Santa Monica Redux

Santa Monica Redux


Somehow it’s been nearly four years since we visited Santa Monica and raved about the bike-related stuff going on there.  A meeting at UCLA provided a good reason to stick around for the weekend and see what was new on the Westside.  We rented bikes in Venice Beach and pedaled the dedicated beach bike path up to Santa Monica to Tongva Park across from City Hall.  It was still under construction during our last visit, but the finished park, featuring the oblong observation decks shown above and below, is an incredible improvement over the former parking lot at the site.  The LA Times interviewed the landscape architect who designed the park (and the High Line in Manhattan).


Tongva Park is a peaceful oasis from the bustling streets outside, with winding paths, water features trickling in the background and water-wise landscaping throughout.   The google images for the park are way better than anything I took.

City Hall is located just east of the park and the arrangement reminded me of Waterfront Park at the County Administration Building here.  The traffic calming they’ve done on the street dividing the two in Santa Monica sure would be appreciated on both Harbor and Pacific Highway however.





Just to the north is Colorado Boulevard, where the Expo Line Extension terminus station at 4th Ave will open next month when the Extension makes its debut (check out this video of the route).  The station looks about complete but the street’s pedestrian esplanade was still under construction – the curved pavers make it look like it’s undulating, but it’s just an optical illusion.  Not pictured here are the two new large residential projects going in.  Their building heights are far above the 30′ limit that Bay Park residents have imposed on any development near the forthcoming Mid-Coast trolley stations.




The station is just a block away from the southern end of Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, which was busy as usual:


While we didn’t do the entire 26 miles of the beach bike path, it sure is nice to have pedestrian traffic separated from the bike lane.  Too bad Coronado won’t allow a beach bike path, and the Pacific/Mission Beach boardwalk isn’t wide enough to permit dedicated uses.


That’s not the only place where LA’s common sense trumps San Diego’s entrenched entitlement.  We made our way home Sunday and stopped into Hermosa Beach, where 24-hour parking and residential parking permits stand in stark contrast to Pacific Beach resident and business demands to keep all parking free despite overwhelming demand.  Here’s a car-free view of Hermosa Beach:


Next we visited the Anaheim Packing District, a former citrus processing facility built in 1919 that’s been converted into a food hall.  LAist has a ton of photos from the opening in 2014.






We still haven’t been to Liberty Station’s Public Market but the Anaheim version’s wide range of food and drink options was quite a surprise given the location.  Maybe there is hope for the OC.





Kindred opened a few months ago in the former Alchemy spot in South Park, after they opened up this walled-off space to the street. With crazy design input from owner Kory Stetina, filtered through Paul Basile (who created the various Consortium Holdings interiors – they’re on board here too), the restaurant and bar don’t quite look like your typical San Diego establishment:





That last framed picture is on display in the mens room. But enough about the design – how’s Kindred’s all-vegan menu? If our brunch items are any indication, it’s one of the best in town. The price point is lower than Cafe Gratitude in Little Italy (and you don’t have to say “I am Grateful” or whatever the name of your dish is) and the flavors are bold. I haven’t had many vegan breakfasts in San Diego so there’s not a whole lot to compare to… maybe Naked Cafe many years ago, or the buckwheat pancakes at Swami’s in North Park. But this plate of pancakes (“Carmelized Banana, Bourbon Butterscotch, Whipped Coconut Cream, Walnuts, Syrup”) was amazingly delicious – this plate was soon empty:


Banana bread french toast looked really good:


Jay’s tofu scramble (“Spicy Horseradish Hash Browns, Romesco, Chioggia Beets, Avocado, Sourdough Toast, Chile Lime Butter”) was also surprisingly tasty:


We sampled a few appetizers too, including the fried potato bread (“Soy Cream, Blackberry Jam, Mango, Mint, Fresno Chili”):


Given all my dietary issues I can’t remember the last time I was able to order items like these without paying for it later.
The cocktail list looked really interesting, but I hadn’t had my coffee fix yet, so the Modern Times iced coffee on tap was the perfect accompaniment to breakfast. We’re hoping to get back to Kindred soon to see if their dinners match the high bar they’ve set at brunch.


Art of the Open Air

Art of the Open Air

The San Diego Museum of Art installed several sculptures in Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama last month for their “Art of the Open Air” exhibit, and I finally got over there recently to check them out. Here’s a few of the pieces:




Slowly but surely this is turning into a great civic space, and it started with Mayor Filner ignoring the howls over removing any parking. And despite it being a very busy Sunday in the park, the parking lots across Park Boulevard had hundreds of spaces available, with tram service picking up visitors. Why not charge for parking in the prime lots inside Balboa Park and use the revenue to increase tram service frequency to the remote lots? Or use the money toward repairing the hundreds of millions of dollars of decaying infrastructure in the Park? It’s odd that we accept demand-based pricing throughout the private sector (e.g., Uber) but insist that all public resources be free when tax revenues are insufficient.

Pappalecco opened just down the street from us here in Kensington, and it’s great to see the eastern end of Adams Ave in Kensington finally getting some foot traffic after all these quiet years. We’ve mostly had gelato and coffee so far but the cafe/restaurant is clearly a hit, with pizzas selling out on opening day. And with Cucina Sorella opening soon in the former Fish Public space, sleepy Kensington may finally be waking up.



    Transit items:

  • As transit agencies in other cities implement mobile payment systems, making it easier to ride, San Diego still doesn’t have stored value on the Compass Card (i.e., putting $20 on the card to use as needed). Bus riders still need exact change – $2.25 – to ride. Circulate SD posted a form you can fill out asking MTS to implement this long-overdue feature.
  • California finally removes a long-standing obstacle to transit-oriented development: the auto “Level of Service” requirement in CEQA:

    Now, instead of evaluating a project by traffic congestion, cities will instead ask whether that project will make people drive more — a truly negative environmental impact. This change will remove one of the biggest barriers to infill and transit-oriented development. It will finally reflect the fact that these projects are better for the environment, because they enable people to take shorter trips and go by foot, bike, bus and rail.

  • San Diego has one of the shortest average commute times in the U.S. So why is every development near public transit attacked by those complaining about traffic congestion?
  • The city is opening up its data to the public. Want to know which parking meters in the city are most heavily used, yet still have the same pricing as those used the least? Request these data be prioritized for release at the link above.
  • SANDAG has an open house for the Landis Bikeway in North Park next Wednesday at 6 PM. And stay tuned for a SANDAG Bikeways presentation for the bike community later this month. Previous presentations have included a whole lot of talk about street parking, and not much about the bike lanes themselves.
  • The SR-15 bikeway had its groundbreaking last week. Caltrans will present the project to the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Group at 7:30 PM Wednesday. Here’s a rendering of the path:Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 8.58.05 PM
    Housing items:

  • As I mentioned in my last post, San Diego was recently named the second-most expensive housing metro in the nation:MW-EH068_home_s_20160303112951_ZHLocal urban planner Howard Blackson gives his ideas on how to address San Diego’s housing crisis.
  • A workshop last Saturday at the New School of Architecture in East Village brainstormed ideas on the future of the neighborhood’s southern area – namely, the blocks east of Petco Park that the Chargers have their eye on for a new stadium. Each table at the workshop came up with their own ideas, including a UC San Diego campus in the easternmost part of the neighborhood, with a green-space connector to the library. Architect Rob Quigley named the convention center and hotel bay front wall as the “biggest planning blunder in San Diego”, and offered his own sketch for south East Village: an oblong, fish-shaped green space surrounded by buildings with curving facades to complement the park.
  • Some spare time before a recent dentist appointment in Bankers Hill (thanks to my MTS route 11 bus) enabled some quick pics of ongoing development there, including Vue on Fifth:

    … and Fourth Avenue Lofts:

Little Italy fights Downtown Mobility Plan

Little Italy fights Downtown Mobility Plan

“There are plenty of places in San Diego where it’s easy to park but you wouldn’t want to go to. In every great city of the world parking is a challenge.” – Marco Limandri, Chief Executive Officer of the Little Italy Association, December 2014

The Downtown Mobility Plan, a transit-oriented plan to help promote walking and cycling in the city “would just be detrimental to our community and to downtown san Diego as a whole (due to street parking impacts)” – Christopher Gomez, District Manager of the Little Italy Association, March 2016

Here we go again. After the Hillcrest Business Association successfully lobbied SANDAG to kill most of the Uptown Bikeway in Hillcrest, the Little Italy Association (LIA) – a group composed of the parking district, businesses and residents in the area – is demanding Civic San Diego remove all proposed bike lanes in the Downtown Mobility Plan from the core of Little Italy. Protected lanes would be removed from Grape, Hawthorne, State and Cedar. The Pacific Highway lane would remain, and Cedar would be moved to Ash.

The Downtown Mobility Plan still *adds* street parking to Little Italy via angled and head-in parking conversions:

“It should be noted that the plan would increase parking in the Little Italy neighborhood, but not to the extent that they are proposing. You may also note that the recently completed 600 space County Parking Garage at Beech Street and Kettner Boulevard is available to the public on evenings and weekends.” – Brad Richter, Civic San Diego

The net loss of additional on-street spaces is approximately 50 (Gomez refers to these as “also an additional 50 spaces lost”, which is incorrect). This pales in comparison to the brand new 640 space parking garage the County built – a $36 million parking subsidy provided by taxpayers – plus the 55 new public spaces planned for Piazza Famiglia. The controversy proves that no matter how many parking spaces are provided to business districts, they will just keep demanding more. Meanwhile, our parking districts refuse to maximize existing street parking through methods used in other cities (and our own Port District): demand-based parking meter pricing, extending meter hours into the evening, and additional meters.

The Downtown Mobility Plan makes downtown safer for pedestrians and bicyclists through improvements like the one shown below:


To call safe bike lanes and walking promenades like the one shown above “detrimental to all of downtown San Diego” is stunningly out of touch with the city’s Vision Zero pedestrian safety efforts. It’s galling to me since my husband was car-doored while biking on unsafe streets downtown and spent 2 nights in the trauma unit. And providing safe bike lanes has repeatedly been shown to increase business. We can set aside a small portion of some Little Italy’s streets for safe bike access, while still providing abundant street and off-street parking.

At the Mobility Plan workshop, LIA Parking District director Luke Vinci implied that cheap private car storage for wealthy North County patrons should be the top priority for our public streets – because drivers circle around for free parking, instead of paying to park in lots and garages. I couldn’t disagree more, especially since the Mobility Plan was created in part to increase bike and walk travel mode shares for the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). The city is legally required to meet its CAP greenhouse gas reduction goals. Removing all bike lanes from the core of Little Italy isn’t how you increase bike mode share. And Vinci went out of his way to ridicule bike ridership counts on the 5th Ave buffered bike lane in Bankers Hill – despite it removing no parking and causing no congestion.

LIA’s actions are part of a disturbing trend by the city’s parking/business districts and community planning groups to undermine San Diego’s Climate Action Plan goals. I contacted the city’s Sustainability Manager to ask if they could perform outreach to these groups, and they indicated this has already happened. Therefore these city-affiliated organizations are knowingly and willfully defying San Diego’s established Climate Action Plan policies – as global warming goes into overdrive.

The LIA board voted unanimously against the Downtown Mobility Plan, including board member Catt White, who runs the Little Italy Mercato farmers market. This was particularly frustrating, since I and many others personally donated to her failed Barrio Logan Public Market. And White’s Mercato removes many street parking spaces from Little Italy every Saturday:



So: a private business can remove public parking spaces. And that same business owner can prevent any spaces from being removed for safety, mobility and city policy.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the power we’re handing over to business districts, when these districts act directly against the city and taxpayers. The New Republic had a good writeup on abuse of power by some of these districts.

– Thanks to everyone who voted at Uptown Planners last week, voting in pro-housing candidates Maya Rosas and Soheil Nakhshab. Lots of residents who oppose housing for others turned out, but were matched in number by those who support a more inclusive Uptown for all incomes (San Diego was recently named the second most unaffordable housing metro in the nation) and travel modes:


Pro-housing/transit candidates receiving 200+ votes in Uptown is unheard of and really impressive. While results were a mixed bag overall, Uptown Planners will no longer be nearly unified in opposing the Climate Action Plan’s housing and transit goals in Uptown.

Uptown Planners election this Tuesday

Uptown Planners election this Tuesday

The density and height limit debates have been going on in Uptown for eight years now, and they’ve come to a head with the long-delayed update to the 1988 Uptown Community Plan. The Plan will determine zoning for decades to come throughout Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, Mission Hills and University Heights. The current Plan proposed by the city reduces densities throughout much of Uptown versus the 1988 Plan. The main exception is the commercial core of Hillcrest, where densities would remain the same:

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 4.52.13 PM

Uptown Planners narrowly rejected this proposal at a recent special meeting, and instead re-affirmed their own proposal, which would greatly reduce densities and building heights in west Hillcrest. For more background, please see this Uptown News summary of the meeting. As part of their excellent coverage of this issue, they also published a piece written by a representative of west Hillcrest’s commercial property owners, who have been advised to sell their properties if Uptown Planners’ recommended downzoning (109 dwelling units/acre to 44) and height reductions (150-200 feet to 50/65) for their properties are approved. (Imagine investing millions in a commercial property to then have its value halved by the local planning committee.) As a result, these properties would likely remain parking lots and one-story retail instead of vibrant mixed-use developments and a potential boutique hotel.

The city’s Climate Action Plan legally requires the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing walking, biking and public transit use in urban neighborhoods like Uptown. Its proposal for west Hillcrest simply continues the zoning needed for transit-oriented development in the area. Mixed-use commercial and residential developments won’t pencil out at current land values unless we continue existing heights and densities in the area.

Many middle class San Diegans can’t afford to live in an increasingly expensive Uptown due to the lack of new housing in the neighborhood. To keep Uptown diverse and vibrant, I believe we need to accommodate residents of all ages and incomes. One way to do this is to support this slate of candidates up for the seven open board seats at next Tuesday’s Uptown Planners meeting:


These candidates support preserving Uptown’s historic residential areas while working with the city to meet its Climate Action Plan goals on transit corridors.

As the flyer points out, Uptown’s issues aren’t limited to just density. They include walkability, infrastructure for people on foot and bikes, and various quality of life issues. Both Joshua Clark and Maya Rosas have been endorsed by BikeSD for their support of safer streets. I know both of them personally, having met Maya through her complete streets advocacy work for Circulate SD, and Joshua for his bike lane planning work on the Pershing Bikeway in North Park. Another candidate on the above slate, Judy Tentor, volunteers her time for the San Diego Bike Coalition.

Given the importance of Uptown’s Community Plan, please consider voting on Tuesday at 6PM at the Joyce Beers Center at The Hub in Hillcrest. Thanks for taking the time to think about what Uptown’s future holds for current homeowners *and* renters/future residents who face affordability challenges. Next I’ll go into my usual long-winded detail on the issues involved, so feel free to bail out now.

* * *

I appreciate that every Uptown Planners board member and candidate is willing to volunteer their time for a four year term. Obviously they care about their neighborhoods to be this engaged – if only more San Diegans were! But as someone who’s long been interested in urban planning, complete streets and progressive issues such as affordable housing, I just disagree with what some of the candidates’ priorities.

The flyer for the anti-density slate of candidates states that “parking and traffic” are their top priorities. But most of these candidates already own homes in Uptown, so they’re not affected by the region’s housing unaffordability crisis. In fact, they’ve enjoyed large home appreciation gains in part by making it harder to build new housing.

Uptown Planning Chair Jim Mellos probably summed up this viewpoint best when he said that as a third-generation Mission Hills resident, I disagree with people who moved here recently” who want more housing in Uptown.
To me, this implies only established residents get to decide who lives in Uptown, because their traffic concerns trump housing for others. Mellos also said we need to “keep density low until staff finds a solution to the traffic situation” – while offering no solution. Uptown homeowners deserve to have a strong voice, but certainly not the final say over neighborhood zoning when it conflicts with the city’s Climate Action Plan and state affordable housing laws. In fact, the CAP precludes community group downzoning in Transit Priority zones like Hillcrest.

Other anti-density candidates say they support “smart growth with infrastructure”, yet don’t specify what that infrastructure is. This really means widening roads and building more parking garages. Yet these measures only worsen congestion through induced demand and more parking capacity, while making streets more unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists. While these approaches might be justified in a suburban world with no air pollution or climate change challenges, these are terrible planning ideas for real-world, urban Uptown. And with younger Americans driving less, using ride share, and alternative transit modes, why would we apply 1960’s-era planning to Uptown for decades to come?

I’m also concerned about community character and don’t think we should increase density on residential streets, except allowing granny flats and bungalow court-style housing. But our commercial streets can surely allow more density – look at east University Ave. in Hillcrest, a largely car-oriented set of one-story strip malls.

For brevity’s sake I’m skipping the “new housing will always be too expensive” argument the anti-density folks have been using, and just linking to this article that explains why that’s simply not true. Here’s the related roundtable discussion that explores the affordability problem in more detail, including a number of approaches to it. Preventing all new housing is not one of the solutions.

Increased density also corresponds to higher bike mode shares, and one of the most important issues for me has been the lack of safe pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Uptown. Unfortunately Uptown Planners has a mixed record on safe streets. They rejected the SANDAG Uptown Bike Corridor, then after it was removed from University Avenue, supported the concept of a bike corridor there someday. While serving as Uptown Planners board chair, Leo Wilson (who’s running again for the board on the anti-density slate) filed a CEQA lawsuit against the city to remove the buffered bike lane from 5th Avenue . The current chair of Uptown Planners, Jim Mellos, is the attorney on the lawsuit. State law now directs that road diets can no longer be rejected under CEQA, yet the lawsuit lives on. Wilson also opposed any road diets on 4th/5th/6th avenues. Another candidate for Uptown Planners, Tim Gahagan, recently voted for the Uptown Parking District to reject multi-modal projects like the Uptown Bikeway if they cause any loss of parking. This directly contradicts the city’s legal obligations to increase bike mode share under its Climate Action Plan.

When the North Park Planning Committee voted recently to increase density along its rapid bus line, Uptown density opponents noted that west Hillcrest didn’t have a rapid bus line and therefore shouldn’t accept any more density. One suggestion was to move the density proposed for west Hillcrest to Park Boulevard, even as they downzoned the parcel at El Cajon and Park Boulevard:

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 12.04.33 AM

In reality, there are actually multiple bus lines that travel through Hillcrest, many of which will be upgraded to semi-rapid status over the next several years. A streetcar is also planned for 6th Avenue. But when Uptown Planners rejected SANDAG’s multi-million dollar investment in the Uptown Bikeway because it removed some street parking, wouldn’t any decision maker question the wisdom of investing future transit funds there? The slate of candidates shown above will work with SANDAG and the city to ensure Uptown residents have a variety of safe, convenient transit options to choose from.

Finally, an argument I often hear is, “San Diego has always been an expensive place to live”, and therefore we should just accept the current unaffordability crisis. While that may be true at the coast, much of Uptown was actually much more affordable 20-30 years ago when the anti-density slate of candidates bought their homes. It’s possible they can’t comprehend the challenges faced by renters and first-time buyers, many of whom face much higher transportation and education costs than previous generations.

Let’s move beyond the priorities of traffic, parking and home value appreciation, to the more important challenges of climate change and housing affordability. We can do this by supporting Uptown Planners candidates who will work to implement San Diego’s Climate Action Plan and transit-oriented development in our neighborhoods.