“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.
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:
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:
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.
Too many new things going on, too little time to blog. Here’s some general items:
– Lots of interesting transportation-related items too:
Downtown San Diego is also implementing wayfinding signs, including directing drivers to parking lots. This is an idea I suggested to Uptown Parking District two years ago; two years and millions of unspent dollars later, Uptown Parking still focuses on opposing multi-modal projects instead.
Voice of San Diego has a rundown of the two proposals for the initiative.
With many of San Diego’s Community Plans being updated (after nearly 30 years in some cases), there’s been a lot of intense debate over the plans in Uptown and North Park, which consider the city’s Climate Action Plan. Carbon pollution caused more global temperature records in the past year:
…while sea levels are rising at the fastest rate in 2800 years, and the Arctic is way above normal temperatures (exactly what scientists predicted in global warming scenarios) as its ice rapidly melts away. There’s been an amazing contrast between how North Park and Hillcrest have responded to these challenges by either embracing or rejecting the city’s Climate Action Plan goals of more housing near transit.
In the article, both Wilson and Uptown Planning board member Mat Wahlstrom offered zero suggestions to create new affordable housing, just criticisms that new housing would be unaffordable – and therefore should be stopped. Yet the state legislative office says that in order to slow displacement, we should build more housing.
Neither Wilson nor Wahlstrom mentioned the city’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for more housing near transit to reach alternative travel mode share goals (Wahlstrom believes bike lanes are “social engineering”). Uptown Planner chair Jim Mellos said “keep density low until staff finds a solution to the traffic situation“, which means “tear down housing for wider roads”. Mellos strongly opposes the common sense solution employed in many other cities: accommodating alternative transit via bike infrastructure and dedicated public transit lanes.
There’s been a lot of progress recently at the city (Climate Action Plan), state (greenhouse gas reduction laws, elimination of Level of Service) and global levels (Paris agreements) to address climate change, but this week’s Uptown Parking District meeting made clear that many UPD directors are still fighting multi-modal projects even while the earth records its warmest years on record. There are some encouraging signs at Uptown Parking, like director Doug Scott’s motion to support multi-modal projects like the Uptown Bikeway, but the majority of directors, led by the Hillcrest Business Association’s contingent, are still in direct opposition to mode share goals in the Climate Action Plan. This means a city-funded agency is directly working against the city’s own legal obligations in the CAP. Here’s an email I sent to Uptown Parking District Executive Director Elizabeth Hannon about this week’s defeat of Mr. Scott’s motion, and how UPD refuses to maximize existing parking while fighting projects that cause minor parking losses. I’ll follow up with more information later when time permits.
Hi Elizabeth, I’d like to request the voting results for the motion to support the SANDAG Bikeway that Doug Scott initiated at this week’s Uptown Parking District meeting. I was disappointed it was defeated by Hillcrest Business Association members, but encouraged that it even came up for vote. I’d also like to request (again) posting meeting minutes on the UPD web site.Thank you for leading the Bankers Hill Bikeway meeting recently. The cooperation between Uptown Parking and SANDAG in Bankers Hill is encouraging. As a result, SANDAG is spending significant monies to create CAD drawings for the city, and seems willing to pay for angled parking striping there.I don’t understand how angled space conversion gains are public in Bankers Hill, but “owned” by Uptown Parking in Hillcrest and therefore off-limits to SANDAG. And why would SANDAG pay for angled striping in Hillcrest after the Hillcrest Business Association spent tens of thousands of dollars to kill the bike lane project there?I’m very encouraged by Doug Scott’s statement that the city’s Climate Action Plan has legal requirements to reach mode share goals, and the city will go around Uptown Parking to meet them if necessary. Has the city explained the legal requirements of the Climate Action Plan to UPD? Because UPD appears to be directly contradicting city policy in Hillcrest, this week’s vote being the latest example. Director Ben Nicholls’ request to remove the Bikeway from 4th/5th between Washington and University over a mere 10 parking spaces, when there are hundreds of off-street spaces on those two blocks alone, also contradicts city goals.UPD is not maximizing existing parking resources in Hillcrest while opposing any Bikeway parking loss there. We discussed installing parking meters on the north side of University east of 163, and demand-based pricing (already in effect downtown) well over a year ago. Yet nothing has been done on these issues that I’m aware of.Finally, Tim Gahagan’s question to SANDAG about bike traffic meeting current parking space turnover was odd, given that Tim has repeatedly opposed measures to increase turnover, and stated that Uptown Parking supported lowering meter pricing in 2012. Lowering meter pricing would decrease parking turnover.Thanks,Paul
UPDATE: Ben Nicholls, Executive Director of the Hillcrest Business Association, was kind enough to reply to my email:
I am not sure why you included me on this email thread. This email feels a little bit like your blog posts. It rambles on a bit and I’m not really sure what your point is.
One thing I will say is that your disruption to the UCPD meeting, on Monday, by speaking over the top of board members and other guests was uncivil and bullying. It reminded me of those cyclists that give all riders a bad name by riding up on sidewalks and through red lights with complete disregard for any rule or procedure at all. Shouting down people and bullying isn’t the way we do things in Hillcrest. I would invite you to act in a more civil manor at neighborhood meetings in the future.
Hillcrest Business Association
3737 Fifth Avenue Ste 202 | San Diego, CA 92103 | 619 299 3330
HillcrestBIA.org | FabulousHillcrest.com | @FabHillcrest
What’s funny about Ben’s email is that I spent years attending Uptown Parking and Hillcrest Business Association meetings politely trying to appease their never-ending parking demands, just so we could get a single bike lane. And where did it get me? The Hillcrest Business Association never budged on a single parking space and spent tens of thousands of dollars lobbying to kill the Bikeway. So I’m done being civil while Ben continues to lie in public (the latest: Nicholls declared “The HBA has no plans to discuss the Bikeway this week”, yet Bread and Cie owner Charlie Kaufmann was presenting a summary of their lobbyist’s activities the next day). If I have to interrupt him to point out his lies, so be it.
When a bicyclist is inevitably hit and killed on University Avenue due to the HBA’s actions, should we still be civil then? I’m sure we can be civil as we’re being scraped off the hood of a car. Was Nicholls civil when he laughed at SANDAG headquarters last year, as people on bikes begged for a safe bike lane (Photo courtesy of Parking over People):
It would all be pretty amusing if people’s lives weren’t involved.
Today is the last day of the BikeSD January online fundraiser. For the fundraiser, I wrote a post on the BikeSD blog about how my husband and I were personally affected by the unsafe conditions for people on bikes in San Diego. Check it out here (or here if that doesn’t work) and donate if you can!
BikeSD is a non-profit organization that’s trying to pay a salary to our Executive Director Samantha Ollinger after her years of amazing, expert advocacy – that she did for free. If my story can’t convince you to contribute, check out these other perspectives.
There are some fun BikeSD-related events coming up too. MJ’s Cyclery celebrates their second anniversary next Saturday evening (2/6), with proceeds going to BikeSD. The Modern Times Festival of Funk benefits BikeSD and Cleveland National Forest Foundation, and happens on March 5th in Bankers Hill:
And Bikes and Beers returns for a third year on March 26th, starting/finishing at the Quartyard downtown. There are some other cool BikeSD rides and events coming up later this year too. Let’s keep up the momentum especially considering all the bike infrastructure that’s about to be built. Other stuff going on:
– We spent last Saturday in National City (check out the recent San Diego Magazine neighborhood writeup) visiting my husband’s family and hanging out with Marcus Bush, who also lives there. As head of the National City Chamber of Commerce, Marcus led the group in opposing the SANDAG Regional Transportation Plan because it adds general purpose lanes to I-5 there, while killing the Blue Line trolley express track that would have been less expensive. The result is more air pollution in an area already suffering from poor air quality. Marcus mentioned two interesting events coming up in the area: