tasting room ride in North Park two weekends ago and the number of people on bikes there seems to grow larger every time we visit. The new bike corral on Adams at 30th across from Soda and Swine is getting good use already:
…Speaking of bikes, come join us on Saturday August 1st as BikeSD rides from Balboa Park to La Jolla by way of the beach (after-party at Panama66):
You can also support BikeSD via the proceeds from the Modern Times Festival of Dankness at Waterfront Park on August 22nd. Modern Times has been a big supporter of improved bike infrastructure in San Diego, not to mention making some of the best beer in town.
…Back in North Park, we haven’t made it to Breakfast Republic in the former Western Steakburger spot yet but the interior design and patios look really cool… Heaven Sent Desserts is on the move a few doors down from their old location at 30th and University, not sure what’s going in there… Crazee Burger has opened in their new location on 30th, does that mean construction will be starting up soon on the mixed-use project at their old spot?… We stopped in to Park and Rec in University Heights on a quiet Sunday evening recently, the front bar area is interesting and my cocktail was delicious. Still waiting to see what they do with Lei Lounge next door… Chi was handing out samples during Taste of Adams Avenue, guessing that means this new pescetarian restaurant from the Plumeria Folks between the Heights will be opening soon…. Javier Plascencia’s Bracero opens in Little Italy Thursday… Caffe Primo has opened in East Village and is a cafe in the morning and Italian restaurant at night. The 80-seat outdoor patio is the most appealing part for me but I’m an alfresco junkie…. Vietnamese spot Sovereign Kitchen opened Friday with “Iron Chef Vietnam” Michael Bao Huynh in the kitchen; we ate next door at take-out/sister location Food Shop where we enjoyed our healthy-yet-tasty noodle dishes:
– A new connection from the trolley to the airport will open in October, as an improved sidewalk and crosswalk will lead to the airport rental car shuttle nearby. It’s still a far cry from a direct rail connection to the airport that nearly every other major city has, and it will probably stay that way. The Airport Authority has long been unwilling to contribute funds to an intermodal facility nearby to serve multiple travel modes, opting instead to spend $316 million on one mode (cars) with their new rental car facility, roadways and parking lots:
Our airport’s director actually said, “We focus on operating this airport, not surface transportation”. The $316 million expenditure above ($240 million for the garage alone) indicates otherwise – they choose to focus on auto transportation over public transit (at a time when younger residents are increasingly using the latter), while disregarding our city’s Climate Action Plan goals of reduced emissions. Imagine if LAX’s director said they don’t focus on surface transportation? Instead they’ve actively purchased land around the airport to help make their challenging light rail plan come together.
– The Environmental Health Coalition spoke at my workplace recently about the health challenges facing children in lower income neighborhoods adversely affected by air and other pollution types. I asked them if any new state cap and trade funds earmarked for pollution-impacted communities had been approved, and they mentioned National City. Later that day Streetsblog published an article saying funding for this National City Westside Transit Oriented Development had been approved (along with funds for Chula Vista BRT).
The EHC has also been successful in getting elected officials to ask SANDAG to modify the planned Route 94 freeway widening and/or consider a rapid bus stop for Sherman Heights residents. Not to be outdone by the airport authority director, a Caltrans spokesperson dropped a whopper of their own when discussing the SR-94 project:
“I think in this region, we’ve always looked at providing choices for travelers, and doing projects that benefit everyone, and not necessarily penalize a certain type of user over another one,” said Gustavo Dallarda, Caltrans corridor director on the project.
Since Caltrans’ founding in 1972, the vast majority of its annual budgets have been devoted to building, widening and maintaining roads and freeways, with comparatively little spending on alternative transit. As a result, the “choices” Dallarda refers to are almost always poor options, unless you’re driving a car. For example, it’s been 15 years since we were supposed to receive a bike lane and freeway-median buses on SR-15, yet these are only getting off the ground now. Caltrans again rejected funding the bike lane this year, so SANDAG stepped in with funding. Meanwhile SANDAG funds for the Mira Mesa Boulevard BRT were redirected to the freeway-median stations when they went over budget – not from Caltrans.
In Coronado, how does Caltrans increasing speed limits on 3rd and 4th Ave in Coronado “benefit everyone”, when several pedestrians have been severely injured or killed there? These residents don’t appear to agree with Dallarda’s statement:
It seems nearly every line in San Diego’s public transit system ends up downtown at some point – from local routes, to express routes like 150 to UCSD; from the green/blue/orange trolley lines to the new Rapid 215 and 235 routes. So when San Diego Magazine did a feature for their July issue
(not online yet, will post the link when it is) on our city’s public transit system by asking their staff to try it out for a day, I assumed that at least some of them already used it, because the magazine’s office is located at 7th and Broadway downtown. And indeed they do: a whopping 1 person out of 28 on their staff uses public transit to get to the neighborhood best-served by it.
