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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.

decobike launches

decobike launches

– Representatives from The City Heights Community Development Corporation, Wakefield Housing & Development Corporation, St Paul’s PACE, and Studio E Architects presented preliminary information about the Talmadge Gateway Project at last week’s Kensington/Talmadge Community Planning Group Meeting (image from SD Uptown News/Studio E):

The mixed-use senior housing project is proposed for the northwest corner of El Cajon and Euclid and would re-use or replace the building housing Til Two Club. Given the recent positive changes on this stretch of El Cajon Boulevard, including the new YMCA (where KenTal CPG meetings are now held), new rapid bus line and the potential for bike lanes, this development could be another big positive boost. It was encouraging to hear that many in attendance agreed with the project’s potential.

Unfortunately, the first question from the planning board wasn’t about the project’s amenities or planned tenant mix, but rather parking, which was deemed insufficient despite this being a reduced-mobility senior housing project. Other board members voiced concerns over parking in front of Talmadge residences, traffic and crime. Board chair David Moty voiced support for putting the project’s retail at the north end of the project, away from El Cajon Boulevard, because this commercial center is out of the “safety zone” for Talmadge residents. It was another reminder of the gulf that exists between the wealthier, older and largely white neighborhoods of San Diego and the more racially and economically diverse areas that represent the future demographics of our city. Personally I’m excited that this project could be the first of many mixed-use retail and housing projects along eastern ECB given its proximity to transit. It’s baffling to see such poor land use on so much of ECB – empty parking lots, single story buildings and used car dealerships – when the city faces such big housing affordability challenges.

– The Foundation For Form folks (You Got Mail, You Are Here) have purchased the building housing the Revivals thrift store on eastern University in Hillcrest. I never realized just how big this parcel is:

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 12.43.04 AM

Given this news, I need to make a correction to an earlier post that identified the Baras Thrift Store site nearby as having development planned (oops). Interestingly, there’s an empty lot behind Revivals’ ample rear parking lot that appears to contain a couple of boats. San Diego is the least affordable city in the country due to its housing crisis, there’s been hardly any residential construction in Hillcrest for years – and yet there are still empty lots in the neighborhood housing old boats? Regardless, if their previous mixed-use projects are any indication, the Foundation for Form architects/developers will bring an innovative design and residential focus to this potential Hillcrest development.

Also coming up in Hillcrest: The Great Hillcrest Spring Clean, which takes place at 8AM on Saturday 2/28:

As always we will provide our colorful HTC Clean T.E.A.M (together everyone achieves more) t-shirts until they run out. If you have one from past Clean T.E.A.M events please wear it. Supplies will be provided.

Two starting points so you can join the neighborhood you want to help in:

(1) Hillcrest Shell, corner of Washington and fifth. Meet at 8:00am for directions. Will clean parts of the Medical District and Hillcrest Core.

(2) Heat Bar and Grill, at Park Ave and Essex St. Meet at 8:00am for directions to clean East Hillcrest.

“TALKING TRASH” happy hour will follow at Hillcrest Brewing Company (1458 University Avenue) sometime between noon and 1pm.

THE GREAT HILLCREST SPRING CLEAN is sponsored by the Hillcrest History Guild, the Hillcrest Business Association, the Hillcrest Town Council and the UCSD Medical Center Hillcrest.

– Waterfront Park has been a big success, but ever try to walk from there to the bay front across Harbor and Ash? What better place to put a high-speed turn ramp (instead of a standard 90 degree right turn) than between our pedestrian-heavy bay front and new family-friendly park. I crossed it recently and the pedestrians had absolutely no idea if they had right-of-way, because there is no visible crosswalk signal. And bonus points if you’re in a wheelchair, because this intersection isn’t ADA-compliant. John Anderson documents this intersection, with photos, in his excellent post, “Pedestrians as Safety Hazards”. Fortunately this and two other intersections on Harbor will receive pedestrian improvements shortly (h/t to Tyler).

– San Diego has been named the least affordable city in the U.S. due to its high housing costs. Voice of San Diego recently did a story on the city’s housing crisis, soliciting suggestions on how to tackle problem; increasing inventory via density was a recurring theme. So it was interesting to see that many metropolitan statistical areas that are have fewer people (and are more affordable) built significantly more multi-family housing in 2014 than San Diego. The metros are Charlotte, Denver, Minneapolis, Nashville, Orlando, Portland, and Tampa. By comparison, Seattle, whose metro population is just a bit larger than San Diego, issued three times as many of these permits. And with support from a majority of Seattle residents, the city is repurposing storage of private vehicles on public streets with bus-only lanes, bike lanes and micro-parks. Buses can move far more people than single-occupancy vehicles, so why not give them priority? Meanwhile in San Diego, businesses along El Cajon boulevard fought the removal of any street parking for the Rapid bus there, which must share a lane with solo drivers. As a result, the “Rapid” bus runs no faster than the prior bus service there.

– Bankers Hill Community Group meets tonight to discuss a Complete Streets approach to the SANDAG bike lanes proposed for 4th and 5th Avenues, while voting on a “Petition for a safer Sixth Avenue to be presented to Uptown Planners for their approval and to submit the petition to the City of San Diego to study traffic calming on Sixth Avenue”. Recall that Uptown Planners Chair Leo Wilson “strongly opposes” a road diet that would increase pedestrian safety on 6th Ave, because fast auto flow is more important. He’s also filed a lawsuit to remove the city-installed buffered bike lanes on 4th and 5th… Recent news that the city’s parking districts have $18 million in unspent funds has prompted a call for ideas on how to spend the money, and whether the funds should continue to be restricted to parking-related items only. February 27th is the deadline to get your suggestions in for 1) the Fiscal Year 2016 Parking District budgets (contact Uptown or Downton parking districts) and to 2) Todd Gloria’s office for changing how meter funds can be spent.

– DecoBike is up an running, so we put our memberships to use last weekend and rode around downtown’s dense station network. Apart from some challenges with undocking the bikes, the system and bikes are easy to use, and we fielded lots of questions from people asking about the program and its cost. As someone who’s had a bike stolen, it’s a great feeling to walk away from your bike and not worry about it.

We started off at the new Meshuggah Shack at the forthcoming Quartyard in East Village:


…ate some really good sandwiches at Rare Form near the ballpark:


…noted the construction at the bay front Marriott that includes the new pedestrian path to the harbor (here’s a rendering):


…and grabbed beers from the new Bottlecraft location – they’ve moved up India to just across the street from Ballast Point in Little Italy:




Then we finished up back at one of the stations with ample docks next to Petco Park. These should come in very handy this season, especially considering all the off-season moves the Padres made to improve the team.