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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.

piazza famiglia

piazza famiglia

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My last post described Urban Mo’s plans to tear down a nearly 100-year old house to put in another surface parking lot in Hillcrest.  Thanks to all the folks who have sent messages to owner Chris Shaw on the Urban Mo’s Facebook page asking him to reconsider (and thanks to Tyler for alerting me to the house in question and its age).  In Little Italy, they’re taking a decidedly more walkable neighborhood approach, where a groundbreaking is set for December 1st for the new pedestrian-only plaza on West Date Street:

The Little Italy Association and San Diego-based developer H.G. Fenton Co. plan a Dec. 1 groundbreaking for Piazza Famiglia, a 10,000-square-foot public plaza serving the downtown neighborhood.

Officials said the plaza is designed to emulate the grand piazzas of Italy and other European cities, and will feature classic Italian architectural details and design. The plaza, set for a 2016 opening, will also include landscaping, seating, gathering areas and a “grand water feature.”

 

A $16 million Rob Quigley-designed fire station is planned for the taco shop (and mostly parking lot) at Cedar and Pacific Highway.  Throw in the nearby Waterfront Park and the Embarcadero makeover and there are some really positive pedestrian-oriented things happening in the area.  Not to mention all the residential development that’s planned, which will greatly increase the number of people on the sidewalks.

Speaking of the Embarcadero, I checked in with the Port to see what the status of the Navy Pier park was.  Apparently it’s been wrapped into the larger Port planning process – so not much to report there:

The USS Midway Museum has developed a conceptual vision for Navy Pier, and that proposal was first shown publicly in 2011. Since then, the Port of San Diego has launched an Integrated Planning process, which will culminate in a comprehensive update to the Port Master Plan, the guiding document for the nearly 6,000 acres of land and water overseen by the Port. The conceptual vision developed by the USS Midway Museum will be studied and considered as part of the Integrated Planning process.

But over at the airport, who wouldn’t want to take their date to a car rental building restaurant?  That’s the crazy idea being put out by the airport authority – although runway views could be pretty cool from the top of that building:


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Hey guys, how about getting the trolley to connect to your airport first, then focus on car rental cuisine?

CityLab has a good article on Maker’s Quarter. East Village’s creative approach to this parking lot provides another sharp contrast to Hillcrest’s (lack of) vision. In the article, Bill Fulton describes our city’s conservative planning mindset:

“There’s a very conservative culture, which is reflected as a cautious approach on the part of the city,” he says. “I mean culturally conservative, in the sense that … the people that live in San Diego and the power structure are often not at the cutting edge of national trends.” The city’s financial crisis and political instability have contributed to this.

With temporary, tactical projects like the Quartyard, it took a while for the city to understand how to make them work, given the existing code, but “eventually they got there.”

Across the bay in Coronado, a traffic calming study for 3rd and 4th Streets considered bike lanes as one calming method, yet many residents declared “bikes don’t belong on 3rd and 4th” – despite increased mobility for bicyclists being one goal of the project.  At least several Coronado political representatives performed a bike tour recently to evaluate improvements to bike infrastructure there.  And the Coronado Bicycle Advisory Committee appears to be doing good work too – even if the first cranky resident comment in the meeting minutes is, “the biggest lawbreakers are bicycle riders”.

We had a fun ride this morning over to Barrio Logan on the Bike San Diego Art of Riding monthly ride, a perk available to members.  If you’re in a giving mood, your donation to Bike SD will be matched by Jacob from Modern Times Brewing until the end of the month.  Brent Beltran, who lives in one of the newer, modern affordable housing buildings near the Mercado, updated us on the neighborhood – the Barrio Logan sign is up:

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…the Mercado is filling up with tenants, San Diego Taco factory and Border X brewing are moving in, (as is Iron Fist Brewing), the monthly Barrio Art Crawl (next one: 12/6) is drawing crowds, and there’s a meeting next week for the Barrio Logan segment of the Bayshore Bikeway.  Across the street from the Mercado, a $50 million continuing education building is going up and opens next year.

More pics from the ride: the Bread and Salt building houses a live/work space and art gallery:


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And Comm22, the mixed-use project going up on the trolley line:

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In Mission Valley, MV News had a good writeup on the presentations given by New School of Architecture students to the Mission Valley Planning Group, focusing on walkability and quality of life over parking lots.  Meanwhile a Mission Valley resident has a meltdown over the much-needed housing being built at Civita, decrying the “population impact on Friars”, then insisting the units will end up empty and as HUD housing.  Seriously, is everyone fucking crazy in this city?  Soothe your mind with the progress being made on the Discovery Center at Grant Park, a “17-acre river fronting property to benefit the community of Mission Valley and San Diego in general”.  Somehow this wasn’t mentioned in the obrag.com piece that criticized Mission Valley’s lack of parks and advocated keeping a golf course as “open space” instead of building transit-oriented housing there.

Still here?  Let’s knock these out:

  • Public transit is booming in San Diego, with the new rapid bus lines adding lots of passengers.  From my experience, Rapid 235 on I-15 is nearly full when I ride it to Kearny Mesa in the mornings, and when I take it downtown on the weekends.
  • John has a quick writeup on Fall Brewing, a new brewery toward the north end of 30th
  • SDSU’s $143 million mixed-use South Campus Plaza broke ground this week, which will house 600 students.  College Area residents, who have long fought mini-dorms in their neighborhood, celebrated SDSU’s housing efforts by threatening legal action against the University.  They’re upset that the planned widening of College to 6 lanes (plus more turning lanes!) won’t happen because of those pesky bike and pedestrian improvements the University is promoting as an alternative.  The College Area community planning group sadly continues to cling to auto Level of Service, now dead in the state.
  • The San Diego Reader appears to have its sights set on obrag.com’s NIMBY crown, publishing three cranky articles last week.  In Bay Park, an older resident justifies not building housing for younger San Diegans near his neighborhood because “I paid a lot of money for this property; there is no way I am giving up my view.”  Oddly, he didn’t show where in his property deed that his view prohibits development down by the freeway.  In South Bay, residents oppose new housing near the bus rapid transit line – because traffic, of course.  And in Kearny Mesa, Dorian Hargrove (who won’t be satisfied until the entire city is a parking lot) profiles homeowners who demand the city provide them with more on-street parking.  Maybe they could use the savings the developer passed on to them when it built the minimum parking required (instead of the supersize amount that most unfortunately provide).
  • And finally, Circulate SD, Connect PB and RideScout are holding a “Night of (transit) Short Stories” in Pacific Beach on December 4th at Java Earth Cafe.  Connect PB works toward improving mobility choices in Pacific Beach.