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Kearny Mesa, Mission Valley and Morena Corridor Updates

Kearny Mesa, Mission Valley and Morena Corridor Updates

A recent New York Times Magazine piece pointed out the inequality perpetuated by single family zoning:

In its strongest form (an Economic Fair Housing Act) would ban unjustified and pervasive exclusionary zoning laws that prohibit townhouses or apartments in single-family areas or impose minimum lot sizes. These ordinances, Lee Anne Fennell of the University of Chicago Law School notes, have become “a central organizing feature in American metropolitan life.”

If we can’t achieve a ban, we should assess a penalty on municipalities that engage in discriminatory zoning, either by withholding infrastructure funds or limiting the tax deduction that homeowners in those towns can take for mortgage interest.

There would, of course, be fierce political and legal opposition from many property owners in exclusive neighborhoods who have enjoyed an unwarranted inflation of their home values through social engineering of a particularly pernicious stripe.

The article got me thinking about my own biases toward preserving ‘historical’ (and largely wealthy, white) neighborhoods while advocating for increased density along transit lines and in commercial districts. I live in south Kensington, where our (and Talmadge’s) racial and economic divide with nearby City Heights is among the worst in the city. Remarkably, today’s single family zoning (in yellow below) still lines up remarkably with yesterday’s racist red-lining:

Redlining map:

The area’s current demographics follow suit:

Looking at these maps, single family zoning indeed appears to be a proxy for race-based redlining in the first half of the 20th century. In the upcoming Kensington Talmadge Community Plan Update, I assume any increase in density will be limited to El Cajon Boulevard only, which is a very small, southern extent of the community – and also the lowest-income. And even that will be a battle in a community where I was told any new affordable housing must have abundant parking (thereby making it unaffordable) to preserve wealthier residents’ free street parking.

Meanwhile, coastal liberals use the housing crisis to attack short-term rentals, while refusing to upzone the wealthy white areas they represent. In Pacific Beach, single family homeowners complain of losing full-time residents to Airbnb:

Many San Diegans who have seen the fabric of their neighborhoods fray due to vacation rentals are not just losing their neighborhoods, they are also losing their school enrollment, small businesses that are supported by full-time residents, PTA volunteers, youth sports coaches and community volunteers. In reality, they have lost their community.

Wouldn’t allowing multi-family housing in PB’s single family neighborhoods allow more (diverse) full-time residents to afford to live there? Instead, banning short-term rentals appeases wealthy homeowners without addressing an underlying cause of our housing crisis: exclusionary zoning.

Only allowing upzoning in lower-income areas leads to gentrification pressures that can force residents out of these neighborhods. Therefore the KenTal and City Heights Community Plan Updates shouldn’t be performed independently of each other. Perhaps KenTal should consider how the North Park Community Planning Group upzoned the residential blocks just north of El Cajon Boulevard in an attempt to improve the cheaply-built and deteriorating Huffman six-pack buildings there. Reduced off-street parking requirements there would allow more housing while eliminating the large curb cuts that reduce on-street parking. Even allowing duplexes and rowhomes in Kensington on the blocks between Adams and El Cajon could make a difference, while preserving any single family homes that have been city-registered as historic.

– Kearny Mesa is an excellent example of San Diego’s old approach to land use planning. For decades the area was designated as primarily commercial and industrial, with the relatively recent exception of the Spectrum development. This resulted in a visually blighted, sprawled jobs center surrounded by the mostly single family home sprawl of Clairemont, Serra Mesa, Linda Vista and Tierrasanta:

Divide those land uses!

Nearly everyone drives to their jobs there, mostly from outside the “built out” residential neighborhoods around it. This adds a huge load to the roads and freeways in the area, adding to the already chronic traffic congestion bound for additional job centers in Sorrento Valley, UTC and downtown:

Kearny Mesa has relatively few residents because only 41 of its (4400) acres are zoned residential and only 60 acres are zoned for mixed use. The existing community plan was adopted in 1992, before San Diego adopted the “City of Villages” development strategy.

A city analysis shows that more than 93,000 people commute to Kearny Mesa for work each day, while only 2,700 live there and work elsewhere, and only 700 both live and work in Kearny Mesa.

“If there ever was a need in a community to increase residential land uses, this is the one,” Planning Commission member Bill Hofman said during a discussion of Kearny Mesa’s new development blueprint earlier this month.

Given San Diego’s “epic crisis of both housing supply and affordability“, the refusal of nearby neighborhoods to allow new multi-family housing, the city’s Climate Action Plan goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from auto travel, and state requirements to reduce vehicle miles travelled, does the city have any other option than to allow new residential and mixed-use development in Kearny Mesa? The Kearny Mesa Community Plan Update may do exactly that, as the Union Tribune says “the revised blueprint is likely to sharply increase the number of acres where housing is allowed, especially the number of mixed use acres”.

More information about the community plan update is available from the city, and there’s a survey to provide your input on what the most important changes are for the neighborhood. I was very impressed that the survey included options for safe bike and pedestrian infrastructure in nearly every question, and mentions the notion of transit hubs. Kearny Mesa’s diverse Asian food scene is a unique cultural plus too, one that would draw younger residents to an area that’s otherwise uninviting.

– Mission Valley, with its Green Line Trolley, is also one one of the few areas in the city where significant new housing (15,000 units, by some estimates) is being considered. The Riverwalk development that will replace this golf course could add 4000 units, bike/pedestrian trails, an 80-acre park, retail, flood mitigation, and a new trolley station:

Riverwalk has a virtual survey up for the project.

In addition to the commenters on that Riverwalk article above, I’ve heard several people who live east of I-15 and work in the UTC/UCSD area speak out against any new development in Mission Valley due to traffic objections. Despite choosing to live relatively far from their jobs, they feel their drive to work should be free of congestion – and if that means blocking housing for others, so be it. When I asked them where the housing should go instead, they didn’t have an answer – because they don’t want to admit their view that younger (potential) residents don’t have the same right to workforce housing that they enjoy.

– Public comment was due last week on the city’s Morena Corridor Specific Plan, which attempts to plan for transit oriented development along the Mid-Coast Trolley line. Here’s a fairly accurate description of the area that appeared in SD Free Press earlier this summer:

The Morena Corridor today is an unplanned, automobile-centric and unattractive mix of industrial and retail businesses dominated by large surface parking that falls far short of optimizing its outstanding location. Pedestrian access is dangerous to non-existent. Thus, it is the perfect location for thoughtful, orderly healthy growth that will result in a rejuvenated and diverse community. This area has great potential to be developed with a mix of existing and new businesses, stores and restaurants, and housing in a walkable, bicycle friendly, transit accessible environment, connected to the rest of the region.

There are many good planning ideas in the document with respect to mixed use development and bike/pedestrian infrastructure. The recommended cycle track on the west side of (West) Morena Boulevard is encouraging. However much of the plan is hemmed in by the fact that local community opposition to taller buildings on the corridor persists. Despite the trolley line’s $2.1 billion dollar price tag, residents say dense new housing shouldn’t be allowed near it, because “people live in these neighborhoods to enjoy the open space and views”. (Also: any new housing built next to a trolley station should require just as much expensive off-street parking as units miles away from public transit.) As a result, only a small area near the Tecolote and (existing) Morena stations can exceed 45 feet, via a planned development permit referencing the Transit-Oriented Development Enhancement Program:

If new housing around the Clairemont station doesn’t pencil out due to high land costs and the 30-foot height limit, wouldn’t we be better off to delete this station from the trolley line? Use the money toward making the incredibly dangerous Sea World Drive/Tecolote bridge safer for bicyclists and pedestrians to reach Fiesta Island.

Related: Pacific Beach Community Planning Chair says the federal grant funding San Diego received for the Mid-Coast Trolley shouldn’t go toward our own city’s transit needs, but rather have been used for national driverless car research.

– Construction on the 60-unit Talmadge Gateway homeless senior housing project on Euclid has been completed:

Our friend Gregg’s daughter Jess did an internship for Uptown News this summer and interviewed one of Talmadge Gateway’s residents. I liked how Jess’s piece disproved the stereotype of all homeless people being lazy, and/or on drugs. Instead, the Talmadge Gateway resident she interviewed had worked all of her life, but due to health issues was now homeless.

I’ve read many derogatory comments about homeless people, and complaints about Uptown’s homeless problems from Uptown residents, including members of Uptown Planners. Instead of taking responsibility for creating the very homeless problem they complain about (Uptown Planners has been largely hostile to new housing), they shift the blame to the homeless, claiming homeless people only move to San Diego after becoming homeless. This is simply untrue. Hopefully many more Talmadge Gateways can be built to help address our growing senior homeless problem.

Carnival of Caffeination at Modern Times

Carnival of Caffeination at Modern Times

Modern Times has announced their newest annual festival, Carnival of Caffeination, which will be held at their new event space on Kurtz St. behind the Sports Arena:

A meticulously selected cadre of incredibly bad-ass brewers and roasters will occupy our new warehouse & event space, The Fortress of Raditude, for a day of pure, liquid magnificence.

On hand will be a jaw-dropping arsenal of dark, coffee-centric, and barrel-aged beers alongside a king’s ransom of dazzling coffee-creations from some of the most boss-level roasters in the universe

Scroll down on that link to see the list of breweries and roasters.  Modern Times has been putting out some amazing variations on their Black House coffee stout, including a new Nitro with coconut and cocoa:


I’ve been to two of Modern Times’ festivals now and they are a ton of fun.  Profits from the event go to BikeSD (again!), so mark your calendar for February 11th .

– Since the first SANDAG Bikeways presentation way back in September 2012, I’ve attended several of the 90+ outreach events for these Regional Bike Plan Early Action Program projects, and a few Downtown Mobility Plan meetings. But last month’s Pershing Bikeway and Meade Avenue Bikeways meetings were the first time I’ve witnessed an overwhelming majority of speakers supporting safe bike lanes.

First, thanks to everyone who came out in support of these projects. After years of setbacks and delays, the broad support felt like a turning point. The Meade Bikeway meeting at Normal Heights Community Planning Group was particularly surprising – there were no negative comments against the project. And opponents’ arguments against the Pershing Bikeway were either easily dispatched (SANDAG’s traffic study disproved concerns over traffic delays) or downright silly, like this resident’s claim that traffic calming is “social engineering“:

This gem came from a SoNo Neighborhood Alliance representative, who vowed to block future bike safety projects in the community. I’m not sure how converting a freeway-like road to make it safer for all users is “social engineering”, while decades of building roads exclusively for drivers isn’t? Given SoNo’s opposition to anything that improves equity – including new housing in North Park – they are actively defying their own mission statement of “building consensus” and “achieving compromise”. When every street in North Park is dedicated to moving and storing cars, opposing the only north/south bike lane in the community isn’t “compromise”.

– The positive developments on the projects above were tempered by the City’s foundering Complete Boulevard study on dangerous El Cajon Boulevard. Armed with a $175K grant from SANDAG to address the high rate of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths on this corridor, the City set out to propose:

“multi-modal mobility infrastructure improvements within the El Cajon Boulevard corridor between Highland Avenue and 50th Street, and will produce a planning study that includes preliminary engineering drawings for the highest priority improvements. The mobility infrastructure improvements envisioned for the corridor are intended to help realize the transformative potential of the Rapid Bus service in Mid-City by creating a more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly street corridor”

…yet its study ended up only suggesting basic pedestrian improvements and a short buffered bike lane in one direction. And that’s it – even after going back to the drawing board (and the SANDAG funding trough) when advocates noted the study’s lack of any bike infrastructure.

How did this critical study on one of the city’s Vision Zero corridors go from “multi-modal mobility infrastructure” to just crosswalks and sidewalk bulb-outs? Despite a street parking usage rate of just 46%, and loads of off-street parking, the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association, Little Saigon Business District and City Heights Community Planning Group all refuse to accommodate a bike lane on El Cajon Boulevard at the expense of any parking. Community planning group board members attacked the bike lanes at their meeting last month:

“It’s for Hillcrest and SDSU, and we’re just a corridor,” said Kenton Finkbeiner. “It’s really not meeting the needs of our community.”

His colleague, Jim Varnadore agreed. “We’ve been somebody’s passageway for too long,” Varnadore said. “What we should be thinking about is safety that protects pedestrians, not what a few bicyclists want.”

Varnadore has a long history of opposing bike infrastructure and made snide comments about bicyclists at the prior City Heights planning group meeting I attended. Is Jim aware that it’s possible for safety improvements to benefit pedestrians *and* bicyclists?

I didn’t understand what Finkbeiner meant, so he clarified for me that bike lanes are for “white collar” outsiders only, and are “insulting”:

This reminded me of Uptown Planner Mat Wahlstrom’s comment that “only white people ride bikes”, but these misguided volunteers planning our communities couldn’t be any further from the truth: most bicyclists are lower-income immigrants. Is bicyclist Omar Avila, injured on El Cajon Boulevard by an SUV, a white collar outsider? And here’s a recent tweet about the full bike racks at the El Cajon Boulevard YMCA (which I can personally attest has a wide range of incomes and ethnicities among its membership):


Finkbeiner declares that all City Heights residents are car commuters because of high residential street parking demand, which is also just completely wrong; in reality,  “City Heights has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in San Diego, with only about a third of households owning a car.”  He then implies that no parking on El Cajon Boulevard can be allocated to a bike lane, because there is “no parking in residential areas” of City Heights. This ignores the City’s strict off-street parking requirements for most residences.  In fact, it has a set of guidelines regarding conversion of existing garages, since “garages were built to provide required off-street parking”.  

Here in ‘white-collar’ Kensington, we’ve had some residents convert their garages to personal businesses, who then park on the street and worsen residential street parking demand.  Yet the City’s residential zoning requirements state that operating a business out of your residence “shall not eliminate or reduce required off-street parking”.  Surely this isn’t happening in City Heights too, especially among the most vocal critics of bike lanes?

The most intriguing question is why would Finkbeiner, an environmental planner and San Diego Canyonlands volunteer, invent reasons to attack bicyclists who are helping the environment? I’m not the only one to notice a disturbing pattern of hatred toward bike advocates within my own gay community and its allies, often coming from high-profile members like Wahlstrom, Finkbeiner, Jonathan Hale, Tim Gahagan and Jim Winsor. Apparently some in our community who demand tolerance and equality view these principles as a one-way street… with no room for people on bikes.  

Another argument used against bike lanes on El Cajon Boulevard is that the nearby proposed SANDAG Bikeways make them ‘redundant’, despite bicyclists needing safe access to businesses on ECB. The author of the Reader article above, a (former?) opponent of the Meade Bikeway, states that the Meade route runs parallel to the study’s stretch of El Cajon from Highland to 50th. However, Meade Bikeway actually ends well west of these blocks:

Instead, it’s the Monroe Bikeway that runs parallel to the Complete Boulevard segment, and that Bikeway has been hung up between the City and Talmadge residents feuding over prior vehicle access issues. There is no guarantee that the Monroe Bikeway will be built, and if it is, it will likely be well after the Meade Bikeway’s 2019 completion date (again, these Bikeways got started in 2012). The same could also be said for the Orange-Howard Bikeway also cited by the Reader author, because it doesn’t have a planning/construction timetable yet either. The icing on the Bikeway cake is that the SANDAG Transportation Committee now requires its own final approval of all Bikeway projects (instead of just CEQA exemption) before passing them on to the full board, for yet another final approval.

Absent from any of these conversations is the staggering ($15 billion) cost to California from gas-powered vehicle impacts on climate and health, particularly in lower-income communities such as City Heights. Like the SoNo Neighborhood Alliance opposing measures that would increase equity in their neighborhoods, a group of residents and business owners in City Heights are doing the same on El Cajon Boulevard – while casting bicyclists as the villains. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.