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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.

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: