The Uptown Planners Community Planning Group holds their annual board member vote this Tuesday at the Joyce Beers center in Hillcrest, with seven seats set to be filled. If you’re a resident of Uptown, please consider voting for Michael Brennan and Kyle Heiskala. They will provide a fresh outlook and much-needed millennial representation on the board – more on that below.
While Kensington is unfortunately not a part of Uptown, we spend a lot of time in Uptown’s neighborhoods, and are interested in seeing their turnaround of the past few decades continue. These are increasingly vibrant places, with many new establishments opening, new mixed-use projects planned and transit options like the Rapid 215 bus being added. With regard to the city’s housing crisis, they are also ideal places to increase density given their locations close to downtown and current/potential public transit infrastructure.
When I started this blog ten years ago, I was aware of community planning groups (CPGs) but not their role, which is to advise the city on planning and land use-related items. Yet they also create community plans (which they are in the process of updating now). Many of these community plans are 30-40 years old, but when a project is planned that is inconsistent with these outdated, cars-first plans, the CPG will use its weight as community representative to pressure the city to prevent the change. One example is the College Area Community Planning Group’s threat to sue over a bike lane and widened sidewalks near SDSU – because they feel it will prevent their plan’s goal of widening College Avenue to 6 lanes:
The revised proposal would also be inconsistent with the College Area Community Plan, which calls for the eventual widening of College Avenue to three lanes in each direction. SDSU’s proposed changes would preclude this future widening. The board expressed serious concern about the proposal, and is exploring its legal options.
Sure enough, after pressure from this CPG, councilmember Marti Emerald, head of the city’s “Livable Neighborhoods” committee, wrote a letter to the mayor asking that the bike lane and widened sidewalk be removed. Never mind that actually widening College to 6 lanes would require the teardown and reconstruction of several SDSU buildings and a trolley electrical substation (at the cost of several hundreds of millions of dollars), or that it would make the road even more unsafe for pedestrians and people on bikes.
If community planning groups are truly representative of our communities, and are now planning them for the next 30-40 years, why are they largely made up of older residents who mostly oppose any changes to their neighborhoods? While there are exceptions to this, particularly in North Park and downtown, my experience has been that these groups are often comprised of NIMBY-type folks who are primarily concerned with parking and traffic issues. As a result, their decisions – opposing increased density, bike lanes, and affordable housing – negatively impact the younger San Diegans who might live in the neighborhoods these folks are “planning”.
The Uptown Community Planning Group is chaired by Leo Wilson, who is currently suing the city to remove bike lanes on 4th and 5th Avenues in Bankers Hill and Hillcrest. Jim Mellos, another Uptown board member, represents Wilson in the lawsuit. Wilson has called a special meeting on March 24th to discuss the SANDAG bike lane project in Uptown, yet currently this only appears on the “Keep University Ave Open” Facebook page, set up by a small group opposed to making Mission Hills streets safer for people on bikes. The meeting is not on the Uptown Planners web page, the city planning groups web page, and SANDAG has not been notified of it. Is Wilson working behind the scenes with this group, and if so, how then is Uptown Planners truly representative of the community?
San Diego is the least affordable city to live in in the nation and faces a housing (affordability) crisis. Hillcrest is an ideal location to add housing given its proximity to downtown and public transit. Yet Wilson opposes any growth in Hillcrest, railing against “straight white bigots” who “need to move downtown” because they advocate for badly-needed new housing in Hillcrest (my husband and I just celebrated 15 years together). While its growth has been stopped, Hillcrest has become more dependent on residents outside the neighborhood to support its businesses – just as those other neighborhoods increased their own dining and bar options. This decreased the need to go to Hillcrest, and Hillcrest’s business community has declined over recent years as a result.
While Wilson is termed out this year, his influence will carry on via the various board members he has recruited. Thomas Fox, a member of Wilson’s Metro CDC organization suing the city, is rumored to be the next chairperson. Candidate Jay Newington (see below) is co-founder of Metro CDC and advocated for the outdated idea of removing parking meters from Bankers Hill. Like Wilson, he also supported the Jacobs Bypass Bridge for Balboa Park, which would have permanently damaged the park and brought more cars into its core (most of Bankers Hill rightly opposed this project). Candidate Chris Cole is a member of the Western Slopes Community Association, another Leo Wilson-associated organization.
Wilson is an effective organizer and turns out a large number of voters each year who vote in his candidates. But it’s clear his influence on Uptown Planners, including this orchestrated maneuver that re-instated him as chair two years ago, makes it far from a representative organization.
Among the other candidates is Jennifer Pesqueira (running for re-election), owner of El Indio in Middletown, who said that “not one parking space” should be removed from her public street for the safety of people on bikes. Apparently she has declared ownership of this public resource, despite her private parking lot across the street.
Nancy Moors and her partner run the HillQuest website and while I support their historical preservation efforts on behalf of SOHO, they advocate for reducing density and a 30 foot height limit for Hillcrest. This would make it much more difficult for younger San Diegans to live in this urban neighborhood, and would only make our housing crisis worse. They represent established residents of Uptown who have secured a home in a prime urban neighborhood of the city, and now have closed the door behind them to new residents – because of parking and traffic concerns. These are suburban neighborhood convenience issues applied to an urban setting.
Mat Wahlstrom has called safe bike lanes for people on bikes “social engineering”, and also stated that only rich white people ride bikes, during an Uptown Planners meeting in 2013.
While it’s nearly guaranteed that Wilson’s candidates will win, I’m asking that if you live in Uptown and care about its future – particularly Hillcrest’s – please vote on Tuesday. There are nine candidates for the seven slots. Michael Brennan is a Hillcrest business owner, member of the Hillcrest Business Association, and former Uptown Community Parking District (Hillcrest) board member who approaches issues with the needs of all residents in mind – and a much cooler head than me. Kyle Heiskala also lives in Hillcrest and secured highly-reduced transit passes for UCSD students via an overwhelming “yes” referendum vote – after our “sustainable” university slashed transit subsidies and now plans to build more parking garages.
In simple terms, Brennan and Heiskala represent the future of Uptown. Wilson’s candidates represent the past. The first example of this will occur immediately after the vote, when the city presents its Climate Action Plan to the board. The plan seeks to increase bike mode share to 18% in Uptown by 2030. Yet much of the current Uptown Planners board opposes the infrastructure to make this happen – if they’re not actively suing to stop it.
Uptown Planning Board Candidates, 2015:
1. Michael Brennan (Hillcrest)
2. Chris Cole (Middletown/Mission Hills)
3. Neil Ferrier (Hillcrest/ University Heights)
4. Kyle Heiskala (Hillcrest)
5. Nancy Moor (Bankers Hill/Park West)
6. Jay Newington (Bankers Hill/Park West)
7. Jennifer Pesqueira (Five Points/Middletown)
8. Ken Tablang (Mission Hills)
9. Mat Wahlstrom (Hillcrest)