this land is my land

this land is my land

“They’re going to create INFILL in Uptown!”  Those were the breathless words of Uptown Planner Beth Jaworski tonight, in the midst of an impassioned plea to oppose a neutral Uptown Planners approach toward the One Paseo project.  The original motion from fellow board member Tom Mullaney had already been watered down to remove some of the language opposing the project, and instead focused on criticizing the process, namely the city council’s override of the Carmel Valley Planning Group’s “no” vote on One Paseo.  But many board members were uncomfortable voting on a project they didn’t know much about, much less one well over 15 miles beyond their jurisdiction.  In the end, planner Chris Ward’s sub-motion to remain neutral on the project passed by a vote of 7 to 6.

Planning groups are an interesting concept in San Diego.  Technically advisory only, they write the community plans that guide community development.  Deviations to the community plan (Carmel Valley’s is still from 1975) often require discretionary and/or environmental review.  Yet these groups, which are primarily focused on local concerns, can be overruled by our city council when our elected representatives decide that the regional pros/cons of a project trump the local community’s.  Despite their advisory nature, Jaworski implied that Uptown Planners alone should decide Uptown’s future – a future that largely excludes letting anyone else in.

It’s also important to note that some community groups, like Uptown Planners, limit voting hours to just a single half hour once a year (6-6:30 PM; by contrast, La Jolla allows voting for four hours).  This obviously makes it challenging for working residents to vote, especially lower-income residents working multiple jobs, and benefits those with extra time in their schedules, like retirees.  Sure enough, most of the folks deciding Uptown’s future for decades to come have been over the age of 60. Not to mention that many of these same members are part of the Leo Wilson Metro CDC/Western Slopes alliance. If community planning group members like Jaworski really believe they have the final say on all development, why aren’t their names on a general election ballot?

Community Control is Destroying America’s Cities” lays out the arguments against giving local communities absolute power to reject projects that benefit the greater good – like affordable and middle-class housing, in San Diego’s case.   It was certainly odd to witness Uptown Planners debating a mixed-use project in Carmel Valley after years of ignoring any affordable or middle class housing in their own neighborhood.  Compare this to downtown or North Park, where there are many new affordable housing projects planned, including non-profit developer projects for low-income seniors.  There are none planned for Uptown, and based on the NIMBY histrionics from Jaworski, I’m guessing there’s not a whole lot called for in the new community plan Uptown Planners has been working on for years.

Uptown’s elected representatives, from Democrat Todd Gloria to Republican Kevin Faulconer, agree that San Diego faces a housing crisis.  SANDAG estimates we need about 300,000 new housing units in San Diego by 2050.  Younger families are leaving because they can’t afford to live here, and companies struggle to attract young talent.  San Diego is routinely named the most unaffordable city in the country based on our housing and transportation costs versus our salaries, the latter of which are significantly lower than cities like San Francisco. Uptown is an ideal place to add housing because of its proximity to transit and downtown jobs. Plus, providing housing for a range of incomes actually frees up valuable parking, because low and middle income workers in the neighborhood don’t have to drive in and park.

IMG_5729Given the above, why are avid anti-growthers like Tom “job growth should not be encouraged in San Diego” Mullaney (pictured) writing our community plans?  Mr. Mullaney isn’t troubled by whether you, your neighbors or your children have job opportunities – his traffic and parking concerns are more important than your basic life needs. But why would someone live in an urban neighborhood in the heart of San Diego if they oppose letting anyone else in? Perhaps San Diego’s many amenities are only to be enjoyed by them.

At last month’s Uptown Planners meeting, a woman complained for several minutes about parking impacts from the market-rate Jonathan Segal condo project in Hillcrest (“Mr. Robinson” on Park) – despite it meeting city parking requirements. I followed up by saying we need to consider the city’s housing needs in addition to parking, and that multiple bus lines serve the area. Afterward, Mr. Mullaney emailed another Uptown Planner and stated I was “doing great harm to bicycle advocates” for supporting badly-needed new housing while also advocating for safer streets for people on bikes and on foot.  

Personally, I think Mr. Mullaney did far greater harm when he repeatedly voted against the SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor recently, because he deemed public street parking more important than the lives of fellow residents on bikes.  And a community planner who actually claims “there is no housing crisis in San Diego”, while offering no supporting evidence, is like a climate change denier running the Senate Environment Committee. Here’s our email exchange, including Tom’s initial complaint:

An observation:

Paul Jameson is doing great harm to the bicycle advocates. You heard his statement at the Uptown Planners. He was completely unsympathetic to the woman who lives near Park Bl and Robinson, and is concerned about a large project with inadequate parking.

Paul made a statement about “inevitable growth”. Yet I will wager that he is not an expert on the statistical relationship between housing supply, prices, regional forecasts, nor examples of stable communities whose populations grew slowly or not at all. (My group, Friends of San Diego, has gathered such information, and even obtained a specific analysis of the “inevitable growth” issue from a top economist).

I don’t know that Paul Jameson is any more of an authority on growth and urban planning than Jenny McCarthy is on vaccination safety. Even if he is, his message is confusing when mixed with the simple goal of “safe bicycle routes”.

The result is that many people see bicycle advocates as Smart Growth/ Urban Infill fanatics, who are intent on cramming thousands more residents into an area which is already deficient in public facilities.

Tom Mullaney
Uptown Community

Hi Tom, I wanted to extend an invitation to you to write a guest blog post on sdurban.com. I’m interested to hear about the growth analysis you mentioned in your e-mail. I clicked through the Friends of San Diego site but didn’t see it there.

