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Downtown’s housing boom

Downtown’s housing boom

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The fountains are on at Horton Plaza Park downtown

KPBS published an article this week on efforts to overcome opposition to density and new housing in San Diego.  As housing prices continue to skyrocket, frustration with self-interested residents is boiling over: 

NIMBYs — a pejorative term that stands for “not in my backyard” and is meant to describe opponents to new development — are fighting to keep the system as it is.

“We are facing folks who are very anti-density,” (Borre Winckel) said. “And density has become kind of a four-letter word, for reasons that are completely insincere. People are talking a great deal about wanting more housing, but not near them.”

Winckel pointed to a (rejected) plan by Habitat for Humanity to build 22 affordable housing units for veterans on an empty lot owned by the city of Poway. A number of residents mobilized against the plan, saying while they support affordable housing for veterans, the project was too expensive, would increase traffic and would not fit in with the neighborhood.

“It’s disgusting,” he said. “NIMBYs are the greatest threat to densification. They don’t want it, but they don’t want it for any articulated reason other than self-interest. And I’m not buying that.”

This is hardly unique to San Diego, so a positive sign in Santa Monica recently was voter rejection of a particularly severe anti-density measure.  Prior to the election, Vox pointed out the hypocrisy of residents who advocate for low carbon policies while preventing housing in their urban communities, thereby promoting sprawl and excessive carbon emissions:

In many growing urban areas, residents (mostly older, wealthier, whiter residents) are working hard to slow and block densification. They are doing so even as they celebrate their own eco-friendliness with back yard chicken coops, rooftop solar panels, and f’ing canvas tote bags.

The cognitive dissonance is reaching absurd levels.

“Progressives” who contribute to inequality and climate change by excluding others is a familiar concept to those of us who attend community planning group meetings in Uptown and North Park.  Fortunately things are looking up downtown, where more than 1600 proposed housing units were approved this month at Civic San Diego.  The $200 million Park and Market project on city-owned land (where proceeds will go toward affordable housing) from Carrier Johnson was one of those approved:

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The recently-approved units are on top of more than 4400 units being built downtown, including the 330 units at the mixed-use 19-story Alexan development just east of the downtown library: 

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Check out San Diego UrbDeZine’s development map for all the ongoing and new projects.  New hotels are also going up downtown – here’s a recent shot of the Pendry Hotel on 5th Ave, looking close to completion:

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Speaking of downtown hotels, we finally saw the new pedestrian access to the harbor that the Marriott Marquis added earlier this year: 

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While the passageway isn’t much to look at – it could use some more public art, for example – it certainly makes getting to the bay front more convenient from downtown.

– The one project that didn’t make it through Civic San Diego this month is the Jonathan Segal housing development planned for Union and Cedar streets.  It seems not everyone who lives downtown is into the whole urban living thing, preferring a suburban, cars-first approach.  Residents complained about the project’s lack of off-street parking, despite the fact this would significantly reduce rental prices:

This approach… was condemned by two neighbors, Denise Nelesen and Michael Smith. They said Little Italy residents and businesses face chronic parking and traffic problems. “The notion of creating this type of development with no offstreet parking is ludicrous,” Smith said. Director Phil Rath said state and local zoning allows for such a no-parking plan, but director Robert Robinson said it was “unfair” to the community.

As cities across the country remove minimum parking requirements to make housing more affordable, San Diego caters to residents like Nelesen (apparently the wife of County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis?) and Smith, who demand developers build and charge for parking in all development, regardless of whether residents or patrons need it.  Nelesen appears to work nearby at the County Administration Building, so couldn’t she avoid the parking and traffic problems she complains of (and are inherent to every healthy downtown) by simply walking the few blocks to work? And if these Little Italy residents want more parking and less traffic, why choose to live in a downtown neighborhood in the first place? 

In North Park, the senior housing complex on Iowa Street is complete, and San Diego Housing Federation has moved their office there:   

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If you’re thinking of making a charitable contribution before the end of the year, SDHF seems like a great option.  Their executive director, Stephen Russell, has advocated for affordable housing before hostile audiences in North Park and Uptown.  

– CicloSDias was held in North Park a few weeks ago and thankfully the rain held off until the event ended.  Here’s some pictures from a very fun day:

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– The LA Times reviewed the Louis Khan exhibit at San Diego Museum of Art; I’m hoping to get over there sometime during this long holiday weekend.

Fair at 44, an international food and crafts market on El Cajon Boulevard near the YMCA, started up recently and runs on Wednesdays at lunch and dinner.  We enjoyed some tasty Jamaican jerk chicken and Cambodian beef on a stick. 

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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:

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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:

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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. (UPDATE, 12/22/2016: White is now saying she abstained from voting against the bike lanes, but this was at a later meeting where LIA again rejected safer streets).

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:

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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.