Awards season is here, so here’s some of the best things happening in San Diego in this inaugural edition of The Urbies:
- Best new Uptown establishment: Named Cocktail Bar of the Year by Imbibe Magazine, Polite Provisions is the coolest thing to happen to Adams Ave since Blind Lady Ale House. While the award usually goes to a flashy New York or LA bar, this year’s winner is straight out of
Normal Heights northern North Park in the former humble Kadan location. The cocktails served here are as awesome as the bar’s gleaming interior, and when you need something to soak up all the liquor in those delicious drinks, grab some meatballs next door at sister operation Soda and Swine. Get there early though, because every time we’ve visited it’s quickly become standing-room only. The addition of these two establishments to 30th and Adams is a huge step forward in the ongoing resurgence of the Adams Ave corridor.
- Most anticipated mixed-use project: The North Parker at 30th and Upas has a modernist design unlike anything else in the area, and will feature an eclectic group of establishments: taco shop Tacos Perla (from The Pearl Hotel owners), Influx Cafe, Underbelly, and a Modern Times Beer tasting room. Sitting catty-corner to the recently-remodeled Jack in the Box, the North Parker represents the exact opposite approach to land use: mixing ground-floor commercial with residential above, instead of a single-story structure with a drive-thru and high-profile parking spaces. Hopefully the former approach will continue with projects like the nearby You Got Mail.
- Our favorite restaurants: Instead of posting about new spots (our French Concession visit will have to wait until next time), here’s a rundown of places we always seem to end up: Koon Thai in Kearny Mesa is near one of my offices and it’s busier every time we have lunch there; with excellent specials on some of the best Thai in San Diego, I can see why… Pho Mignon in the same plaza is also a favorite for their healthy Vietnamese food… The vegetarian and vegan offerings at Plumeria in University Heights are always reliable and relatively guilt-free… More vegan options at spicy Dao Fu in Normal Heights – the food may melt your face off, but the flavors are fantastic… Waypoint Public is a fine replacement for the departed Linkery, and the craft beer selection from the Bottlecraft folks is stellar… Still love Carnitas Snack Shack and the makeover they gave to their patio, but that ever-present line means we’re not the only ones who do… Prepkitchen is a welcome break from the “should we get Italian, or Italian?” question in Little Italy… Caffe Calabria‘s parklet looks great and makes their front patio even better… and Cantina Mayahuel‘s mole, Tuesday taco special and wide-ranging tequila selection always hit the spot. More: Tender Greens downtown, Loving Hut on El Cajon, Blue Ribbon and Uptown Tavern in Hillcrest, BFD Sandwiches on Park, and Ponce’s (those margaritas) and Burger Lounge here in Kensington. I’m sure we’re missing a few… Blind Lady Ale House, of course.
- Craft beers move closer: San Diego’s craft beer scene continues to amaze, and many of the breweries are opening mini-brewing facilities and/or tasting rooms right in our urban neighborhoods. This is a great thing – who should be driving after downing a few of the often-high alcohol offerings from our esteemed brewers? From Ballast Point‘s successful new Little Italy location to Hess‘s full brewing operation in North Park, many of these are bikeable locations where you’re not dodging vehicles doing 70 mph (like on our recent ride from my brother’s house in Poway to Ballast Point in Scripps Ranch). And you’re much more likely to catch a bus or a cab here than among the brewing warehouses on Miramar Road. Other breweries that have opened or are coming to our neighborhoods include Mission, Green Flash, Modern Times, Thorn Street Brewing, Belching Beaver, Hillcrest Brewing, Acoustic Ales and Stone. Craft beer: one more reason to ditch the car when possible.
- Biggest relief: The Jacobs plan for Balboa Park aimed to bring more cars into the heart of the park, and would have trashed Palm Canyon and the tranquility of the Alcazar Garden. After the plan was stopped (thank you SOHO), parking was removed from Plaza de Panama at a fraction of the project’s $43 million dollar cost. Many residents in nearby Bankers Hill, including Bankers Hill/Park West Community Association and Uptown Planners Community Planning Group head Leo Wilson, strongly supported the disruptive Jacobs plan, concerned that an alternate plan to close Cabrillo Bridge to cars would bring more cars parking in their neighborhood.
This year, Cabrillo Bridge is closed until April and yet the parking quagmire hasn’t materialized. We’ll have to wait to see if museum attendance is affected by the closure but keep this example in mind next time you hear a project can’t be done because of parking impacts.
- Best civic achievement: The downtown library was a long time coming, and it finally happened in 2013. It’s a huge improvement over the former downtown location, with distinguishing architecture, bay views, and gathering areas like the auditorium and reading room:
Even better, the library is the first in a series of major civic projects in San Diego, including the Old Police Headquarters repurposing, the North Embarcadero project, the County Administration Building park, and Horton Plaza Park. We’re witnessing major changes to a city that has often resisted them.
- Best transit plans: SANDAG approves $200 million in Early Action Plan funds for 42 bikeway projects. While we still need to overcome opposition to safe bike lanes (for example, in Uptown from its community planning group) the money is a big positive step in an area where San Diego has been trailing other cities. If you support bike lanes, or their potential to make streets safer for pedestrians too, come to next month’s Uptown Corridor (2/6) or Mid-City Corridor (2/19 5:30-8pm, Franklin Elementary, 4481 Copeland Avenue) meetings. Second place goes to the Mid-Coast trolley expansion, which will begin construction next year and bring trolley service to UCSD. And third place to the new Express bus planned to run from Adams Ave to downtown – no more hour-long rides on the #11.
While the city is facing serious challenges – like its infrastructure backlog – it’s definitely a fun time to be living in San Diego. And I didn’t even mention the warm weather.
Remember the 2011 mixed-use redevelopment project planned to replace the Hillcrest DMV building dating from 1960? The public/private partnership between the state and developer Lankford & Associates was set to construct two buildings – apartments and retail in one, and a fifty percent larger DMV in another. Profits from residential/retail would go to the state and pay for the new DMV building. I hadn’t heard anything about the project in a long time, so I contacted Lankford, who said the state was no longer interested in doing a public/private joint venture. Toni Atkins’ office confirmed this:
The Deparment of General Services is moving forward with a new design for the DMV, with no mixed use. There is no timeline yet, but we are monitoring the situation.
One word of warning for the state: if you want to build above 65 feet, you might have a long wait. Sam at Bike SD was nice enough to ask me to do a guest post about the Interim Height Ordinance in Hillcrest that’s long past “interim”. It’s relevant to biking because the planning organization (Uptown Planners) responsible for restricting building heights in Hillcrest also opposes safe bike lanes there. I’m hoping to do another guest post soon, on the status of the SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor cycle tracks on University.
Speaking of bike lanes, there was a bit of a dust-up over SANDAG applying funds from a previously-awarded grant to build sidewalk bulb-outs on 4th and 5th in Uptown. Turns out you can do bike lanes and pedestrian islands, according to SANDAG:
We are working on a design that will incorporate similar pedestrian improvements into the bike project. Where bulb-outs were planned, we envision building pedestrian refuges/islands to improve pedestrian safety and calm traffic. Just like the bulb-outs, these islands would shorten the distance to cross the street. In fact, they will shorten the crossing distance even more than the original design.
I mentioned Lankford & Associates above, and while perusing their website I saw that they’re doing the Maker’s Quarter project in East Village. Voice of San Diego had a podcast on the project recently. UPDATE: City Beat added a good article yesterday too:
During the next 15 years, Makers Quarter—named for the idea of promoting the crafts and artistic trades—would transform into a dense, vibrant and walkable urban landscape, according to a preliminary master plan. With 2.5 million square feet of built space, accompanied by 157,090 square feet of open space, the plan envisions a large public plaza, a widened 14th Street sidewalk and ground-floor retail units inhabited by small, creative businesses.
…which reminds me of this Hughes Marino article from December about companies moving to downtown San Diego. And I’d love to see more shared workspaces like Co-Merge downtown where suburban companies and public agencies (e.g., UCSD) let their downtown/downtown-adjacent resident employees work for one or more days a week. It would reduce traffic (a majority of downtown workers commute to suburban job locations) and provide a setting where workers could interact with people they’d likely never meet while telecommuting from home.
- Closing, opening: goodbye Pita Jungle in Hillcrest, I’ll miss this healthy dining option; Kono’s Pizza is opening 3 San Diego locations, the first in the Gaslamp by the end of the year, and serves pizza with cone-shaped crusts; Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream is going in next door to Urbn on University in North Park serving Tropical Dreams ice cream from Hawaii.
Coming to the North Parker, another Modern Times tasting room! Because while 30th has plenty of great beer on tap, it deserves more than just one brewery tasting room, given its craft beer reputation. It’ll be challenging for Jacob & company to top the trippy factor of their Midway tasting room, but this one comes with some prime outdoor seating for our winter-free climate.
- Fausto at Mission Hills Nursery asked me to mention the Mission Hills Garden Walk on May 10th… We had an enjoyable dinner recently at the eclectic American Voodoo in University Heights; they were out of their popular fried chicken, but the chicken biscuit was very tasty, as was my vegetarian meatloaf. Looking forward to AV putting their new alcohol license into action… I also enjoyed a quick bite at the new East Village Asian Diner on University in Hillcrest. This Encinitas import features an Asian fusion menu, whimsical graphic design and decent craft beer selection. While the flavors in my cucumber and seaweed salad were off, the hot stone “Monk’s” pot with sizzling rice, veggies and tofu was a healthy treat, and liberal application of their soy- and chili-based sauces helped boost the flavor. Definitely a step up from the former Pink Noodle in this spot.
Voice of San Diego has a good summary on some of the urban initiatives in this suburban city, including the Civic and Urban Initiatives Program, and the R.A.D. Labs project in East Village, which may open in late Spring. As one commenter noted:
New residential construction and retrofitting in Little Italy, Bankers Hill, and Hillcrest document the awareness by developers that people want to live within walking or short public transport distance from Downtown, but in places with a neighborhood feel. SD is early in its urban renaissance.
Unfortunately the latter two of those three neighborhoods have 65 foot interim height limits that local planning groups seek to make permanent. Exceptions in Bankers Hill are allowed pending “special approval” – here’s one at 5th and Palm (what’s going to happen to Extraordinary Desserts there?). A true urban renaissance in these neighborhoods will be challenging with that blanket vertical restriction.
After decades of sprawl and freeway construction/widening, San Diegans are beginning to realize that our core neighborhoods present the best opportunity for future residential growth, jobs, and the alternative transit options between them. Yet many who moved to gay-friendly neighborhoods like Hillcrest in the 80′s and 90′s to avoid discrimination elsewhere now discriminate against potential new residents, via downzoning and height restrictions as rents and real estate prices soar. Uptown Planners discriminated against cyclists as they opposed SANDAG’s plan for bike lanes through Uptown; Hillcrest businesses opposed the Mid-City Rapid Transit line because “no one takes the bus”. So while there are encouraging signs of urbanist thinking taking root in San Diego, there’s also plenty of resistance from those unwilling to share their neighborhoods or roads with anyone else.
- Mission Valley is hardly a core neighborhood, but it is along a trolley line that has the potential to reduce total car trips for nearby residents (as seen recently with LA’s Expo Line extension), and is a prime location for infill development. The Civita project there has been controversial, and I’m no fan of Republican kingmaker/developer Tom Sudberry, but the city did squeeze significant development impact fees out of the project – including the new sidewalk/landscaping going up Texas Street. So it was entertaining to read this response to a NIMBY letter with factual issues. Like this whopper from the Rolando folks that oppose mixed-use construction in their neighborhood, it’s easy to squash the half-truths, scare tactics and everyone-always-drives arguments that don’t hold up.
Speaking of the trolley, how about some free wi-fi on it and MTS buses? It’s worked to boost Amtrak ridership.
- Good news this month included the city’s approval to build 595 miles of bike lanes, many of them protected; funding remains a question at this time… More good news as an LGBT-friendly senior housing project was announced for the vacant lot behind McDonalds at Texas and El Cajon Blvd. Community Housing Works, builders of the Kalos project on Florida Street, confirmed the buildings would reach the 65′ height limit for the location… New trams are running in Balboa Park, where the Cabrillo Bridge will be closed for the next four months:
…The bridge’s closure will be an interesting test of whether parking armageddon really will occur in Bankers Hill as residents insisted, and/or if it decreases attendance to the institutions at the park’s west end.