Most days I work at our UCSD satellite office in Kearny Mesa, where it’s no better – of the 100 or so people working there, a co-worker and I are the only two people who don’t drive alone every day that I know of (the area is served by just two transit lines, not dozens like downtown). So the point of this post isn’t to portray San Diego Magazine employees as uncharacteristic of our city, but whether we can learn anything about our transit system – and ourselves – from them.
There were some encouraging experiences, like the user of the new Mid-City Rapid bus and the North Park resident who took the #2 bus. But why did it take a work requirement (the magazine article) to get these folks to even try public transit? Maybe I can answer that one, because I lived in San Diego for a few years before ever even thinking about riding the bus. I was raised in a suburban car culture and carried that mindset with me even after moving into a large – yet sprawling – metro like San Diego.
Other staff statements about their transit experience were a bit more baffling and seemed to result from a genuine lack of knowledge, or worse, were just plain excuses. 22 year-old Chelsea Street of Carmel Valley took the Coaster from Sorrento Valley but said that since gassing her Prius only cost her $5-6/day, “Fiscally, it doesn’t make any sense (to pay $120/month to take the train). I wish it did”.
Considering only the cost of gas is a common mistake when calculating transit costs. In reality, auto travel can cost around 75 cents/mile when depreciation and wear & tear are included. Let’s be conservative and use the federal government reimbursement rate: 57.5 cents/mile. Multiply that by the 40-mile round trip from Carmel Valley to downtown and the travel cost is really $23/day, or four times Chelsea’s estimate.
Then there’s parking. The article never mentions what employees pay to park, or if their employer offers free parking. Let’s say it’s $100/month. So Chelsea is really paying $100+($23/day * 22 workdays per month = $506), or $606/month! That’s 5 times the amount of a monthly Coaster pass from Sorrento Valley to downtown. Even factoring in the cost of the drive from Carmel Valley to the Sorrento Valley train station, it’s still less than half the true cost of driving the whole way. Yet taking the train doesn’t make any fiscal sense?
That’s not the only dubious statement used to justify driving every day. New Executive Editor Erin Meanley Glenny took the #50 Express Bus from Bay Park and had this to say about it:
I think if mass transit is anything but a necessity, people will opt for the car. I love having my personal space and being able to leave items like a gym bag in the car, and I cherish the control and freedom to leave a place exactly when I want, or be able to run an errand, or stop at an event on my way home. I can’t see getting rid of my car permanently.
I think I count as “people” and for me, mass transit isn’t a necessity, but I still use it as part of my travel. This is because I care about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic, getting exercise as part of my commute (via walking/biking part of the way), and because our city’s aggressive, dangerous drivers really kill my buzz. I get part of her point about personal space, especially since my legs are too long to fit behind most bus seats. But the freedom part is confusing… how is sitting in soul-sucking traffic “freedom”, exactly? I run errands and stop at events on my way home all the time by transit or bike. And who said anything about getting rid of your car permanently just because you ride the bus once in a while? That’s a false choice in my opinion.
But the most revealing statement was when Erin scoffed, “What a waste” that only 11 of 45 seats were filled on the bus. She’s riding a dedicated Express Bus (resulting in 11 less vehicles on the freeway) to her central San Diego neighborhood that refuses to allow any increase in density (because traffic), but it’s a waste? There’s almost an animosity toward transit in her statements. Could this explain why the nearly all-white staff of a magazine that endorsed Carl DeMaio for mayor never rides public transit – because they consider themselves too good to ride with the poors? To be fair, that sentiment would hardly be unique to the employees of San Diego Magazine.
The funniest-yet-saddest part of the article was 25 year-old Sydnie Goodwin, who drives her car each day from K St. downtown to Starbucks, parks it, then drives again to the magazine’s 7th and Broadway office. While millennials across the country have established a clear trend of living in walkable neighborhoods near work and using alternative commuting modes, San Diego Magazine’s millennials are opting to drive 0.7 miles of walkable neighborhood instead. Is the magazine giving away parking or something?
I appreciate San Diego Magazine writing this feature, and pointing out the lofty goals of SANDAG and the city to increase alternative transit use. It’s the best way to significantly decrease emissions to address climate change, while also decreasing traffic congestion. Contrary to what Ms. Meanley and others say in the article, using public transit doesn’t mean you have to give up your car, but rather just realizing it exists, maybe even sometimes as a viable option.
Mass transit usage one day a week by a majority of San Diego commuters would have numerous, significant positive impacts. But as another magazine staff member pointed out, why doesn’t MTS offer smartphone payments and/or the ability to load cash onto Compass Cards to help make this happen? Apparently that’s something for every other major metro to offer, just not San Diego.