Dave Gatzke, who works at Community Housing Works (http://chworks.org/real-estate-development/meet-our-team/) has volunteered to provide a counterpoint view, from his perspective as a local non-profit developer.

This could be a good opportunity to begin a dialogue about growth and housing in San Diego.

Thanks,
Paul

Thanks for the invitation Paul.

It’s likely that I won’t have time to write on SD Urban. The issue of “growth inevitability” is a complex one. So is the relationship of supply and demand. The dialogue about growth and housing has been going on since the 1980’s.

Generally, I have doubts that increasing urban densities would be beneficial. A local economist explained what people in his profession view as obvious: San Diego is expensive because it’s a nice place to live.

Another prominent local economist stated that there was no evidence of a “housing shortage”.

As I stated in an email last week: I support safe bike routes, but don’t see any logical connection between this and authorizing increased densities. I think that you are doing a disservice to bicyclists by promoting density while also making public appearances as a bicycle advocate.

Tom Mullaney

Thanks for replying Tom, sorry you don’t have time. I will summarize your email points in my article. Do you have a link to the economist you mentioned, or the study from the earlier email?

Interestingly, you noted the demand to live in San Diego (because it’s nice, but I think our job market and birth rate are also big factors), but you quoted an economist who says there’s no housing shortage.

The notion of a housing crisis in San Diego has been widely accepted in San Diego (http://voiceofsandiego.org/topics/land-use/wanna-fix-san-diegos-housing-crisis-start-here/). I don’t expect to change your mind, but the view that there is no housing crisis is not shared by our mayor, Uptown’s council person, or a majority of our elected representatives in San Diego. A community planner holding this view (and advising the city with it) is sort of like a climate scientist ignoring their data to become a climate change denier.

While I agree that future growth isn’t inevitable (Japan and its unsustainable obligations to their elderly is one example), San Diego has the largest percentage of millennials of any U.S. metro. These folks are already here, living in their parents’ homes. Providing no new housing would require them to remain there, or to leave San Diego. This is not responsible planning for our city’s future, in my opinion.

46,000 San Diego households are on an affordable housing waiting list. Yet Uptown Planners has done little to promote badly-needed new affordable housing. Further, no new market rate housing (like Mr. Robinson) was built in Hillcrest for years. While the hotel planned at 3rd and University was badly out of scale for the neighborhood, the Interim Height Ordinance has resulted in new housing projects not penciling out, given our high land costs (I suspect stopping new housing was the real intention of the IHO). As a member of SOHO, I believe we can preserve our historic architecture and residential streets – while increasing density on commercial thoroughfares.

San Diego is already the most unaffordable city in the country, and skilled workers are leaving because they can’t afford it here (http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/aug/13/report-gen-x-leaving-san-diego-taking-their-kids/). What happens when the high-tech companies that need these workers follow them out of town? Our city’s hourglass economy will worsen.

Our future growth is largely due to our high but declining birth rate. I agree lowering these rates should be a goal, but it doesn’t change SANDAG’s estimate of 330,000 new housing units needed in San Diego by 2050. With no more buildable land, increasing density near transit is the most sensible option to accommodate this growth. If I were a planner, I would consider these widely-accepted reports in addition to the unnamed economists and studies you mentioned.

I agree we need more infrastructure in our urban neighborhoods. To me, this means better transit service so not everyone is forced to drive a car – not wider roads. And it means new water and sewer lines, like the ones currently being installed throughout Uptown.

Regarding the connection between safe bike routes and density, the more housing and jobs we provide in our urban neighborhoods, the easier it is for people to replace long suburban car commutes with bike trips, as the Climate Action Plan seeks to do. While my support for more housing is mostly unrelated to biking, I do see a similarity: the people most affected by these issues need strong advocates in San Diego.

Finally, you mentioned that I showed no sympathy for the Hillcrest resident’s parking concerns, but where is the concern for our children who can’t afford to live here? In my opinion, prioritizing people over parking isn’t doing a disservice to anyone – including bike advocates.

Thanks,
Paul

I don’t see the point in summarizing my recent email in an article.

Tom

Unfortunately, these are the folks “planning” our city’s future, based on unnamed experts and studies – despite a broad consensus to the contrary. Exclusionists like Tom Mullaney, who put their own interests over everyone else, share the blame for our city’s housing crisis.

2 thoughts on “this land is my land

  1. Thanks Tyler, that means a lot! I agree, there are a lot of people arguing for car dependency in Uptown that may find themselves in a tricky spot not too long from now.

    Interestingly, Ms. Jaworski actually appears to be around my age (43) or younger. Yet she has taken on the same exclusionary rhetoric that we usually only hear from (some) older residents. She is also part of the Leo Wilson groups – Metro CDC, Western Slopes – that have largely run Uptown Planners in the past. These groups still claim nearly half of Uptown Planners seats. How is that in any way representative of the community, when their membership is far less than half of Uptown’s residents?

  2. Personally, I think you’re a wonderful representative – not just for bike advocates, but for all San Diego residents. I love your blog and always look forward to new updates. Unfortunately, it seems like these grumpy old folks want to turn San Diego into one giant suburban retirement community. However, I wonder who they think will take care of them in 5-10 years when they are no longer able to take care of themselves. Also, by the time most of the changes opposed by Mr. Mullaney, Mr. Wilson and Ms. Jaworski are implemented, they will be unfit to operate a motor vehicle and thus, shouldn’t be concerned with any reduction of vehicle storage space in the public right-of-way.

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