- Disappointing news for transit advocates when the city caved in to the cheap parking crowd and provided a second hour of free parking to Central Library visitors. The library’s parking rates are below market for downtown, but since taxpayers paid for part of the library, apparently we’re supposed to get free parking for it. Taxpayers also paid for Petco Park yet no free parking is provided there. No discount was extended to library patrons who take public transit, such as the trolley that runs right next door.
- Going out for New Years? MTS is running extra service that night:
On New Year’s Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 31 MTS will operate extended service. All three trolley lines will provide two additional later round trips each. Also, Routes 2, 7, 30, and 901 will all have one additional departure from downtown after the New Year is rung in. For detailed route and schedule information visit http://www.sdmts.com/marketing/newyearsservice.asp
MTS is also planning to finally launch its stored value Compass Card option in 2014.
- Arrivederci continues its takeover of San Diego with a new spot coming to Fern St. in South Park… Finally, with all those year-end music lists coming out, here’s sd urban’s favorite songs of 2013:
Empty for decades, the Old Police Headquarters has finally come to life with a mix of restaurants and shops. The exterior landscaping gets points for a colorful mix of drought tolerant plants, but it does get a bit repetitive on this south side that faces downtown. Also on this side is the Cheesecake Factory patio, reminding downtown residents where 40-year leaseholder Terramar’s priorities lie: attracting tourists. And who can blame them – after sinking millions into redeveloping the site, they’re going after the sure money. Hopefully a greater business focus on locals at the Headquarters will happen someday when there’s more residents living on this side of downtown.
The interior courtyard is appealing and was busy on a mild Saturday. Puesto and Pizzeria Mozza both have seating that spills into the courtyard; Seasons 52 is off in the southeast corner, and Eddie V’s isn’t open yet. We forgot to check out the old jail cell open to the public.
We ate at Puesto – I still haven’t been to their La Jolla location, so it was a first for me – and they’ve put together an interesting interior over two levels and multiple rooms:
We did the 3 tacos for $11, which is a pretty low price point for a meal given the rent they’re likely paying. My favorite was the potato taco, but the fish taco was amply-sized; the guacamole and hot sauce were both delicious. Several people were opting to order from the kitchen area and carry their tacos to the outdoor seating areas.
One disappointment with the Headquarters was the lack of bike parking. A mere 8 bike slots hidden in the back of the facility doesn’t cut it, and people were locking bikes to anything that would suffice. We were glad we biked there too – as we waited to cross the street to Ruocco park (below), drivers were having road rage fits as traffic backed up, gunning it through the intersection and laying on their horns.
We made our way along the Embarcadero, noting the re-opening (and flattening) of Harbor Drive:
And the signage showing the planned changes for the pier and Embarcadero:
From there we headed to northern Little Italy to the new Ballast Point restaurant/bar/brewery:
Several “deconstructed” Little India Pale Ale beers were on tap, variations of the pale ale brewed on-site. I like the serving size options – 8 oz of the Black Eye blended ale (1/3 Black Marlin Porter, 2/3 Big Eye IPA) was just right, and I did a taster of the Pale Ale #1 – the version with all the spices thrown in.
Ballast Point was nearly full (the dining area was busy too) and I think it’s going to be very successful as this neighborhood continues to grow. Juniper and Ivy restaurant (construction shown below) is opening just a block west, and Bird Rock Coffee Roasters has announced plans to open nearby. One bummer was seeing the “No Alcohol” signs on the Little Italy Association tables outside – God forbid we drink a beer on the sidewalk. I wish Ballast Point had their own patio or rollup doors, but given its proximity to the landing path, I can see why they don’t. And install some bike lock stands please!
Broadstone condos at Grape and Kettner look like they’re getting close to completion:
On our ride back to the car we passed the new federal courthouse and snapped a couple of shots; hopefully this outdoor space isn’t so desolate at lunchtime during the week:
- Shorties: Casa de Luz closes tomorrow (Sunday) in North Park… in East Village, look for Green Flash to open a new brewery/tasting room, and SILO in Maker’s Quarter is holding a Holiday Happening next Saturday 11-11.
Brian over at selfstorage.com sent me this cool graphic of the various developments planned for downtown. After a long recession-induced slumber, it’s good to see things getting rolling again, even if not all of these projects pan out. Much of the information in the graphic is actually more up to date than the “official” listing, the Civic SD interactive map (formerly maintained by the now-defunct CCDC). Here’s a direct link to the graphic if you’d like to share it.